Benito Vacio

Classroom ice breakers

How to start your lesson off the right way


Summer classes begin soon and many of us will be working during our vacation. One of the problems we face is how to maintain student interest

Harry, an ajarn blog reader, mentioned "starters" - and they are very relevant. "A good beginning yields a good ending." So, Harry is right to ask for ideas for "starters" which I call "ice breakers", warm-up" , "motivation", "tone setter "or introduction". Whatever you call them, they serve the same objective - "to set the tone of the lesson".

Starters help in establishing connection with the class. When students are not motivated, it's hard to get their attention. But once their interest is captured through meaningful starters, the rest of the activities will turn out well.

In my observation, once a class is given a preliminary activity before "the real McCoy," the battle is already half- won. From the starter, the well-planned lesson will go smoothly.

But, at times, it is not desirable to start a lesson right away when students have just come from their physical education class, recess, or lunch. Many good teachers, who, as soon as their students come to class, tell their students first; go to the toilet, comb their hair, fix their blouse or shirt, powder their face, or fan themselves for a while, then begin the day's lesson.

Similarly, we can prepare the students psychologically by providing meaningful activities that will entice students forget discomfort, overcome temptation to do other things, and be mesmerized by what's going on in the classroom.

I have a number of starters to "hypnotize" students which I have found effective in my classes:

1. Free Conversation - This is one of my favorite class starters for higher level classes especially those classes that have students who can express their thoughts and ideas already. It is simply done by starting a question that will lead to more questions that are relevant or somewhat relevant to the topic and require opinion or just anything a student can say. It may last from 5-10 minutes depending on how interesting the topic is.

2. Costume Gimmick - Here the teacher may come into the class in a certain costume say, a clown, a chef, a patient, or whatever and the ball starts rolling.

3. Lost Voice - This time, the teacher doesn't speak. He /she may speak with difficulty without a voice. Students may ask questions but the teacher just do gestures or write on the board. This is to encourage students to ask questions .

4. Song and Dance - Using Genki English and Scholar songs your students will surely enjoy them.

5. Telepathy Game - Here the students are challenged to read the teacher's mind. In groups, the students try to think of what the teacher thinks. For instance, the teacher thinks of a fruit. The group discusses and at a signal each leader of the group one at a time calls out what the teacher thinks. It is amazing. One or two groups can guess the right answer. To make the game easier, give five choices for student to think of.

6. Mystery Bag - Objects related to the lesson are placed in an opaque bag. The student puts his/her hand inside and touch the object. Without seeing it, the student tries to guess its name. The student who can identify the object may get a sticker from the teacher.

7.WH Time -Here the students ask either who, what, when, where, why, or how questions which can be answered by fellow student and so on and so forth.

6. Freire Code - Inspired by a Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire. This a thematic illustration of a situation composed of a lot of scenarios, people, objects, and details. This is shown to the students. The students say what they see, identify the problem, and come up with solutions. This is a thought provoking activity I like and will generate a lot of language from the students.

7. Psychological Tests -Like What's wrong with the picture? What is missing in the picure? How many faces can you see in the picture, etc.

8. Puppet Talk -Using stuffed toys and dolls, toys, etc. Students invent dialogues of any kind and share them in class.

9. Show and Tell - Students may take turn in bringing things of their choice - a collection, a gift, a valued object, etc. Two or three students share in front of the class each day.

You can try some of these starters. If they fail the first time, don't be discouraged. Give it another try and the second time you do it I'm sure it will turn out better. Tell you what, one reason why an activity sometimes plops is because the inst ruction isn't very clear, thus they couldn't grasp the mechanics well. Remember, our students are foreign or second language learners. Once they understand it they will surely enjoy it and they will clamor to have similar activity for the succeeding days.
You can also replicate your own starters and have them patronized by your students.

Would you like to try these starters in your own classes? Tell me later if it worked or not. Have fun!




Comments

Tsel and Philip,

Tesl, thanks a lot for the comments. Yes, I can come up with more activities to make our students enjoy learning more from us...

Philip, thanks a lot for the coments. For the sake of our readers, here are my additional explanations:

Costume Gimmick - Here, I present myself as a "particular character". Of course, the students will be surpised and ask questions about me. In turn, I answer .When they run out of questions, I ask them too.

WH Time - On a particular time, I use any of the "WH" questions. As the students and I are seated in a circle, I initiate the discussion by asking a "specific" "WH" question.The person opposite to me answers. When his/her turn is done, he/she asks also the student seated opposite him/her. Questioning and answering continues until everybody has participated. I find this activity good for 10-15 students. If used for bigger groups, facilitators are needed.

Free Conversation - My "free conversation" class is usually facilitated by me. Students respond (especially mathayom classes) because we discuss about what they experience. For instance, after Songkran. I ask one student at a time, ask another, and more. Through good questioning students answer. At times, rephrasing of questions help. This activity had worked with my adult Vietnamese refugees before and has worked here in Thailand in the Language Center where I work.

By benito vacio, Nonthaburi (11th March 2011)

Very informative blog about starters. It gives me additional inputs in making my class interesting. Teaching thai students really needs motivitionals tools and techniques to get their attentions. Failing to do so will just drive away their appetite in learning. I hope the author will make more on this helpfull tips.

By tsel_thai, Thailand (9th March 2011)

Hi Ben. This is always a good topic. I think any teacher feels more confident if they have a range of ice breakers and lesson warmers up their sleeve.

I think some of your ideas above need a lot more explanation and description though. For example
"Here the teacher may come into the class in a certain costume say, a clown, a chef, a patient, or whatever and the ball starts rolling"

OK, I can see the class getting a laugh out of it - but where does it go from there? If the class are meant to ask the teacher questions based on the teacher's appearance, are they fed those questions in advance? See what I mean?

"Here the students ask either who, what, when, where, why, or how questions which can be answered by fellow student and so on and so forth"

Yes, but how do you organise it? That's always the hard part. Is this a pair activity or group work or what? The first instruction a teacher needs is - "organise your students into pairs or rows or small groups or teams of five, etc"

"Free Conversation - This is one of my favorite class starters for higher level classes especially those classes that have students who can express their thoughts and ideas already. It is simply done by starting a question that will lead to more questions that are relevant or somewhat relevant to the topic and require opinion or just anything a student can say. It may last from 5-10 minutes depending on how interesting the topic is"

You're a braver man than I am Ben. I think if there is an activity that rarely works then it's 'free conversation' - even at advanced levels. I might discuss a reading we had done or have a conversation based on something the class just watched, but I couldn't walk into a class and say "right, let's talk about fish"

What invariably happens is that you get a couple of class 'superstars' doing all the work (asking all the questions) and the rest are along for a free ride.

I've done a fair amount of one-to-one executive coaching where a manager who is fluent in English has asked for 'just conversation' Even then it rarely works. Holding 'just a conversation' is always tough. Everything needs a structure around it I always feel.

By philip, (6th March 2011)

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