Clue by Clue Mysteries: Critical Thinking Activities

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What are Clue by Clues

Clue by Clues are fun mystery games I came up with to share my love of solving mysteries with my classes. They also are perfect critical thinking activities! Clue by Clues make great warm-up activities, fillers, or time killers for those last minutes of class and early finishers.

Students work in small groups to solve a puzzle or mystery The catch is that they are given each clue one at a time. This slows down the mystery solving process, meaning students spend more time discussing each clue and revising their theories. And that means more time using critical thinking skills. It also means more talk time as students discuss the importance of each clue and reevaluate their previous ideas. And of course, try to persuade others of their point of view.

Each Clue by Clue Activity is available to download and print. Inside you’ll find an introduction to the mystery for students to read, clue cards to distribute to students, hints to help them along, a full solution, and some follow-up discussion questions to extend the lesson. Each activity comes with complete teacher notes on how to use it.

Why Clue by Clues?

Research shows that a good critical thinking activity is one where students evaluate a range of facts and opinions (Moore and Parker, 1986), combine ideas in various ways (Smith, Ward and Finke, 1995), use complex thinking patterns (Feldman, 1997),  and express or defend their opinions with evidence (Lipman, 1988).

Solving a mystery helps students practice all those critical thinking skills by noticing clues, evaluating evidence, synthesizing information from different clues, applying logic, and then explaining their solution. And to do that they have to use their close reading skills, as well.

Furthermore, students are solving the mysteries they are also developing their spoken language skills, such as:

  • Modal verbs of speculation: She must have forgotten her keys, It could have been the butler
  • Opinion language: I think…., I’m positive…, I’m not sure…
  • Hedging: It’s possible, probably, maybe, it’s not impossible.
  • Conclusions: That means that…
  • Emphasis: There’s no way that…
  • Hypotheticals: What if he didn’t do it, If he was at the movies, he couldn’t have done it.

And of course, students love mysteries! Reading and solving them are a lot of fun!

So check out the collection. Each one is low-prep and ready to use in class today. Click on the pictures below for more information and a preview before you download and buy them.

My Clue by Clue Mystery Critical Thinking Activities

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Murder of a Millionaire

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Imprisoned

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Perfect Murder

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Elevator Routine

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Unrelated Murder

Or save money! Get all 6 in one bundle for the price of 4!

Critical Thinking Clue by Clue Mystery Bundle

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Direct Instruction Works

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There’s an ongoing debate about whether direct instruction or discovery learning works best in ELT. Direct learning is when you give students new information explicitly, such as telling them that we form the plural in English by adding -s to the end of words. By contrast, discovery learning is letting students figure out the rules by themselves. It might seem obvious that each has its own place.

However, when I talk to teachers, most seem to prefer discovery learning and use direct instruction only as a last resort. If your students are really struggling, then you can jump in with the explicit information. But, the other day while teaching my four-year old about magnets, I realized how useful direct instruction can be!

Can a four-year old discover magnets?

What does a magnet tell us about direct instruction?
What does a magnet tell us about direct instruction?

We were doing an activity about kindness. We read a book about bullying. Then I brought out some magnets and some paperclips. The idea was to teach what magnets are and how they work, while also talking about how kindness attracts people.

Of course, he loved the magnets and he got very excited about picking up paperclips with them. Then he moved on to trying to pick up other things with them. He couldn’t figure out what was magnetic and what wasn’t.

Now this seemed like a perfect time for discovery learning. Let him try to pick up a bunch of stuff with the magnet, see what works and what doesn’t. However, he quickly got very frustrated. We don’t have a lot of small metal things that he has access to. So basically it was him not picking things up and getting upset. After a few minutes, I told him magnets only work on metal things. I could then steer him to the refrigerator and the metal near the fireplace (obviously, there was no fire burning).

Without that explicit explanation, I doubt he would ever have figured out what things were magnetic and what weren’t. And the reason for that is that he doesn’t really know what metal is. He wouldn’t really have been able to put together that paperclips, the fireplace cover, and the refrigerator are all metal are all the same material, particularly as the front of the fridge is actually some kind of burnished metal and not magnetic at all. To make it worse, our bathtub is iron, but covered with a layer of porcelain.

