Activity Corner: Birthday Buddies

(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.)

This one is directly poached from another teacher. She pulled this one out of the hat while she was substitute teaching for one of the lead teachers that I was substitute assisting (got that?).

It’s a great activity to get people moving a bit, increase energy levels with a little directed conversation, and buy the teacher a bit of thinking time, all while grouping the students for the next activity.



First, bring students to a space where they can congregate. Ideally, this would be right in the classroom, but many of my school’s computer labs just don’t have that kind of extra space. We used a nearby hallway intersection.


  • Ask the students to line themselves up in birthday order (month and day, not year), beginning in January and ending in December.
  • Set a timer – or don’t, depending on what your needs are.
  • When students are in order, have them say their birthdays out loud in order. If there are any errors, have people switch around to be in the correct order.
  • Use this order to make groups: partners, triads – whatever the next activity requires. This teacher had people work with the person next to them in line and jokingly called them “Birthday Buddies.”

That’s it!


  • Time limitations make this more challenging.
  • If you have students with mobility issues, it may be possible for them to participate. If they can move in comfort to the bigger space, they can set up a chair in roughly the right position first, and then everyone else can organize around them.
  • Students with mobility issues might instead check for accuracy when everyone is done lining up. This is more important if there was a strict time limit. If the lining up has to be done away from the classroom, the mobile students could walk in order back to the classroom for the others to check their work.
  • More complicated but possibly interesting: try organizing by town they currently live in from north to south, or number of miles from the school, or number of siblings, etc. I would personally avoid anything clearly connected to status or wealth (i.e. newest smartphone).
  • Some students might not actually know their birthday – in some cultures at some times, the exact date hasn’t always been significant. Ask the student what s/he does know – time of year, month, what’s on their passport, etc. Three ideas for having them pick a day: a) the first, b) offer to share your own day of the month with the student, c) have them pick whatever they want!


Photo Credit: Paul Downey on Flickr

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