5 speaking activities perfect for your first day with a new primary class

speaking activities

The new school year is about to start, and for many of us that means new classes with new students. The first day will set the tone for the year ahead and it is essential to start off on the right foot.

Your first lesson is a chance for you to get to know your students and show them what you expect of them.

The speaking activities below will help you find out about your students’ interests, level of English, and they also allow students to get to know each other – fostering positive relationships that will get the year off to a good start.

1. Ball games

A ball game offers a good opportunity to ease students back into English, while enabling them to relax as they enjoy the game. A physical activity helps take the pressure off as students are not only focusing on language.

  • Before the lesson, prepare a set of questions that you would like students to answer. If students do not know each other, choose questions to find out about their likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc. If your students were together last year, another option is to prepare questions about their summer vacation.
  • Have students sit on the floor in a circle. Students are going to throw or roll the ball to each other and ask and answer the questions you prepared.
  • Display the questions and make sure all students can see them. Ask a question, throw the ball to a student and have them respond.
  • Then tell students to continue to throw the ball and ask and answer questions until each student has answered at least one question. If you have a large class, play the game in smaller groups.

Tip: Instead of displaying the questions, give each group a spinner with the questions on. Nominate someone to spin the spinner each time the ball is passed. Alternatively, write a question on each section of a colored beach ball and have students choose a color.

2. Do you prefer pizza or pasta?

play games with your young learners

This is a simple variation of the popular party game Would you rather…?, where the teacher asks a question with two answer options and students decide on their preference.

  • To play the game, have students stand in a line in the middle of the classroom. If you have a large class, this may be best played in the corridor.
  • Call out a question, e.g. Do you prefer pizza or pasta? and point to the left or right for each option as you do so. Give students a few seconds to think about their decision. Students then step to the left or right according to their choice.
  • Tell students to turn to the person standing behind them and explain their decision. The last student in the line can form a group of three. With younger students you can just have them state their choice, e.g. I like pizza.

Tip: After every question, have the student at the front of the line go to the back, so students are talking to a new partner each time.

3. Find a friend bingo

Play bingo with your young learners

This activity is a variation of Find someone who…  which can be easily adapted for different levels.

  • Prepare a handout with a 3 x 3 grid of squares. In each square, write a phrase that is likely to apply to at least one of the students, e.g. has a birthday in March, went on vacation to the U.S., loves the “Star Wars” movies.
  • Give a copy of the handout to each student. Tell them to ask questions and find a friend who answers yes to one square in the grid, crossing out the square when they find someone. They should then move on to a different friend.
  • The winner is the first person to cross out all the squares.

Tip: For higher levels, make the grid larger. Alternatively, ask students to write their own ideas in the grid. For lower levels, use pictures instead of words and stick to Do you like …? questions.

Download a sample bingo grid here.

4. Are we the same or different?

Play games ESL

Students do this speaking and writing activity in pairs. They are going to ask each other questions to find out what they have in common and what is different about them.

  • Before the lesson, prepare a handout with a large Venn diagram (see below) for each pair of students. Alternatively, you could have students draw their own diagrams in their notebooks.

ESL game

  • Have students ask and answer questions in pairs. A typical exchange might be:

Student A: Do you have a pet?

Student B: I have a dog.

Student A: I have a cat. That’s different.

  • Students then write this information in their diagram using words or short phrases. Give students five to ten minutes to complete their charts.
  • Put students in groups of four to share the information they discovered, e.g. My birthday is in May but Luisa’s birthday is in August.

5. New personas

Role play game ESL

Some students may feel uncomfortable sharing personal information with other children they don’t know. They may be shy or insecure, and worried about what their new classmates will think of them, especially as they reach pre-adolescence. One way of dealing with this is to have students do ice-breaker activities in character.

  • Have students create a new persona and think up everything about him or her including their name, age, nationality, family, hobbies and interests, personality, etc.
  • Bring in some photos to inspire students, or they could choose a cartoon character or use their imaginations to invent their own persona.
  • Once they’ve created their new persona, they are now going to take on this role.
  • Tell students that they are going to a party and they are going to meet lots of interesting people. Play some music in the background, and have students walk around the classroom introducing themselves to other characters. They can ask each other questions, make small talk, and try to find out as much as they can about each other.

Tip: Make this even more fun by bringing in (or ask students to bring in) props and accessories such as hats, glasses, and wigs for students to dress up as their new character.

Which speaking activities do you like to use on the first day of school? Let us know in the comments below.

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