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Teaching introductory questions and answers to English as a Second Language (ESL) students is a necessary part of any beginning Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) curriculum. To maintain student interest and increase retention of the material, it is often necessary to assure that lessons are dynamic and interesting. Various activities which will help teachers to provide fun, memorable introductory lessons for students are presented. Verbal activities, as well as games using paper, whiteboards and other materials are provided, in the hope that classrooms of all types will be able to effectively make use of the exhibited information.
Teaching introductions is an integral aspect of English as a Second Language (ESL) education. In order to maintain student interest and improve memory retention of material, it can often help to perform activities which students find to be fun and interactive (Partin, 1987). Educational material is often scattered across multiple resources (Kolb, 1984). This manuscript seeks to provide a compendium of tried-and-true methods for teaching ESL introduction material using a variety of activities and games. Most activities included here are designed to use traditional teaching sources (paper, whiteboards…etc.). Material is pulled from multiple sources, including books and the internet.
Traditionally, the teaching of introductions to ESL students has relied upon the use of a combination of verbal and written methods (Barnes et al. 2007). Most classrooms have access to paper and blackboards/whiteboards, and as such, many typical activities are based on the use of these materials. In more recent years, with increasingly widespread access to computers and the internet, lessons have become progressively more interactive in nature (Pashler et al., 2008). While most first-world classrooms are able to take advantage of digital technology, in developing nations this is not always the case (Middendorf and Kalish, 1995). Introductory questions and answers, at the most basic level, usually consist of some or all of the following (Table 1):
Table 1: Typical ESL Introductory Questions and Answers
What’s your name?
My name is _____. ; I’m _____.
Determine subject’s name
Where are you from?
I’m from _____.
Determine subject’s origin
How old are you?
I’m _____ years old.
Determine subject’s age
When is your birthday?
My birthday is _____.
Determine subject’s date of birth
What is your address?
My address is _____.
Determine subject’s domicile
What is your phone number?
My phone number is _____.
Determine subject’s phone number
What is your favorite ______?
My favorite _____ is _____.
Determine subject’s personal preferences
The exact material taught will vary depending on class requirements and teaching goals. Additionally, the methods used for teaching are heavily dependent on both the needs of the students, and the resources provided to the instructor (Gregorc and Butler, 1984).
From this point onward, a variety of activities for teaching ESL introductions is presented.
3. Exclusively Verbal Activities
“The Name King/Queen” Game
For this activity, a student is chosen to sit at the front of the classroom in a “throne” (usually just a chair). The student faces the front of the classroom, and is unable to see the rest of the class. The teacher then begins to pick students and ask “What’s your name?” Each student chosen will either say their actual name, or lie and use the name of someone else in the class. The teacher will then say to the student sitting at the front of the classroom: “Is it ______?,” asking if the student is indeed who they say they are. The student sitting at the front can respond “Yes, it is.” Or “No, it isn’t.” If the student is correct, they will stay in the chair; otherwise, they will be replaced by the student who tricked them. For more information see ref. Quebec (2003).
Verbal Quiz Game
In this game, the teacher will introduce him/herself to the class by providing the answers to a variety of introductory questions (“I’m from…,” “My name is…”…etc.). Students may ask the questions, or the teacher may provide the questions and answers. Students aren’t allowed to take notes, but instead must pay close attention. After the introduction period, students are separated into two teams. A member from each team meets for a coin toss or a game of “rock, paper, scissors,” to determine which team will go first. The teacher will ask a question such as “What is my name?” and the starting team has about ten seconds to respond. If there is no response, or if the response is incorrect, then the other team has a chance to win the point. If the response is correct, the team wins a point, and it is the other team’s chance to answer the following question. The game continues until there are no more questions to answer. For more information, see ref. Chiarantano (2005).
4. Paper-based Activities
“Favorites” Board Game
This activity works best for groups of 2-6 students. For this game, students will need dice or a random number generator app/program. The student will state “My favorite _____ is _____,” depending on the space where the student has landed. For the “Trade places” spaces, students are allowed to switch spots with the player that they choose. The game continues until the first student reaches the end.
Example game board:
Source: BogglesWorldESL.com (see references)
“Find Someone Who…” Activity
In this activity, students will first fill out the “You” column with their personal favorites. Each student will then talk to other students, asking about their favorite places or things. The student should write the name of anyone who has the same answer as the student’s “You” column in the appropriately-titled section. Portion of an example worksheet:
Source: Teach-This.com (see references)
For extra practice, students can also present their results to the class, revealing which students have similar preferences.
“Form and Ask Interview Questions” Activity
For this activity, students will first read a dialogue and decide which questions they will need to ask to answer the interview questions. Teachers will need to print a sheet for each student. The sheet will contain two sections, samples of which are shown below. In the first step, students will write the questions that they will need to ask:
After the students have written the questions that they will ask, they will then interview a partner and fill in the responses on the accompanying sheet. Example:
Source: Teach-This.com (see references)
“Identity Cards” Activity
In this activity, students will practice introducing themselves and others. Before beginning the activity, the teacher should model the process in front of the class with a volunteer. Each student will be given an identity card and a task card, examples of which are shown here:
Example from Roeland, Philip (2016)
These are only examples; the teacher can customize the content and the number of cards based on class size. Using the example cards, a student given identity card one and task card five would need to perform the following tasks:
- Look for 74-year old Anna Clemens (“What’s your name?”; “How old are you?”)
- Look for 18-year old Anna Clemens and complete an introduction between the two women.
- Respond to any questions regarding name or age (“John Smith”, “23 years old”) based on identity card; the student will be introduced to other individuals based on the content of other cards.
