Here are 23 activities for first classes.

1

So your students tell you they don't know any English. Who are they trying to kid? Put them into groups and tell them to make a list of all the words they know in English. Then get the groups to write the words up on the board. In theory, the board should be covered by a mass of words. This should boost the students' confidence.

2

Bits of string can make this next idea more interesting. Cut several lengths of string (half the number of students that are in the class). Clasp the lengths of string in the middle so the ends are hanging on both sides. Now tell the students to take a good look at each other. Now tell them to come to where you are standing and each take hold of one end of string. Let go of the string so that the students can discover who is the mystery partner holding the other end of their piece. The students then take in turns to stand back to back with their string partner and describe each other what they look like, what they're wearing etc.

3

Here's an idea designed to get your students thinking in English again. How much vocabulary can they remember after the holidays? Students take it in turns to say a word but the first letter of their word must be the same as the last letter of the preceding word. An example? School Life Exam Madness etc.

4

"My name's George and I like beer." Students and teacher do this activity together, sitting in a circle if possible. Student A announces her name and what she likes (or where she lives, what she does, where she's been...). Student B reports this to the rest of the class (Her name's ... and she likes ...) and then introduces himself. Student C reports student B's information and so on.

5

Make your students aware that there is life outside of the classroom. You could use first classes to help them find their way around the school and discover what facilities are on offer. You could write some true/false questions which the students can only answer by exploring the building. For example: The library is opposite Room 21...

6

Younger students might enjoy a treasure hunt around the school building. Write a sentence of about seven words with each word on a separate piece of paper. Leave the pieces of paper pinned to the walls in different parts of the school. On each piece of paper you should write instructions of where to find the next piece. Like this: Go upstairs, turn right and look beside the fourth door on the left. The students follow the instructions, making a note of the seven words that they find. They then put the words into the correct order. Give a prize to the student or group that finishes the activity first. Feedback on what was discovered about the school.

7

Write a short story which has the same number of sentences as there are students in the class. Give one sentence to each student but not in the correct order. Each student then reads out his sentence in turn. By listening and understanding, the students have to put the sentences into the correct order and sit beside the student who has the preceding sentence. When they have done this, they read out the complete story. Here's the kind of story that can work well: Yesterday a man was walking in the park when he saw a gorilla. He asked a policeman what he should do. The policeman said: "You should take the gorilla to the zoo". The next day the policeman was in the park when he saw the man again. He was still with the gorilla. "I thought I told you to take the gorilla to the zoo", he said. "I did", said the man, "and he enjoyed it so much that today we're going to the cinema".

8

Students can, of course, write their own stories word by word. Each student takes it in turn to say a word making sure that the words build into sentences to make a story. When a student feels that the end of a sentence has been reached, she can say "full stop". The next student then starts the next sentence.

9

Write a paragraph on the board and tell the class that they have to reduce the text to one word. They can take out one, two or three words so long as they are together. The text must still make grammatical sense when the words have been deleted even if the meaning changes. Although this may sound like an impossible task, it is nearly always possible. At the next class you could start with the one word that remained at the end of the previous class and try to reconstruct the whole paragraph. The students will have already worked so hard on the paragraph that this should be relatively easy.

10

A physical activity to help break down barriers (or build them!) involves you and your students writing on each others' backs. One students writes the letters of a word with their finger on the back of another student. The student has to guess what the word is. This can also work with numbers how many fingers am I pressing down on your spine?

11

Students work in groups. They think of a word and then make the word, forming the letters with their bodies. The rest of the class has to guess what the word is.

12

You might be thinking by now that this is all very well but what you really want to do is to get down to some work. If this is the case then you will probably want to make sure that your students know or remember the right terminology. So write a whole lot of words on the board and get the students to put them into columns headed Noun, Verb, Adjective, Preposition...

