Getting to Know Each Other Through a Single Word

During the first week of classes, it is important to establish a warm and collaborative atmosphere in the classroom and help students to get to know each other. Surely, there are a lot of “getting-to-know-you” activities and icebreakers that teachers can use to accomplish these goals. Some of them were described in my previous blogs: Writing Activities for ELLS: Getting to Know You, and Getting to Know You Writing Activity: Using Names.

Today, I’d like to share ideas that could help learners to get to know each other by using a single word. These ideas are very simple, and they can be adjusted to various levels of language proficiency.

Scattered Letters

Students are asked to think about a word that describes their personality, or an important value, or a crucial concept in their life. Then each student writes their word on the board, but puts the letters in the wrong order. For example, if the word is patience, the student can write something like “natecepi.” The other students in class will try to guess the word, after which the author will explain why this word is important in his or her life.

Meaningful Word

Give each student an adjective, for example, fun, boring, scary, or exciting. Students will describe some of the things in their lives that can be related to this word. You can ask them to create more than one sentence (describing different aspects of their lives or personalities). For example, if the target word is “boring,” one of the sentences can be: “My life would be absolutely boring if I didn’t enjoy reading.” Through this simple activity, students can learn a lot of interesting things about their classmates, including their hobbies, interests, and values they consider important.

As a variation of this activity, you can put students in small groups and give each of them the same word. By sharing their thoughts with each other, students will be able to see how one single word may have different meanings and interpretations in other people’s lives.

“I like” and “I don’t like”

Divide students into small groups (or do it as a whole-class activity) and give each student an adjective (e.g., interesting, fun, annoying, boring). Ask students to draw a chart with two columns: “I like…” and “I don’t like…” With students of advanced levels of proficiency, you can use more columns, for example, “I feel motivated…”, “I try to avoid…”, etc. The task is to use the target word in two sentences: about something they like and something they dislike.

For example, if the target word is boring, the sentences can be “I like to get to know people and make new friends; otherwise, my life is boring” and “I don’t like boring parties.” Or if the target word is interesting, they can write something like: “I like to have interesting conversations with people,” and “I don’t like to do my homework when I have far more interesting things to do.” Their sentences can be either funny or serious, depending on a student’s personal preference. After students are done with their sentences, they will read them to the rest of the group.

Please feel free to share “getting-to-know-you” activities that worked well in your class. Enjoy teaching!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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