Get-to-Know Activities in the Language Classroom


image: flickr_image

October is here and most of us teachers have completed our get-to-know activities. However, if our classes happen to be a continuous intake LINC or ESL setting, it may mean having to repeat these activities more than once. In addition, in some classrooms, we might even have students who have remained with us. In other classroom settings, English for Academic Purposes (EAP) – for example – students might be advancing seven weeks at a time. However, no matter what classroom setting we are in, it is important that everyone feels comfortable and welcome. One way to do this is by spending time with get-to-know activities. These activities do not need to be the same every time. We might not necessarily want to plan for the usual “Hi, my name is ____________,and I am from _____________, and my first language is ___________________,” drill, drill, drill, and stop there. For example, the well-known table name cards activity could be modified according to students’ language level:


  1. Cardstock or any heavy-weighted paper (different colours would be nice) folded in three to create table name cards
  2. Colour markers


Start by writing your first name on the first card; then show the card with your name to your students, while saying your name aloud. You could then write your full name on the board, read it aloud, and point to your first name to let your students see that you’ve used your first name (you could also circle your first name or write it in a different colour).  The idea is to demonstrate the activity (we are teaching many skills here, including pragmatic and cultural competence). Once you’ve introduced yourself, model the activity a few times with one student at a time; then try it as a group activity. Just make sure to have extra name cards just in case. Students who have completed this activity in September could also take the lead.

Literacy and Basic Skills:

For this group, you need to prepare before class by typing in big print students’ names on individual strips of paper. Once in class, introduce yourself as per the beginner group, but instead of students writing their names (which they might not all be able to do at first), give each one his/her strip of paper as you do roll calling. Go the extra mile and draw cursive lines on the label so that students can trace their names. You might even decide that it is best to do this activity on worksheets before moving on to writing on the cards. Include students who have previously completed this activity – ask them to work with the new students.


Add an extra task to make the activity more challenging. Students could write an adjective that describes them at the back and share it, or they could write a short description of themselves first; then, shuffle the cards for students to guess who the person is. Include yourself in this activity (without students knowing, which adds to the trivia). For continuous intake classrooms, this is the perfect opportunity to incorporate a weekly monitor system – let each student be a welcome monitor once for the term.

There are many get-to-know activities we can use. Overall, no matter which activity we choose, the objective is to break the ice, set the mood, and make our classroom a community where everyone feels welcome and ready to share and learn – whether it is at the beginning of term or as students join our classrooms throughout the term.

Share your favourite get-to-know activities with the TESL community in the comments section.

*flickr image by Susan Sermoneta. Retrieved August 18, 2014

Hi, my name is Cecilia. I love taking part in good brain awakening discussions. Blogging, I find, lends itself for that. I also believe in sharing my skills through scholarly practice, which is why I write regularly and have presented at several conferences, including TESL Ontario, TESL Toronto, CALL, and at Seneca College. My M.A. in applied linguistics along with my skills and experience have led me to my current position at Centennial College, where I teach English and ESL in the School of Advancement. I'm truly passionate about what I do: teaching, writing, creative expression, and helping my students (both L1 and L2) gain agency and take control of their own learning. Thank you for your readership and I look forward to reading and answering your comments. You can find me on Twitter @capontedehanna


14 thoughts on “Get-to-Know Activities in the Language Classroom”

  1. Great ideas! One of my tried and true stand-bys is the “three things in common” interview. This forces the learners to dig a little deeper and to discover connections that they might not have known otherwise. I remember once two young men in their 30s found out that each were the father of twins, one with brand new babies, the other had twins about 3 or 4 years old. This prompted some great classroom discussion, and empathy, for the young fathers!

    Those learners remain friends, even though that class has been finished for over a year.

    1. That’s such a great story Jen! Thanks for sharing. I’m sure your students will forever thank-you for making their friendship possible.

  2. I teach a LINC 6/7 continuous intake class. I appreciate this conversation very much as food for refreshing the hum-drum of “Please introduce yourself’ several times a week. I really like the ideas of generating adjectives about oneself and writing them on the back of name cards, and finding three things you have in common.
    I am also looking for new ideas to get people to paraphrase and summarize. This could lead to, “Take a partner, interview him or her, then write a short summary of his or her career (or family or immigration journey or goals etc.) then share it with the class. Your summary can take between 20-30 seconds to deliver.” These ideas have legs!

  3. Thank you for the feedback Karen and for sharing your activity. This is what makes this forum worthwhile!

  4. Yes, nice topic.
    I always have the students make name plates – but I ask them to write their names on both sides of the cards so their neighbours can see their names. We keep the cards even after the students have learned each others names so that when a new student comes in (continuous intake!) we put them up again and the new student creates a card for him/herself. After the first week I don’t usually ask the new students to introduce themselves (awkward) – just to make the name plate.

