First class – what can you do?

Dear ESL teachers! You’ve got less than a month of holidays left. Time to mentally prepare for the first day and introduction classes. Do you know what you’re going to do this year?

I’ve said it a million times before, and I will say it again – I do NOT like first lessons. In fact, the first two weeks, even though they’re incredibly exciting, they are equally awkward and painful. I always look for the perfect activity and so far nothing!

A few weeks back I posted a picture on my Instagram profile with sparks notes of my Introduce your classmates lesson plan for adults. I was so happy to see that some of my fellow ESL teachers shared their ideas and opinions with me. Teaching with TraceyParanthropus and Calum – English Teacher inspired me to create a list of first class activities.

1. Two truths and a lie

Oh, what’s that? Snoring? Disclaimer: I hate this activity. Let me tell you why. During my first years of teaching ESL, it was my safety blanket. I had it all figured out, the best two truths and one lie about me. However, the more you do it, the more you realise that if you’d done it many times before, your students had probably done it too. Last year I did this activity one time with a group of B2 students who told me that they play this game EVERY YEAR. Keep this activity for other occasions. I used it with a group of A2 adults to revise Past Simple and it was a success!

2. Three things in common

On the first day of the CELTA course, the tutors divided us into 3 groups of 3 and asked us to find 3 things we have in common. I think that it is a good icebreaker for higher-level students as it encourages them to get back into the swing of things and at the same time allows getting to know each other without you around. Keep in mind that the things in common have to be very specific, e.g. the same birth months, the same number of siblings, the same hobbies…the sky is the limit.


3. Love, like, dislike or hate

While I was doing my research I found 5 introduction activities at Oxford Seminars by Robin Granham. You’ll notice that many of them are the same. However, the Four Corners activity caught my attention as it can be adapted to all levels! All you need to do is label four corners of your classroom with love, like, dislike, and hate and talk about different things or actions.

For young learners, you can let them run around the classroom as they show their preferences. You can model your language and ask them about different food, subjects, free time activities, etc. Older students can get a set of labelled signs (as seen below) that they can use to answer your preference questions. With lower levels, you can practice verbs of likes and dislikes, as well as Present Simple form. With higher levels, you can ask more complex questions and then ask for explanations.

Feel free to download the cards and for durability laminate them. You can also glue them onto sticks to make little signs. It’s a gimmick that keeps everyone engaged.

EDIT: I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my ex-coworkers use this activity in her young learners’ classroom. From what she told me, the class was successful!

4. Riddle me this

This activity was found in Busy Teacher’s Top 300 Ice-Breakers, Warmers and Fillers a book Busy Teacher book. It’s a fun way to start the class and ask your students to work together. Just draw objects starting with the first letters of your name. You can see my example below!

What’s my name?

You can divide students to work in groups to solve this riddle. You can prepare more riddles like this so students have to guess some more facts about you. Once everyone knows your name, it’s their turn to create their name art.

5. Find someone who…

A classic game with a fun twist that I found in 300 MORE Warmers, Fillers and Ice-breakers by Busy Teacher. A teacher provides random criteria, for example, Find someone with the same colour toothbrush as you or Find someone with the same pet as you. The list goes on, you can come up with questions that can reveal your students’ personalities and preferences, or you can go with something more random. In the end, you can ask students to report on what they learnt about their colleagues.

6. What’s my secret?

An activity that I found on Fluentu that I should be used with bigger groups which know each other from before. Students write their secrets or less known facts on a piece of paper, for example, I love reading anime. Draw secrets at random and don’t reveal them to anyone! They walk around and ask indirect questions about the secret. The game continues until everyone finds out whose secret they’ve got.


7. Form a line

Another great activity that I found fascinating and which can be used in medium-sized groups is Blobs and Lines written by Erin Walton at EF. In this activity, students need to form a line based on criteria given by a teacher. You can ask them to put themselves in alphabetical order of their names, their birthdays, tallest to shortest. You can also ask them to form “blobs” based on their favourite food, the colour of clothing, or birthday month. I think it’s a great activity as your students will be moving around while communicating as a group with you being on the side!

8. Getting to know you – a memory game

In the case of bigger groups, you can try an activity proposed by ELT-CATION – Getting to know you. It’s a classic memory game with a fun twist. Students work in pairs and reveal two matching pictures. The thing is – there are no two identical cards! For example, students reveal a cup of tea and a cup of coffee. Then they discuss which one they prefer more and why. Go to Svetlana’s website to get yourself this game with a link to Canva, in case you’d like to edit some cards or add more options. 

Well, these are only a few of the first day ice-breakers ideas! I think I will give 2 truths and a lie a break from my annual introduction activities and will give other activities a chance.

What is your go-to first class activity?