Discovery Learning is Contrived

These exceptions reminded me of how contrived a lot of my discovery learning exercises are. You have to pretend the front of the fridge isn’t metal and take that layer off the bathtub to expose the metal. I once made a chart comparing present simple to present progressive to help students discover the difference. It was amazing how many verbs I had to exclude because they didn’t quite fit the rule I was teaching. I found that I was creating a very limited and simplified rule for my students to discover. Arguably that’s doing them a serious disservice. It would have been better to lay out the ways present simple and present progressive are used, and to give them lots of good examples.

Now, once you’ve done the explanation, you can set the students off to discover nuances or exceptions or other examples. But if they lack the necessary background knowledge, discovery learning is going to be far too frustrating for everyone.

Bruce Lee, Bruce Lee, Bruce L-Y?

A more ELT-related moment came up the other day. My son has started learning to read. He is obsessed with how to spell words and constantly asks us, “What words are in boy?” Or cow. Or  perfectly perfect.

He knows the basic vowel sounds and names of the letters. Thus, he is often frustrated that the long E sound at the end of words like baby is made by a Y. And just as he started to figure that out, he discovered that the terminal Y can also make a long I sound in words like fly.

At some point, he will get enough information and know enough words that he will be able to spell words and read words accurately. But in order for him to get to that point, he needs a lot of direct instruction. He needs to be told how words are spelled and he needs to be told that Y at the end of words makes different sounds.

I love discovery learning. Lessons that involve discovery are often a great deal of fun and very communicative, with lots of talking and guessing and meaning-making. But I love direct instruction, too. Without it, students wouldn’t know enough to discover anything.

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The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan

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watch-iconThis The Gift of the Magi lesson plan packet has taken me years to compile!

“The Gift of the Magi” is without a doubt one of my favorite short stories, especially for the Christmas season. I’ve been teaching it to my students for years, and now I’ve compiled 15 different “The Gift of the Magi” lesson plans, activities, and resources for you. It’s 108 pages of activities, handouts and worksheets that cover vocabulary, irony, the moral of the story, character analysis, close reading, critical reading skills, and a lot more. The packet even includes some assessment materials. Each resource comes with comprehensive teacher notes and answer keys.

Isn’t “The Gift of the Magi” Too Difficult for ESL Students?

The story itself is actually very simple:

hair-comb1A husband and wife are very much in love with each other. The wife has very beautiful hair that she loves very much. The husband has a pocket watch that he loves very much. They want to buy very nice Christmas presents for each other, but they don’t have much money. So, the wife sells her hair to get money. and buys a chain for the watch. Unfortunately, the husband sells his watch to buy the woman beautiful combs for her hair. Each one gives up the thing they love for the other one. While tragic, the story proves that the couple love each more than anything.

It’s a beautiful and touching story, a perfect example of how situational irony can work. But we don’t often do it in class, because it’s a difficult story. But it’s difficult for only two reasons, both of which I’ve addressed in my packet.:

  1. The references: There are references to things that may be unfamiliar to a modern-day student, especially one from another country. There are also allusions to the Bible and other sources in the story that students may not be familiar with. That’s why I’ve provided a lightly graded text with footnotes to explain the more obscure references and early 20th century items. This lesson pack also includes warm-up activities to get at the main theme and explain the references to the magi.
  2. The vocabulary: Let’s face it. O. Henry was a wordsmith and this story has a lot of words that are off the 200 most frequently used lists and the AWL. That’s why I’ve included:
  • A master list of those hard words for your reference.
  • More importantly, a fun quick vocab match to teach hair comb, pocket watch, watch chain, and gift.
  • There’s also an extensive vocabulary learning lesson plan which focuses on 24 words that students may not know, but which are fairly easy to explain, such as butcher and howl and platinum. Students use social learning methods to learn the meanings and then do a series of flashcard games to review them.
  • There’s also a lesson plan on predicting the meaning of difficult words in context, including figuring out how much you need to know about a word to follow the story. Keep students from looking up every single word they don’t know!
  • Finally a critical reading skills lesson models reading for the gist, focusing on words you do know and grasping the main idea without knowing every word.