If the card details are made similar, students will have to pay extra attention to names and ages. For more details, see ref. Roeland (2016).
This is a straightforward activity is meant to help students practice simple introductory questions and answers. For a more complex version that requires students to form their own questions, see the “Form and Ask Interview Questions” activity. Teachers will need to design an interview sheet for each student. An example is shown here:
The teacher will model the interview process in front of the class with a student volunteer. Students will work with a partner, asking questions such as “What’s your first name?” and filling in the interview sheet with the applicable answers. For extra practice, students can introduce their partner to the class, based on the information they have collected from the interview.
For this activity, each student will require a copy of a worksheet containing a series of “portrait squares,” as shown in the sample below. Each student will draw a picture of themselves in one of the boxes (it doesn’t have to be the first box). Each portrait sheet is passed around the classroom so that everyone receives a sheet containing portraits of their classmates. Students can be separated into groups if the class size is too large.
Source: Teach-This.com (see references)
Students will use introduction vocabulary to figure out which portrait belongs to whom. An example dialogue is shown below:
5. Activities Requiring a Whiteboard
“Business Cards” Game
Small square sheets of paper are handed out to each student. Each student will draw lines to separate the square into four equally-sized squares. An example (as shown below) should be drawn on the board to avoid confusion.
Students will draw a self-portrait labeled with their name in each square. Students will then separate into pairs and play “rock, paper, scissors” or flip a coin to decide who will introduce themselves first. The loser of the game of chance will have to begin the self-introduction process, and give up one of their “business cards” to the winner. Students are allowed to circulate around the room, introducing themselves. The overall winner receives a piece of candy or other prize. For more information see ref. Chiarantano (2005).
“Circle the Answer” Game
In this game, the teachers writes various answers to introductory questions on the board. For example, the teacher’s favorite music, color, food, where the teacher is from…etc. At least ten words should be written on the board for best results; the more the better. The class should be split in two, forming lines on each side of the board. The first person in each line is given a marker (each team should have a different color marker for best results). The teacher then says “Ready?” and asks an introductory question like “What is my favorite color?” Both students race to circle the correct answer on the board. The first to circle the answer wins a point for their team. The student should read the answer aloud. Both students go to the end of their respective lines and the next two students take their place. The game continues until there is only one word left. The winner is the team with the most points. For more information see ref. Leahy (2015).
“Question Shift” Activity
This is a fast-paced activity where students will answer three introductory questions. The teacher will write the three questions on the board. Students will form two lines facing each other. Once the teacher says “go,” the students will begin asking the person opposite them the questions. After several minutes, the teacher will say “switch.” One line will stay in place, while the other shifts by one. For more information see ref. Leahy (2015).
6. Activities Requiring Additional Resources
“Pass the Ball” Exercise
Required: Ball or other object that can be safely tossed around the room.
This is simply a more kinetic version of many introductory activities, great for getting students up and moving. The teacher should write several introductory questions on the whiteboard. A ball is then tossed around the classroom; each time that a student catches the ball they must answer the questions written on the whiteboard. After answering the questions, the student passes the ball to another student. If desired, the students can stand close to their chairs and sit once they have had a turn. The last student standing will pass the ball to the teacher and ask the questions on the board.
“Random Introductions” Activity
Required: Whiteboard, random number generator (app or other solution).
A series of consecutively-numbered introductory questions is written on the board. The teacher selects a student. The student can come up to the front of the classroom and use the random number app, or the teacher can use it and the student can remain seated. The student must answer the question corresponding to the number appearing on the app. There are many alternatives to this activity; the student could also be required to ask another student the assigned question.
“Wheel of Fortune” Game
Required: Whiteboard, random number generator (app or other solution).
This game, while providing students a fun way to become familiarized with introductory questions and answers, will also provide practice with the alphabet. Student are separated into a maximum of four teams. The teacher will write the following on the whiteboard before beginning:
- A number of underscores corresponding to an introductory-level question about the teacher (or a student). For example, the underscores for “What is my name?” are shown here:
- A table explaining the scoring rubric:
Result from random number app (or die)
10 points per letter
20 points per letter
30 points per letter
40 points per letter
-50 points, lose turn
Solve: 100 points (-100 points if wrong)
Optional: Vowels cost 20 points
Starting with team one, a student will come up to use the random number generator (or roll a die…etc.). The result will determine the action for the team. For example, if the number ‘3’ appears, which corresponds to 30 points per letter, the team will then work together to choose a letter. The team will state the letter (say, ‘M’), and the teacher will say “There are two M’s.” The teacher will write M in the correct spots on the board, and add sixty points to the team’s score.
If a team wants to solve the phrase, a student must first use the random number app. If a number appears that doesn’t correspond to losing a turn, the team can then solve. A single individual will attempt to fill in the missing letters in less than 30 seconds, without help from his/her team. The student will read the question, and then answer it. If correct, the team wins 100 points, and the game ends (or another round begins).
Every beginning English as a Second Language curriculum includes lessons on introductory questions and answers. Well-designed lessons including interactive activities work to enhance student learning and content retention. This manuscript pulls information from a wide range of sources to provide a variety of ideas for useful ESL games and activities. As ESL classrooms worldwide are gradually provided improved access to electronic technology, it is expected that the future of interactive learning in the classroom environment will change. For the time being, however, there remain English classroom where verbal, paper, and white-board based activities are still valuable.
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Gerschler, J. (2017). Activity-Based English: Current Methodology for Teaching Simple Introductions. PHILICA.COM Article number 1070.