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Pair Work Activities for Day One (Or Later…)

If you are wondering how you should start off your ESL/ELT/EFL course this year, then let me give you some advice. This advice comes from a woman who taught English as a second language for thirty-five years—a woman who wants to help you feel comfortable in the classroom.

First do not…


First, do not start off the year by asking students to introduce themselves to the class. Most students feel a bit rusty at the beginning and very tense—even the good students. They will probably spend the first part of the class thinking about what they will be saying. They won’t be listening to the others and certainly won’t remember what the others are saying. And once they have spoken, they will probably be blaming themselves for making too many mistakes and will be feeling a bit humiliated. This is an easy exercise for the teacher, but one that can leave students feeling nervous from day one.

Secondly, don’t ask the students want they would like to study. That sounds like you haven’t prepared anything. Obviously, students will be thinking to themselves, “Isn’t that the teacher’s job?” If you want their opinions you can offer them a choice of activities or you can simply tell your students that during the year you will be open to suggestions from them. Then you should define the program you have planned. You can present a general program with the main activities or a detailed schedule as you wish.

The best way is pair work

The best way to start the actual speaking is through pair work. Students will thus all be active, speaking to each other (in English of course!) and helping each other get through the activity. From day one there will be a convivial atmosphere. And they’ll be ready for more when you meet up again.

The “Back to the Basics Volume 1: Pair Work Activities” Booklet


The pair work activities my colleagues and I used to start off the year with was first a spelling exercise and secondly a review of numbers. These are the first two exercises in the 25-page downloadable booklet, I have prepared for teachers called “Back to the Basics Volume 1: Pair Work Activities”. Whatever level you have from learners starting over (A2) to competent speakers (B2-C1) they will enjoy these activities—and they will all be speaking English as they do them.

Spelling exercise

The idea of the spelling exercise is for the teacher to type into the exercise the lines the students will be spelling to each other. This exercise works best if the lines are familiar to the students or useful like the e-mail address of the teacher. The “Back to the Basics” booklet files are in MS Word so the teacher can easily “personalize” the two pages for spelling. You will be amazed how difficult even good students find it when they have to spell something. If you have very good students (B2 to C2), then you ask the students to do the exercise without writing down the lines they are spelling to each other. I assure you there will be confusion and thus laughter. The rule is: Only look at your own page. Never cheat and look at you partner’s page!

Number exercise


The number exercise consists of one page for a student and another page, the key, for the student’s partner playing the role of the “teacher”. The “teacher’s” page has all the numbers written out in full as we say them. This is both a learning and a practice exercise. After twenty minutes the students will have become far less stressed when it comes to reading off numbers. They will all have spoken a lot together and will thus appreciate your course. It’s a great way to start off the year.

For more information on the other pair work activities in the 25-page downloadable booklet “Back to the Basics Volume 1: Pair Work Activities”, please click here.

To purchase it for €4.99 go directly to the store.


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