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What Does This The Gift of the Magi Lesson Plan Packet include?

  • The original version of the story, untouched and unabridged. (From the Gutenberg Project-text in the public domain)
  • The graded version, with some of the tougher vocabulary and turns of phrase simplified as well as explanatory footnotes for the more antiquated or obscure references.
  • A brief one-paragraph summary and a scene-by-scene guide to the text that students could read as a simplified easy-to-read version.
  • A word association warm-up where students brainstorm on the word “Gift”
  • A quick vocab pre-teach activity to teach gift, pocket watch, watch chain, and hair comb. If students don’t picture the right kind of comb, the story can fall flat.
  • Predicting vocabulary words meaning from context lesson plan.
  • An extensive set of vocabulary activities to pre-teach 24 key words from the text.
  • A thematic warm up on the moral of the story and the meaning of the magi. Students read the last paragraph closely and discuss the moral of the story. I love to start the lesson this way so that students can see the broader picture as they read.
  • An alternate warm-up where students discuss what a wise gift is and compare wise things to valuable things. This gets at the heart of the theme of the story.
  • A lesson on modelling critical reading skills, including ways of getting the gist of a story without knowing every word, lessons on forming questions and predicting as you read, and an unknown vocabulary prediction worksheet.
  • Extensive comprehension questions to guide reading. There’s also a “Find the Phrase” activity to help students find examples of common themes in the story.
  • Worksheet on the Scene to highlight the way the author sets the scene and establishes that Jim and Della are poor, but love each other very much.
  • Character Study Sheets for Jim and Della, plus a fun creative activity to retell the story through another character’s eyes.
  •  A complete lesson on situational irony including what it is, how it works, and how it differs from coincidence or bad luck.
  • Discussion Questions for students to dig deeper into the meaning of the text.
  • Practice doing exegesis or deep passage analysis on selected quotations from the story.
  • A set of essay and Creative Writing Topics
  • Assessment tools in the form of various quizzes and tests, all in open-answer and multiple choice form.
    giftofthemagi

This packet is designed for maximum flexibility and adaptability. Go through the whole packet and spend a week on this text alone. Or pick and choose the activities you like best. Follow the order of the packet for a great unit on this classic story. Or put together your own The Gift of the Magi lesson plan from the 15 activities included.

For a long preview, go to the Teachers Pay Teachers page and check it out for yourself.

 

 

 

 

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Setting the Tone on Day One (and Keeping it Going)

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Do-nows are one of my most important go-to teaching tools. They aren’t suitable for every lesson in every classroom in the world. But when they do work, they solve one of the biggest problems a teacher can face: How to get students to transition smoothly into class time.

The Problem

When I first started teaching, I did a lot of one-to-one tutoring. So my first time teaching a big class took some adjusting. I got to class ten minutes early, and students started shuffling in shortly thereafter. As they came in, they threw down their bags on their desks and started congregating in the back to chat. Some students sat down, but leaned sideways in their desks to talk across the aisle. A few students would come in to cries of, “Hey, Peter. What’s going on?” A handful of students would come in, settle into their seats, getting out books and pencils. But as class hadn’t quite started yet, the quickly got bored and started playing on their cellphones or doodling.

When it came time to start class, no one was looking up at me and there was quite a bit of background noise. After trying to talk over it several times with no result, I ended up turning out the lights. That quieted them down, but it was hardly a permanent solution.

The Solution: Do-Nows

Instead of letting students get distracted in all that dead time before class, give them a focus as soon as they walk into class. That’s what a do-now (or bell ringer) is: an activity students do as they walk in the door. It sets the tone for the class–this is a place where we work. There’s a nice story here that suggests that do-nows are particularly effective on the first day of school because they set the tone for the whole school year.

