Archive for Tag: ice breakers

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Speechless Lessons for Beginners

By Ela Newman
Instructor in Developmental Writing and in ESL
University of Texas at Brownsville

There was a full moon over us, a forested park before us, and an elfin presence all around us.  It was an ideal setting and a perfect atmosphere for watching a performance of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The scene was in the medieval Bohemian town of Cesky Krumlov, and we, the audience, were waiting breathlessly in the castle park for the actors to appear beneath us and our revolving, open-air amphitheatre… and then they did appear, and they did play, but they did not speak.

We wondered, watched, and continued to listen, but not a word was spoken.

And then, soon enough, we realized who we were.  We were an audience of individuals, foreign tourists, who spoke some European language, Asian language, and other language as a first language, and many of us did not speak Czech, the language of Cesky Krumlov, and the players and the producers knew all that.

So, believe it or not, they performed a wordless version of Shakespeare’s play.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Breaking the Ice on Day One

By Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, SHAPE Language Center, Belgium

First Day Fears

I don’t know about you, but even though I have been teaching for 15 years, I still get nervous on the first day of class. Once the students get to know each other, the tension tends to drop and the class takes on a personality of its own. But, those first few moments of the first lesson are silent, awkward and nerve-racking. Luckily, I learned early on in my teaching career the importance of lowering the affective filter. Krashen defines the affective filter as “a mental block, caused by affective factors … that prevents input from reaching the language acquisition device” (Krashen, 1985, page 100). More simply put, nervous students may not learn as well as relaxed students. For this very reason, I always spend time in the first lesson of the semester doing an ice-breaker activity. I also do it for my own sanity. I hate the look of fear and panic that first-day students tend to have, so I try to get them smiling as early in the semester as possible.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Setting A Positive Tone

By Maria Spelleri
Instructor, Department of Language and Literature
Manatee Community College, Florida, USA

It’s hard to put a finger on what makes a class gel and be a lot of fun, be a place where students laugh and respect each other, where there are few or no class management issues, and excited students eagerly engage in the day’s activities.

It’s equally challenging to try to turn around those other classes, hopefully rare in their occurrence, that seem like a chore and a bore, where students grumble at the teacher and at each other, where they prefer to work alone rather than together, where trying to get a discussion going is just opening yourself up to eye-rolling and not so furtive glances at an incoming text message.

There are a few reasons we want to avoid these “poisonous” classes. First, to be self-serving, they are just no fun. Days are low-energy and teaching becomes a grind rather than a pleasure. Secondly, they are not good learning environments, and learning will at least be impeded if not blocked all together.

Consequently, the teacher’s enormous job description includes that of classroom host or hostess. Just as the host of a party works to set a tone and mood for the event, teachers are responsible for making the classroom environment the right environment for learning and a pleasant environment in which to spend time. Similarly, like a party host looks after the well-being of each guest, setting each at ease and making sure needs are met, the teacher needs to follow suit in the classroom.

I believe the tone for a course is set in the first week of classes, but it takes an on-going effort throughout the semester to keep the tone positive and the energy up. What can teachers do in the first week to set a positive tone?

  1. Learn all student names — quickly. When I was first observed by my Department Chair, he commented on the fact that I called students by name. I later learned, to my surprise, that not all instructors bothered to learn their students’ names. How disrespectful!
  2. Use daily gentle repetition of important class information, resources, or expectations so students who are overwhelmed at the beginning of the semester can hear and see and hear and see again what they need to be successful in the course. They want to do things right, but the first week can cause information overload for full-time students, especially their first time in a program or in college.
  3. Send a personal welcome e-mail message to each student after the first class, or even before the first class if you have access to contact information. Weeks into the semester, students often comment on how much they appreciated getting that first, reassuring message from me.
  4. Be sure course expectations are clear and that the grading process is transparent. Explain “how the class works” in detail. Hopefully, this information is written somewhere where students can access it as they need to be reminded.
  5. Encourage students to get to know each other. Especially in the first week, use daily ice breaking activities that allow students to form relationships. I get bored with the name, country, work, family questions and sometimes ask students to interview each other as to an accomplishment they are proud of or what their career goals are. I also ask students to design a personal crest or coat of arms with 3 or 4 sections that serve as a visual depiction of who they are. We then put them around the classroom for a few days and students always look at them before and after class and ask each other questions. At the end of the first week, I ask them to exchange phone numbers or email so they have a “buddy” they can call if they need to.
  6. Acknowledge the accomplishment of small steps. On the last day of the first week, I spend 15 minutes in a small celebration of making it through the first week. I break students into groups of four, and while eating donuts as soft jazz music plays in the background, students are encouraged to share their feelings about college: Was it what they expected? Harder? Easier? How did they feel the first day? How do they feel now?

While no amount of good planning nor good intention can guarantee to eliminate all unpleasant class experiences, what the teacher says and does in the first week has the greatest influence on the tone of the class — first impressions, after all! — but by no means can the efforts flag after that. We are the hosts and hostesses of a 16-week party, and our guests are counting on us to help them have a pleasant experience.