Creating a Classroom Community: 5 First Day Activities for ELLs

How long does it take learners to form a first impression of a new class? One study found that students rated professors after attending just two weeks of class roughly the same as their final course evaluations (Buchert, Laws, Apperson, & Bregman, 2008). The research of Laws, Apperson, Buchert, and Bregman in 2010 tightens this timeframe, showing impressions developed during the first class persist until the end of the semester. Others, including social psychologist Nalini Ambady (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993), have narrowed this window to even shorter time periods, showing lasting impressions are formed in mere seconds. Clearly, the first day of class has a long-lasting influence on the rest of the semester/year.

As summer is winding down, many teachers are busily preparing to return to classrooms this fall. How can a teacher make a great, lasting first impression on students? What messages do you want to convey or what tone do you want to set for the rest of your class? The first day of class can be a great time to begin to develop the classroom community, allowing opportunities for learners and teachers to get to know one another and become comfortable in their new classes. 

In this blog, I share five of my favorite first day activities. I am not claiming ownership of these—many come from ideas from others, some evolved from experiences. I share them with you as they have been shared with me—resources from various teachers, students, and experiences.

1. Two Truths and a Lie
Whole class activity, time varies (5 minute introduction, 1 minute per student)

Each person introduces him- or herself and shares three pieces of information about themselves–two should be true and one is not true (the “lie”). For example, “My name is Shannon, 1) I take boxing lessons every morning, 2) my childhood dream was to become the first female professional baseball player, and 3) I have a cat named Trousers.”

Everyone listens and then the class guesses which one was a lie, and then the learner who is speaking tells which is actually the lie.

Key Points

  • Everyone has a chance to speak and introduce themselves, with freedom to share what they are comfortable with.
  • Works well with various levels. For example, “I am Sue, 1) I am a girl, 2) I like pizza, 3) I am 10 years old.” works just as well as a more complex answer.

2. Find Someone Who… (can be follow-up activity for Two Truths and a Lie)
Whole class activity, 20-30 minutes

In the second class period, use the information from “Two Truths and a Lie” (so take notes as learners are sharing their information) and create a grid with one specific description for each person. (For example, one might read, “Find someone who is from Daejeon, South Korea, has four sisters, and loves pickles.”

Learners all stand up and move around asking people questions, and then write down the specific person’s name when found.

Key Points

  • Learners have short conversations with various people.
  • Learners are given opportunities to review each other’s names.

3. More Similar Than Different!
Small groups of 4–5, 10 minutes

Divide into groups.

Find 10 unique things that everyone in your group has in common. Encourage learners to seek out specific information that other groups may not share. For example, “we all have two feet” while true, may not be that unique, whereas “we are all the oldest child in our families” or “we all have visited Canada” may be unique only to that group.

Groups take turns orally sharing their group’s similarities with the whole class.

Key Points

  • Learners get to know one another and share their experiences.
  • Learners focus on members’ similarities, rather than differences.

4. Candy Introductions
Whole class activity, 20 minutes

Pass around a bowl of colored candies (Skittles, M &Ms, etc.). Learners are told to take as many as they want, but not to eat them—yet!

Divide learners into groups of about 4 and share the following information (or adapt):

  • Red: What is your biggest “pet peeve”?
  • Yellow: What is one thing that made you smile today?
  • Green: What is one new thing you learned recently?
  • Blue: What animal are you most similar to and why?
  • Orange: What was something embarrassing that happened to you?
  • Brown: Sing one line from an English song.

Within their groups, for each color candy they have, each individual learner shares their answers.

Key Points

  • Learners share information about themselves. I sometimes use this activity to talk about how language learning may require us to step out of our comfort zones and that singing and sharing embarrassing stories can be a first step in moving toward this.

5. Quick Chats—Would You Rather…?
Whole class partner activity (switch partners often), 10 minutes

All learners stand in two lines facing each other, with one person directly across from each. Teacher says and displays a question on the board or projector. Learners discuss this topic for 1 minute together with their partner.

After 1 minute, “SWITCH!” and one line moves one space to the left so everyone has a new partner.

Learners speak with their new partner again for 1 minute and then switch again. Continue for about 5–7 rounds.

(Example questions) Would you rather…?

  • Never use your smartphone again or never be able to laugh again?
  • Be stranded on a deserted island alone or with someone you don’t like?
  • Only be able to run (never walk) or only be able to sing (never talk)?
  • Have to go to bed at 4 am every night or wake up at 4 am every morning?
  • Have ears like a cat or a nose like a dog?

Key Points

  • Encourages spontaneous speaking and quick thinking.
  • Provides a safe speaking environment, one-on-one, for relatively short periods of time.
  • If using a similar style of question (would you rather), this activity can provide fun opportunities for repetition of certain target structure: “I would rather___ than ___ because…”
  • Meet and speak with many classmates in a short period of time.

Of course, these are not limited to being used only on the first day. These can also be integrated with certain target language structures and integrated throughout the year, strengthening the classroom community. Try some of these out in your classrooms and also share some of your own favorite “first day” activities in the comments section below.


Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (1993). Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(3), 431–441.

Buchert, S., Laws, E., Apperson, J., & Bregman, N. (2008). First impressions and professor reputation: Influence on student evaluations of instruction, Social Psychology of Education, 11(4), 397–408.

Laws, E., Apperson, J., Buchert, S., & Bregman, N. (2010). Student evaluations of instruction: When are enduring first impressions formed? North American Journal of Psychology, 21(1).

About Shannon Tanghe

Shannon Tanghe
Shannon Tanghe is the program director of the Master's in ESL program at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. She has taught in South Korea for more than 16 years, and has also taught in Egypt, Guyana, and the United States. Shannon was selected as the 2016 TESOL Teacher of the Year. Shannon holds a PhD in TESOL & Composition from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Shannon’s research interests are teacher collaboration, World Englishes, and teacher development.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.