What Makes a Good Do-Now?

They Do it on Their Own

In order for students to be able to do a do-now as they walk in, it needs to be a clear task that students can do with no input from the teacher. That means the directions should be available and obvious, whether it be on the board or on a handout. They shouldn’t need to check their answers with you from part one in order to go on to part two, either. A do-now is something they can do on their own, while you are getting ready for class. (I gather these are sometimes called teacherless tasks (And Rachel Roberts has a rather nice post up on what makes a good teacherless task).

One great way to make sure students grasp the task without teacher input is to have a limited set of kinds of Do-Now activities. In my classroom, if students walk into class and see a proverb on the board, they know that their job is to interpret the meaning and decide if they agree or disagree. If they see a word cloud, they know they must guess the connection or the theme of the class.

BoredGirlFBBeing able to do it on their own also means that they shouldn’t need any additional materials. Everything they need should be readily available to them. A student can’t do something now, if they are waiting on something you give them, or even waiting for a partner to arrive. Ideally, they shouldn’t need anything more than a pen and perhaps a handout that you leave in a conspicious location. Since do-nows are a sort of warm-up activity, you don’t want students spending 10 minutes finding a book on the bookshelf or collecting objects around the room or looking up a lot of information on a website. You also don’t want to give students an excuse not to do the activity, so make sure they have everything they need.

Real Work, Just Faster

Doing it on their own also means that the activity is leveled to the students. It shouldn’t be too hard for the student to need assistance, but not too easy to be boring. And there should be a clear time limit. I like a good do-now that takes 10 minutes, with the possibility of an extension. My rule of thumb is 5 minutes before class time and 5 minutes into class.

A good do-now shouldn’t be busy work. It should relate to the theme of the class. Some teachers use class activities or test questions as do-nows. As an English teacher, I like using a do-now that is a bit more fun and engaging than a typical grammar activity, for example.  But my do-nows always have students working with the English language. It shouldn’t be meaningless fun. Students shouldn’t feel that they have wasted their time.

In fact, some teachers argue that a do-now should result in written output which is assessed by the teacher. Otherwise, students will not take it seriously. I don’t necessarily agree that every time you start class, you need an activity that requires an output and a grade. But there should definitely be some result that is a t the very least discussed openly in class.schoolgirlwithbook800x600

The Perfect Do-Now

My go-to do-now is a proverb or quotation on the board. As I mentioned, students can then figure out what it means and decide if they agree or not. Then we discuss it briefly. I then try to link the proverb to the theme of the class.

Other great follow-ups include:

  • Translate the proverb into your language
  • Think of a proverb from your culture that is similar.
  • Think of a story that proves or disproves the proverb
  • Since proverbs often contain an idiom or metaphor or some nonstandard grammar, we can talk about that language feature and try to use it elsewhere.

If you’re looking for a collection of quick and easy do-nows, check out my book, On the Board. It’s full of 200 proverbs, brain-teasers, riddles, puzzles, and jokes that make perfect fast, no-prep do-nows for your classroom!

And share your ideas for do-nows in the comments.


Cross-posted on the Alphabet Publishing blog

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Giving Directions

This lesson teaches students how to give directions in English by using a map to let students practice describe where buildings are located and then give and follow geographical directions to locate specific buildings.

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This lesson teaches students how to give directions in English by using a map to let students practice describe where buildings are located and then give and follow geographical directions to locate specific buildings.

direction-1076223_640Objectives

  • To give students practice in describing the location of places.
  • To teach prepositions and prepositional phrases as used to describe location
  • To practice asking and answering questions about locations
  • To give authentic practice in asking for and giving directions in a town or a city

Materials

  • Map of Downtown Imagineville
  • Giving Directions Worksheet
  • A map of your town. Open Street Map (https://www.openstreetmap.org is a great resource to print road maps of a particular town or neighborhood or even region)
  • Extra blank city maps You can use these maps to make your own exercises if you want to target particular vocabulary or give students extra practice.