13

Maybe you got out of bed on the wrong side and haven't got time to "write a whole lot of words on the board". In this case, give them a short article from a newspaper and give them tasks such as: Find a countable noun. Find a past participle. Find a phrasal verb ...

14

Teacher and students can start getting to know each other with a simple questionnaire. This can be rather disconcerting if you then discover you are about to spend a year with 30 heavy metal fans. First, students make a note of this list: Name, age, job (if applicable), family, likes, dislikes, holiday. Practise the questions they will have to ask to find the relevant information and then let them work in pairs, asking and answering the questions. Feedback.

15

You can make it more difficult for students and teachers to get to know each other if you want. Write a list of words and numbers on the board that are relevant to you. For example: Edinburgh; 55; country & western.... The students then have to discover what the information means by asking you questions. You must obviously answer truthfully. If the answer isn't what's written on the board then they'll have to keep asking until they get the right answer. Don't be too obvious with your choice of words. If a class of students asked me: "Where were you born?" "How old are you?" "What kind of music do you like?" they wouldn't get any of the answers above.

16

Take some objects to the class that give away some information about you and your character: your passport; car keys; a book you are reading; favourite CD... The students then give as much information as they can about you. They then make sentences about themselves related to the objects "I can't drive. I prefer reading magazines ...". This activity also works with holiday objects to elicit information about your or your students' holidays.

17

An old but still popular activity. We are not always 100% truthful when we answer questionnaires and in this next idea the teacher actually has to lie. Write four sentences about yourself and your past on the board. Two of the sentences should be true and the other two invented. For example, you might write: I am married. I used to be a rock singer. I have written four novels. I was once stopped by the police for carrying an elephant. The more obscure the sentences are, the better the activity. Now tell the students what you have done and explain that they must decide which sentences are true and which are false. They do this by asking you detailed questions and trying to catch you out. Students can then do the same in small groups.

18

The same idea can be applied to summer holidays. Make a set of cards for the students. On half of the cards write the word truth. On the other half write the names of some holiday destinations. Shuffle the cards and put them on a table in the middle of the class. Demonstrate the activity. Take a card and read what it says. If it's a "truth" card then tell the students where you went on holiday. If it's not a "truth" card then tell them that you spent your holiday at the place specified on the card. The students then have to ask you questions to find out whether it is the truth or a lie.

19

Students draw a five pointed star. They stand up and form a line from the biggest star to the smallest (this is to separate friends and enemies). They then sit down in pairs. Tell the students to write on the topmost point of the star a name that is significant to them personally; on the next point a number; on the next a date; on the fourth a place name; on the last a logo or symbol that has personal meaning. They then talk about their stars with their partner.

20

British newspapers often refer to the summer as the "Silly Season". This is because not a lot happens in the world when everyone is on holiday and the papers have to look hard to find stories to fill the papers. This sometimes means printing silly stories. Apart from the silly stories, a lot has probably happened in the world since your students were last at school. Ask them to write down three things that happened in the world over the summer. Then put the students into groups. They must then prepare to present their news items for a television news programme. Role play the broadcast.

21

What do your students think about what goes on in a classroom? Elicit different classroom activities and write them on the board: speaking; reading; writing... Start a pyramid discussion. Individually students put the activities into a personal order of importance. They compare their list with a neighbour, discuss the two lists and produce a new one. The pairs then form groups, and so on until you can produce a final class list on the board. Challenge the class to defend their choices. This activity can also work with the qualities a good teacher (or student) needs.

22

You can also discover what facilities your students think a language school should have by encouraging them to open one (a fictitious one, of course). What facilities would their school have? Where would it be situated. What would it be called? They could even design a brochure for it.

23

Why not design a class mascot? This is a particularly good idea for kids classes but can be useful for adult classes as well. Having a class mascot will make life more fun whenever you need to give examples and are fed up of having to resort to drawing stick figures on the board. Use the activity to revise parts of the body, instructing the students what to draw. Each student draws a mascot and then a vote is taken on which to adopt.