A series of recent experiments carried out by psychologists reveal that it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger that does not significantly change afterwards. What does it mean for teachers? It means that, like it or not, we have a tenth of a second to, well, get the ‘likes’ of our learners and then boost the impression and show our competence and trustworthiness – “love at first activity”.

“Kids can’t learn from teachers they don’t like.” Indeed.

These are some practical ‘first activity’ tips that may help pass the barriers.

  • Be ‘brainy’

Instead of a usual introduction, you can give some information about yourself in the mind map showing some facts about you. Ask learners to make guesses or ask questions.


(Image: © Svetlana Kandybovich)

Ask learners to make similar mind maps to introduce themselves.

Alternatively, you can leave just numbers (4-5), or key words (e.g. place names, etc.), and get students to guess what they stand for.

  • Be a good listener

Dice questions

Have learners throw the dice and talk about the following:


Alternatively, if you have a large group, you may use a usual dice and make a set of questions for the pips.

If you have more advanced learners, some of Dr.Aron’s 36 questions might help build in surprises:

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?

4. What would constitute a “perfect” day for you?

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year-old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you want?

7. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

8. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?

9. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?

10. Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?

11. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?

12. What is your most treasured memory?

13. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why?

  • Be sweet

Candy confessions” is another option for the Q&A session. Have each learner choose a candy from a variety of candies/chocolates. Once they have chosen their favorite, put up the chart with questions they should answer. See more detailed description here.

  • Be a poem

One of the best ways to avoid routine (and rather boring) introductions is to get your students to write a poem describing them. For example, an “I AM” poem (you can use the template here), or instead of the classical “write 3 adjectives describing you” activity, you may teach your students how to write acrostics (see my post on writing acrostics here).

  • Find what you have in common

Get your students to approach other students in the class (or, if you teach a large class, split your students into small teams of 6-8 students in each) and find one thing in common with each other. Once one common thing is found with somebody, they cannot repeat it with other students.

  • Stay positive

Ask your students to come up with “3 things to be happy about today”. Compare the lists with ‘Things to be Happy about Today’ at

  • Focus on the little things

Are you attentive enough? Get students to stand back to back and describe what their partners are wearing. Award one point for each correctly mentioned item of clothing.

  • Stay social

Profile description

I usually create closed groups for my learners on FB. It’s much easier to keep in touch with them and overcome the English-in-the-classroom-only barrier. As the first activity, you can ask your students to come up with the name for your group and write short profile descriptions.

  • Test the waters

Try to get a certain picture of the level of your learners. Two Truths and a Lie – a classic get-to-know-you icebreaker – may help you see the level of speaking skills, and with some variation, of writing and reading.

The basic scenario: Tell the class that each student will introduce himself/herself by stating two truths about their life and one lie. The rest of the participants will guess which statement is false. Some options: ask your students to jot down their “321” facts, collect the strips and ask students to pick any strip and read the facts.

  • Plan your future together

You may also plan your future together and talk about learning preferences or some fun activities that your learners would like to do at your classes, and schedule some special events (check out the Calendar template by Tekhnologic).

Smile and enjoy what you do! Happy teaching!

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