Warm Up

  1. Start by asking students where you can buy good vegetables. When they give you the name of a store, ask them where it is. Listen to the problems they have giving directions in English.
  2. When students give you imprecise information, ask them to clarify or if they give wrong information, call them out on it. You might say something such as, “Next to the train station? That’s an office building, isn’t it? I can’t buy vegetables at an Italian restaurant.”
  3. Ask for a few more places. Remember to ask for the location and challenge them to be precise and accurate. This is a great chance for authentic communication with your students as you can ask for places that you genuinely want to go to. You’ll get the whole class arguing over the location and then correcting each other’s directions.

When I’m in another country, I often ask my students:

  • Where can I go to meet other expats?
  • Where can I buy macaroni and cheese?
  • Where can I buy frozen vegetables?
  • Where can I buy nice clothes?
  • Where is there a good Italian restaurant?
  • Where can I get a screwdriver? (or whatever tool or spare part I might need to fix something at home)

Locations

  1. Now hand out the Map of Downtown Imagineville. Call on students one at a time to find the locations below, eliciting the street and the corner street as well as what it is next to or across from.

Students can do this as a whole class or in small groups.

……

Giving Directions

Introduce giving directions by asking a few of them how to go from their home to school.

You can view a more comprehensive preview and purchase the entire lesson at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store: Where Is It? Lesson Plan: Practice Giving Directions on a Map. I always want to hear how people use these lessons in their classrooms and how I can improve my lessons, so feel free to leave me a comment here or feedback at my store!

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Free ebook On the Board

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New free ebook On the Board: 200 Fast, Fun & Easy Warmer, Filler and Fast-Finisher ActivitiesGet our new free ebook, this week only over at Smashwords before it goes live everywhere!

This is a collection of proverbs, quotes, riddles, and brainteasers and other fun stuff I’ve curated over the years. Put one up on the board and get students thinking and working. It’s the perfect no-prep warmup, do-now, bell-ringer, filler, or fast-finisher activity.

To learn more, check out the book page. Then head over to Smashwords and download it for free in any ebook format you can imagine!

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Restaurant Roleplay for Beginners

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restaurant roleplayThis restaurant role play is how I teach beginner students to order at a restaurant. The goal of the lesson is to get them to do a role play of being at a restaurant, so the focus of the lesson is as communicative as possible. In addition, I have an intermediate/advanced level restaurant lesson that you can check out.

Restaurant roleplays are a great way to teach students survival skills. They also provide a basic customer service dialogue that they can modify. And I like how they absorb more complex grammar such as “would” without having to parse it just yet.

This full lesson plan helps ESL false beginners and low-level students practice ordering at a restaurant. The lesson includes:

  • complete teacher notes
  • a warm-up
  • an exercise that elicits key language
  • an exercise to write a sample dialogue
  • work with some target vocabulary and grammar
  • materials for a role play including sample menus and a sample dialogue for students to follow.

Objectives

  • To give students practice ordering in a restaurant
  • To practice the structures “I would like” and “May I have”
  • To promote fluency and automaticity

This restaurant role play lesson plan has been moved to my Teachers Pay Teachers store. You can purchase and download it there.

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Interview a Star: An Interview Activity for Fun Speaking Practice

This is a pretty simple speaking lesson where each student picks a famous person and then the other students interview him/her as that person. It can be done in class or assign kids to do research for homework first.

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interview activityThis is a pretty simple speaking lesson and interview activity where each student picks a famous person and then the other students interview him/her as that person. It can be done in class or assign kids to do research for homework first.

Materials

Preparation

Each student should choose a famous person they plan to act as. Alternatively you can assign roles so this lesson can be linked to a recent reading about famous people, or it can be linked to current events where students choose people in the news. Students can also choose or be assigned fictional characters so it can be linked directly to a novel, film or almost any activity you’ve done in class.

