Working in Japan

10 Fun Activities For Your First Time Teaching Children

When teaching children you have 15 to 50 minutes to make a first impression in your first English class.
Don’t squander this opportunity!

Students who barely speak English don’t want to sit there and listen to your life story, no matter how interesting it may be.

“But what if I show them a slideshow of pictures from my country?” No!

Some of you might be old enough to remember: back in the day, when our relatives went on holiday, they would come back and make us watch a slideshow of their photos while they narrated their whole trip to us. And it was the absolute worst!

Please don’t make your students sit through that.

Instead, try these alternatives for an absolutely stellar first self-introduction class:

1. Make it a quiz

Straight away, this is probably my favorite type of self-introduction class.
By making it a quiz, you gamify the lesson, which in turn gets the students more motivated and engaged.

The way I like to do this is by making the students bet on what they think the correct answer will be. I give them a handful of foreign money (pounds, dollars, rupees, whatever you like), and they can gamble as much, or as little, as they like on what they think the correct answer will be. 

This is particularly good because, as the students have no real idea of what the answers might be, they aren’t competing against each other. They are just competing against you, the teacher, so when they inevitably lose most, if not all of their money, it doesn’t feel unfair.

Making your self-intro a quiz game is also great because you can quickly adjust and tailor the questions and grammar for each age group, or skill level, you’re teaching. 
For absolute beginners, you can use picture clues and they can choose from a selection of answers, for more advanced students, you can ask more difficult questions.

2. Get the students to think of the questions

Instead of just standing at the front of the class, reeling off personal information, have the students think of questions to ask you.

If you have students who can speak a bit of English, this a great way to set the classroom environment early- that yours is a class where the students are expected to produce and use their English skills, rather than passively receive instruction.
If they need a little nudge in the right direction, you can encourage them to use the questions words they already know “How… What… Where… etc.”

3. Get the students to ask you questions

If they can’t make their own questions, then you can play something I have very aptly titled “The Post-it Game”.

This is actually a really fun game. Before the class, write dozens of questions on post-its (at least 3 for each student is good) and hide them all around the class- under desks, behind curtains, up on shelves, then as soon as the class starts, tell the students (or better yet, show them) that they need to find the post-its.

When they find one, they have to run to you and ask the question written on the post-it. They get one point for each question they ask.
To make it more of a challenge, once the students have asked you the question, you ask it straight back to them! They have just heard how to correctly answer the question, so should have no problem answering it for themselves.
To extend the activity further, you can have a worksheet, or fact sheet about you for the students to complete at the end of the class. They might have to ask the other students for certain answers, so this is a good chance for some collaboration too.

4. What is true, what is a lie?

“I’m from Germany. I’m from the UK. I’m from Canada.”

Present the students with a set of three statements about yourself, and they have to guess which is correct.
Try to include as many examples as you can, and don’t be shy to include some more personal information to get the students excited!
You should make them as easy, or as difficult as your class will allow.
And also, feel free to go a bit crazy!

“My hobby is playing football. My hobby is shark fishing. My hobby is collecting animal poop.” Can you guess which is true?

5. Mystery Box

This next activity involves a tiny bit of prep, but it’s definitely worth it.
Cut the front off a box, and a hole on either side for the students’ arms. This will be the Mystery Box, where you hide items and the students have to guess what they’re feeling with their hands.
To play, invite a student to come to the front, to feel the item hidden in the box while the rest of the class watches. The chosen student has to guess what it is they’re touching.

Once the item has been guessed, or not, briefly talk about what it is and why it is significant to you.
Start off with some easy items to guess- perhaps an item of clothing (football shoes, my hobby is football), a CD (because I like insert culturally relevant artist here), or some LEGO (because I have 2 kids). Then add some challenging items too (hide a pork pie in there and tell them it’s a snack from your home country, put in a unique tool from your shed that shows you like woodworking, or maybe even stick a cactus in there if you’re from a desert area!)

6. Hidden Talent Showcase

Showing off your hidden talent is a nice easy way to add a bit of spice and personality to your self-intro if you’ve only got a short time to do it.
Can you juggle? Juggle while introducing yourself.
Good at drawing? Make that part of your intro.

Enjoy cooking? Why not record a video of yourself cooking or, if allowed, bring in homemade snacks for everyone.
This is one of the simplest ways to add a personal touch to your self-intro, and you can even invite the students to try out the skill for themselves for some added fun-class credits.

7. Bingo

Never underestimate the power of bingo! From a list of possible true answers about you, have the students choose and fill-out bingo cards with statements that they think are true. If needed, you can also just prepare the cards for the students before the class (and include pictures if you want to make it easier).
Then you pull the bingo answers at random, and say if they’re true or false. Students get to mark off that statement on their cards, if they guessed right.

8. What’s that picture?

I know I said “No picture slideshows!” at the start of this article, but I’ll allow an exception if you can gamify it or make it an active challenge.

In the UK in the 80s and 90s, we had a game show on TV called ‘Catchphrase’. The contestants had to answer questions to gradually reveal parts of an image. If you guessed what the image was, you got points. If you want to show the students your photos, then why not make a Catchphrase style game, using something as simple as PowerPoint or Google Slides? You can even make it easier for yourself by just showing the students super zoomed-in photos that slowly zoom out to reveal the whole picture.

If you can get the students to guess what the photo is, they will be more interested in the story behind it.

9. Mad-Libs

James is from _____. He is ____ years old. His hobby is _____.

Play mad-libs with the students, encourage wacky answers, then have students read the answers in front of the class. This will guarantee laughs.
Sure, the truth won’t be quite as entertaining, but they’ll remember the class!

10. Clues

This might be the introduction class that takes the most prep, but it’s definitely worth it.

Before the class, put up posters that have clues about you all around the room. Students have to spend the next however-many minutes running around to find the answers to the questions you ask. If you were born in India, put a poster of the Taj Mahal up. If your hobby is watching manga, put up a poster of One Piece or Kimetsu no Yaiba.
If you think the students can handle it, make the clues somewhat cryptic, or hidden inside a picture or a news article. I’m from the UK, so I’ll put up a recipe for a full English Breakfast. Or if I was 25, I could put up the lyrics for Taylor Swift’s song “Dancing With Our Hands Tied” which Google tells me mentions being 25 years old.
You can make it a challenge for any skill level.

This first class really is the chance to set the tone for the rest of the year. Play it right, and you’ll have engaged and active students from day one.

Video creator
Father of two
Adoption advocate
Ramen lover

(Not necessarily in that order)

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