Getting to know you – a business English warmer or filler

Guess who!

This is a time of year when we find ourselves doing a lot of first lessons, either the first lesson ever with a new group or the first lesson after a long summer break. Facing this situation myself led me to come up with an activity which can take anywhere between 10 minutes and a hour and which is a great way of helping learners to get to know each other better, even if they´ve been together in the same English course for some time. It´s a very simple activity and it´s not a completely original idea of mine, but all the learners I´ve done this with have responded really well to it and it´s got them activating a lot of worthwhile language.

Learning aims:

  • Get learners talking
  • Get learners writing
  • Help learners get to know each other or get to know each other better
  • Enable you to do some correction and needs analysis work with learners based on their use of vocabulary and grammar
  • Stimulate discussion around the topics learners have written their sentences about

Ask the learners to take a piece of paper and write a short sentence about themselves on it. Tell them that after they´ve done this their pieces of paper will be mixed up together and the group will guess who wrote what. For this reason, it´s important that they don´t write something which could be true for all or several people in the group, e.g. I work at Company X, if they all work at Company X. They also shouldn´t write something about themselves which is already visible to everyone, e.g. I wear glasses or I have blue eyes.   It´s probably a good idea to give them some examples of what would be suitable things to write at this stage too. Here are some examples from one of my groups, reproduced with their permission:

Last week I went to the cinema and watched the film “Wer´s glaubt, wird selig” (a German film popular at the moment)

This sentence got the learners speculating about which one of them goes to the cinema on a regular basis and then led to the learner who wrote it explaining the plot of the film and talking about her reaction to it. We then moved on to discuss film preferences more generally.

I have never been in New York

This sentence led us into a discussion of who had travelled where and when the person who wrote it was revealed, he told us that he was, in fact, going to New York in December to do some Christmas shopping, which led to a discussion about whether you could actually save money by doing that and what sights the learner also wanted to see in New York. A point for discussion and correction here was: been in New York or been to New York?

My car has to be investigated at the end of October

This sentence got us into a discussion about cars, what type of car everyone had and what condition they are in. We also discussed whether investigated was the most appropriate word to use here and decided that it would be better to say: my car has to be serviced, instead.

When I was younger, I was a scout!

Some members of the group didn´t know the English word scout, so first of all we discussed what that meant and what being a scout involves. The learners then had a very animated discussion about how teenagers nowadays spend so much time online or playing video games and have forgotten how to have good honest fun and work in a team. Here we also discussed the punctuation the learner had used and talked about how this would be correct punctuation in German (the learner´s first language), not not in English.

Once the learners have each written their sentences, collect the papers in, mix them up and then read them aloud or let one of the group members read them aloud if you´re sure that they won´t be able to recognise each other´s handwriting, i.e. because they´ve just met for the first time in this lesson. The aim is then to guess who wrote what. Encourage the learners to ask each other questions to try to uncover who wrote what, without asking: did you write that? Once the person who wrote the sentence has been identified engage the learners in a discussion on the topic the sentence deals with, if they don´t automatically start having one anyway. If you feel comfortable, you could also write a short sentence about yourself and add it to those the learners have written, so they can also get to know you a little more. This can be a nice way to show your willingness to share information about yourself as you ask them to share information about themselves and, it seems, most learners are curious to know a little bit more about their teachers.

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9 Comments

Filed under From the training room

9 responses to “Getting to know you – a business English warmer or filler

  1. nilawati sofyan

    this is a smart and practical idea

  2. Marjorie Rosenberg

    Looks like fun and would work well in the middle of the course to get them to use specific vocab. They could write things like: ‘Yesterday at work I …. ‘ or ‘I never … when I am in the office.’ or ‘On my next business trip I am going to …’ Will have to try it out with university students – maybe something like ‘My ideal job must have …’ – Will let you know how it goes. Marjorie

    • Thanks a lot for your comment, Marjorie. I really like the idea of using this game idea to practise using specific vocabulary or tenses and I plan to give that a go in my lessons next week. I think this could be a good way to practise using the past simple, for example: write one thing you did yesterday, or the present perfect: write one thing you have done this week.Please let me know how it works for you.

  3. Hi Claire,
    Thanks for this – easy to prepare for and lots of information to work with. Liked Marjorie’s ideas too. Will definitely be using this.

    • Hi Analise,
      Thanks for your comment, pleased to hear you like the idea. It seems to me that the most effective activities tend to be the ones that are easy to prepare and which you can get a lot of interesting language out of, starting small and zooming out.I hope your learners respond as well to the activity as mine do.

  4. Hi Claire,
    Just to let you know that we’ve shortlisted this blog post for this month’s TeachingEnglish blog award and I’ve made a post about it on today’s TeachingEnglish facebook page http://www.facebook.com/TeachingEnglish.BritishCouncil, if you’d like to check there for comments.

    Best,
    Ann

  5. Ruth Adler

    Congrats Claire, great to see you getting on so well, hope to catch up at BESIG in Stuttgart next weekend. Love this easy to use lesson.

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