If the characters are well-known to everyone (ideally they should be), you can run the activity in class. Otherwise you might have students choose the famous person for homework and do research. Or you can bring source materials to class and do a lesson on researching. In any case, students should be prepared to be interviewed as this person. To keep the class focused or make sure they do some research, you can use the Interview Fact Sheet. In any case, students should be ready to be interviewed as this character so they should know something about them and be prepared to improvise, guess or make up any answers on the spot!

Interview a Star

Now, you can do this two ways:
1) Put the students in pairs. Each student prepares 5 questions for the other student and then they take turns interviewing each other.

2) Do a mock talk-show in class. In turn, each student goes to the front of the class, announces who they are acting as, and the whole class can interview them.

You may choose to have the interviewers in turn do some research first. This works best if you pair the students. One way to do it is to have each student choose who they will be. Then pair them, at random or have them choose who they want to interview. Now each student has to do research on both the person they picked AND the person their partner picked. That way the questions will be more relevant and focused.

You have to be a little careful to make sure that people don’t ask insulting or slanderous questions like, “President Bush, why are you so ugly?” Or, “Angelina Jolie, will you sleep with me?” Other than that, this is a very fun lesson and students get very creative explaining away scandals or making up histories of their characters. It’s especially fun when the interviewer knows more about the person than the actor does. Encourage students to be creative!

Note: For beginner students, you might ask them to just find some basic information on the star and formulate basic questions like, “Where are you from?” and “What do you like to do?” For higher level students, I would push them to ask more probing questions and give complete answers.

Thanks to EnglishBaby! for reminding me of this great idea.

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Make Your Own Icebreaker

The Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart outlines the four steps of most icebreakers and ways to go about implementing them to help you make original icebreakers. In this post, I walk through those four steps and how you can use the chart to make a new original icebreaker or adapt an old favorite.

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icebreakerWhen I was working on 50 Activities for the First Day of School, I was reading so many icebreakers and getting to know you activities that I started to wonder if there was a common framework to icebreakers. Was there a standard set of steps teachers could improvise around?  How could you make make your own icebreaker, something original, but not unfamiliar to students?

I played with a lot of ideas before I came up with this Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart. The chart outlines the four major steps of an icebreaker activity, although you can usually skip or abbreviate one of those steps.

  1. Students usually acquire information from each other or the classroom or teacher. From the other side of the coin, they are sharing or giving information
  2. Then they usually have to record that information somewhere, and usually as they record it, they are manipulating it, doing something with it.
  3. Then they share or distribute the information.
  4. Finally, they use that information in someway. This step can be as simple as reporting back to the class or as complex as writing a biographical essay about a partner.

For each step, the chart has a number of examples of how that could be done. You can also think back on your favorite icebreaker and reverse engineer it to see how it accomplishes each of these steps.

You can find the Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart at Alphabet Publishing, along with other free downloadable worksheets for icebreakers and getting to know you activities. I probably shouldn’t be sharing this, as it might put me out of business! Who needs a book of activities when you can make your own? But I can’t resist sharing this, and maybe getting some feedback on it!

So how does the Make Your Own Icebreaker chart work?

Make Your Own Icebreaker Chart from Alphabet Publishing
I identified four steps that students go through in a typical icebreaker, or getting to know you activity. I’ll explain them below and illustrate them with a very simple interview-style icebreaker. I should not that not all icebreakers have these steps, or have them in this order. In fact, I’d say most icebreakers have three of the four steps here. And sometimes there’s a prep stage, where you make a worksheet or students think about what they are going to say.

I’d also note that the steps don’t always go in this order. In Find Someone Who, the teacher records information in a chart and then makes the students acquire it.  Or sometimes the steps happen simultaneously. When students are asking and answering questions, they are acquiring and recording information at the same time.

Step 1: Acquire Information

So usually the first step of an icebreaker is to get some information from a partner. It might come from asking questions or reading a name tag or a worksheet the teacher has handed out. In some cases, the teacher or student does some prep work before, in creating the information. You might have students fill in a profile.

In a simple interview-style icebreaker, students acquire information by asking their partner questions such as “What’s your favorite color?” or “What did you do over summer break?”

