Pairwork 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 former teacher 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 best students. They will probably spend the first part of the session 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. Once they have spoken, they will probably be blaming themselves for making too many mistakes and will be feeling a bit humiliated. This activity does not involve any preparation-time for the teacher, but it can, on the other hand, leave some students feeling nervous already from day one.

Secondly, don’t ask the students what they would like to study. That sounds like you haven’t prepared anything. 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 tell your students that during the year you will be open to their suggestions. It is up to you to 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 technique is pairwork

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

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

The pairwork activities my colleagues and I used to start off the year with were first a spelling exercise and secondly a review of numbers. These are the first two exercises in the 25-page downloadable booklet Volume 1: Pair Work Activities. It is part of the “Back to the Basics” series. 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 only in English as they do them.

Spelling exercise

This example works best if it is personalized and updated to suit your specific needs, but here is our PDF version:

PDF - 101.8 kb

The idea of the spelling exercise is for the teacher to be able to type into the worksheet the lines the students will be spelling to each other. This exercise works best if the lines are familiar to the students or appear useful such as the e-mail address of the teacher.

The “Back to the Basics” booklet files are in DOC so the teacher can “personalize” the two pages intended for spelling. The complete “Back to the Basics” series of mini-booklets is also included in our digital book.

You will be amazed how difficult even good students find it when they have to spell something. If you have very competent students (B2 to C2), you can ask the students to do the exercise without writing down the lines they spell to each other. I assure you there will be confusion and thus laughter. The rule is: Only look at your 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.

PDF - 46.1 kb
PDF - 50.9 kb

This activity is both a learning and a practice exercise. After twenty minutes, the students will feel far less stressed when it comes to reading off numbers. They will all have spoken a lot together and consequently appreciate your first lesson. It’s a great way to start off the year.

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