(I thought it might be helpful to readers and myself if I described some of my favorite activities from time to time. See all my ESL Activity Corner posts here.)
One activity I’ve had enormous success with as a first-day ice-breaker was Conversation Jenga.
In Conversation Jenga, you write a different number on each block in a Jenga set. As students take out a block, they look at its number as they place it on top. Then they read and answer a corresponding question.
The purpose is to get students who don’t know each other comfortable talking to each other. In this activity they have somewhere to look, something to do, a shared experience, and lots to talk about. Many thanks to my mentor for pointing me toward this activity!
- Have one Jenga set per 8ish students.
- Write or tape a different number 1-54 onto each block in each Jenga set.
- Write numbered questions 1-54 (or use my examples below) you’d like your students to discuss.
- Model how to play Jenga. Then model how and when to answer which question.
- I had each student read the question and answer it. I did not ask everyone to answer each question – it would have taken too long. Spontaneous conversation did arise around some of the questions, which was great!
- Give the students the list of conversation questions.
- Have students separate into groups of no more than about eight.
- Let them know how much time there is, and encourage them to play again if time allows!
- Note: I did not model how to re-set or put away a Jenga tower, which was an oversight on my part. However, I thought that the resulting group problem solving and authentic conversation turned out to be super valuable.
Here are the questions I handed out to my Conversation Partners class. It was the first day so I had never met them yet, but I knew that my ESL students and my native English speaker volunteers would be playing together so clarification would be readily available. I also knew that generally speaking, the ESL students would be international students and community college students of typical college age.
If you have a different group (and you probably do), definitely switch up the questions! Consider English level, age, presumed disposable income level, and presumed openness to being silly.
I would change a lot of the questions if I had a different group, but this is a starting point!
- List all the cities/countries you’ve ever lived in.
- What did you have for breakfast today?
- What’s your favorite time of day? Why?
- What’s your favorite time of year? Why?
- What classes are you taking this semester?
- Tell us about one of your good friends.
- Tell us about someone in your family.
- What are two of your hobbies?
- Name your 3 favorite phone game apps.
- Name your 3 favorite phone apps for staying organized.
- What do you like to do on weekends?
- What do you enjoy reading?
- What do you enjoy watching?
- What do you enjoy listening to?
- What do you enjoy writing?
- What do you enjoy chatting about?
- What are your favorite ways to exercise?
- Where are your favorite places to visit here in Maryland?
- Where do you hang out on campus?
- What are 3 cool things you know how to do?
- What is the funniest thing that’s happened to you in school?
- What’s your favorite snack?
- Do you prefer houses or apartments? Explain.
- Do you prefer big cars or small cars? Explain.
- Is picking out clothes in the morning fun, horrible, or not an issue? Explain.
- Do you prefer to eat in or eat out? Explain.
- Do you do homework right away or at the last minute? Explain.
- Do you prefer sandwiches or wraps? Explain.
- Do you prefer chocolate or vanilla? Explain.
- Would you rather visit Hawaii or Alaska? Explain.
- Would you rather canoe or water ski? Explain.
- Would you rather go to a comedy club or a dance club? Explain.
- When it comes to money, are you more of a saver or a spender? Explain.
- Do you prefer to have just a few friends, or as many as possible? Explain.
- Are you messy or neat? Explain.
- What’s your favorite book?
- What’s your favorite song?
- Would you rather visit a museum or a garden? Explain.
- Do you think children at restaurants are adorable or annoying? Explain.
- Do you prefer hot tea or iced tea? Explain.
- What’s your favorite animal? Why?
- Do you prefer winter or summer? Explain.
- Do you prefer spring or fall? Explain.
- Do you love hand sanitizer or hate it? Explain.
- Do you enjoy exercising? Explain.
- What do you think of baseball? Explain.
- What do you think of soccer? Explain.
- Do you enjoy going to big cities, or do you avoid them? Explain.
- Do you think earthworms are cute or disgusting? Explain.
- Do you think snakes are great or scary? Explain.
- How do you feel about hunting? Is it a traditional skill or a cruel hobby? Explain.
- Which type of skiing is better: downhill or cross country? Explain.
- Do you love roller coasters or hate them? Explain.
- How do you feel about math? Explain.
Other Content Possibilities:
I think this could be very flexible – the Jenga bit is just a fun way to randomize which student gets which little assignment.
- Grammar: convert one of the listed sentences into today’s grammar point, or fix the intentional error in the listed sentence
- Vocabulary: each listed sentence could be a clue pointing to one of the unit’s vocabulary words.
- Academic writing: identify whether the sentence is a thesis, topic sentence, hook, conclusion, transition, etc.
- Two Truths and a Lie (zero-prep)
- Dictation Relay (zero-prep)
- Building Blocks (minimal prep)
- Syllabus Activities