    Hokey though it may be I do the “The More We are Together Song” to help students (and me) remember each others names.

    I have a “You Don’t Own This Chair” policy in my classes. The students have to change places everyday – sit next to different people so I can’t do a “place map” to help me remember names.

    Maybe for your activity with the adjectives – you could distribute coloured strips and then compile them in a quick “poster” – “What we are like….”

    For higher levels – Maybe expand to three columns – What We look like, What We are Like, What We Like…. each column has a set of different coloured strips. (the categories are endless – Something that most people do not know about me, Something I did last year that I am pleased about, Something I haven’t yet done but I would like to do – checking grammar accuracy at the same tie…)

    A nice “introductory activity is pair work on Venn diagrams of selected questions (“What is your favourite colour?/ice cream flavour/animal, etc” for lower levels, “What is your favourite English word/Which is your strongest skill (LSWR)?/Did you read a newspaper article/listen to the news in English/watch TV this week?) for higher levels. Can report back and introduce partners – or just put diagrams in classroom.)

    Pair interviews, for sure (but I don’t do them on the first day – bit intimidating – and you may not have full class complement – I like to keep this for the third or fourth day after teaching/reviewing question forms and then give writing assignment for weekend – paragraphs about partner…rewrite and compile for poster of “Meet the Class”. (lower levels could write simple sentences on strips. )
    Need always to remind myself to allocate enough tie for students to finish the interview part….partners may not come next day! Those that have missed it answer the interview questions and write about themselves.

    1. Nice ideas Claudie! There are so many extensions and variations to every activity. The best part is that we can always modify them to meet the needs of our students.

  5. I often use “two truths and a lie” for higher levels. Students have to think about three things they want to share about themselves, but one of those things are not true. They have to stand up and talk to at least three different people. When they introduce themselves, the listener(s) has to guess which statement is false. When everyone is finished and sits down, I go through my attendance list and ask, “Who can tell me something about (name)?”

    I model it first of course by telling them three things about myself. This ice-breaker gets people up and moving, allows them to use (tag) questions, and paraphrasing as well as discuss non-verbal cues if time allows! It also helps me take attendance and at the same time I can rememeber their names by connecting them to meaningful information.

    1. Great activity! A good opp to discuss socially acceptable topics and small talk themes.

    2. Lesline, my TESOL students introduced me to a version of “two truths and a lie,” something I’d called “two truths and a wish.” In this case, the ‘speaker’ introduces themselves by sharing two things they’ve done/have etc. and a third item they wish they had done or had (or hope they will do). A few of examples of ‘wishes’ I’ve heard are: ‘I hand out a twoonie every day,’ ‘I started kickboxing two months ago’ and ‘I have two dogs.’ The listener has to guess the ‘wish.’ The ‘wishes’ generate wonderful conversation.
      At a different level, the pragmatics involved are fascinating: when is ‘lying’ okay, what do our body language and/or facial expressions reveal when we’re lying or ‘wishing’…etc. Far beyond introductions, though…

  6. Another “getting to know one another”/community-building” building activity:
    1. Maximum group size 10, so if class is larger divide into groups. Aim for a minimum of 5 per group.
    2. Elicit stengths-adjectives — at least twice as many as the largest group. Work only with strengths-adjectives that come from your learners.
    3. Have learner form groups (or stay in class formation).
    4. On the board (or some very visible surface) draw something that resembles your face. This is not an opportunity to demo your artistic skills. Put your name above the face. This is for demonstration purposes only. Wait for everyone to finish laughing.
    5. Give each learner a 8 x 11 piece of paper and ask them to draw their face, large enough to fill 3/4s of the page. Have them post the ‘portraits’ on a wall surface, as group.
    6. Distribute sticky notes in two colours. Each learner needs one of each colour.
    7. The learners should now return to the strength-adjectives and think of different one for each person in their group. Ask them to write the different strength-adsj on sticky notes and post them on the ‘portrait’ of the appropriate person.
    8. Back in their seats, the learners now think of a (different) question they would like to ask to each person in their group. Once they have written these questions on separate stickies, they again post it on the appropriate ‘portrait.’
    9. One by one, the learners go to their ‘portrait,’ their group gathered around. First, they comment on any aspect of the portrait they wish to. Next, they read out the posted strengths-adjectives. They can choose to ignore any postie. Suggest they comment on one or two strengths-adjectives that particularly apply to them. The last step is to read and answer each question (if willing to answer the question). Instructions should include encouragment to thank their group.

    There are many different ways to debrief/follow-up/focus on the language in the text … a different discussion.

  7. Thanks for sharing Carolyn! Your last activity certainly encourages seeing the positive in others.

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