Step 2: Record and Manipulate

Now that students have asked their questions of their partner, or read their teacher’s profile, they have to do something with the information. Having students manipulate information helps them to remember it and evaluate it. You want students to remember what they have learned from their friends and classmates beyond the first day. You also want them to make connections–“Hey, he likes baseball. I wonder if he likes other sports, too.” Otherwise, there’s point in doing a getting to know you activity at all.

In an interview, students would be taking notes on their partner, or perhaps filling out a class profile worksheet the teacher gave them.

Step 3: Distribute

This may be the step that is most often skipped. Usually students jump from recording information to telling someone about it. In our interview example, students would now jump to step 4, reporting the information to the class or another partner.

But adding a step where students leave the information somewhere–on a bulletin board, mixed up at random, thrown in a snowball, adds an extra element to the icebreaker. It allows you to have students find a new partner by chance, as in Who Wrote That? Or students can hang a fact they have collected about their partner on the wall, and every one in the class can read about everyone else. This opens up the icebreaker so that the whole class is learning about the whole class.

Step 4: Use the Information

Finally, you want students to do something with what they learned, whether it be report back to the class, report to another pair, or go home and write a paragraph about their new friend. In Two Truths and a Lie, students evaluate the truth of what they were told. As a wrap-up to Who Wrote That, students may expand on a simple fact to tell a whole story about themselves or their partner. Students can act, sing, dance, or do interpretive dance (although that might be a bit intimidating on the first day of class).

 

So there you go. You have all the tools you need to make amazing icebreakers. Let me know what you come up with!

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Try to Pronounce Students' Names

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Pronounce Students' Names My Name My IdentityYou’ll never be able to pronounce my name,” the student from Uzbekistan said. Little did she know I had lived in Kazakhstan for several years and the two languages are very similar. Nor was her name really all that difficult, just long.

“Is is Zulfizar Abduraimova (not her real name)?”I pronounced her name fairly well, I think.

She was floored. It was a small thing, pronouncing a student’s name correctly. It had extra impact because you don’t see a lot of Uzbek students in the US and it’s not a popular destination for Americans, either. Of all the English classes in the world, what were the odds she’d walk into mine? But that little trick bought me a lot of good will and rapport with her.

Contrast that with an all-too common scene in my experience, fictionalized below:

“You’ll never be able to pronounce my name. Call me Zul,” says the student.

“Oh thank God,” thinks the teacher. Then later in the staff room, “Zul? Who told her that was a good English name?”

“Have you met Shih-Wei? But I told him to call him Stephen.”

“Oh, really? I thought Shih-Wei was Rose’s real name. Can you believe there’s a guy who calls himself Rose?”

The chain reaction of disrespcct

See what can happen when students adopt a nickname because they feel their name doesn’t fit English or their teacher doesn’t care enough to try to pronounce their name? Students end up choosing nicknames that are still mocked. The only thing accomplished is that the student learns that their name is indeed not a proper English name. How much easier it would be to learn their names, rather than give them nicknames?

Now I’m not talking about nicknames the student has chosen for fun. Or that their friends have given them. I’m talking about nicknames or shortenings of their name students take on specifically because they feel their name is “too hard” for English or “sounds funny to native speakers”. I’m talking about names given to hide or distort who they are.

Names are closely linked to identity. Respecting a students’s identity is the easiest way to build rapport. That’s why I applaud the My Name, My Identity Campaign. The campaign encourages teachers to learn to pronounce students’ names correctly. There are some great resources  to help you, including a great guide on International Naming Conventions and  four websites to help you hear names and see them spelled phonetically.

What if You Can’t Pronounce Students’ Names?

I will add one caveat, which is that you may not be able to pronounce your student’s name as perfectly as a native speaker. We tell our students that a native accent is not a realistic goal for most language learners. They shouldn’t expect us to have perfect pronunciation, either. However, there’s no excuse not to make an effort. They will be able to tell if you are trying or not. And it really will go a long way to building rapport with your students.

Cross-posted on Alphabet Publishing’s blog

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