Back to School: Easy, No Prep Activities for Your First Week

Back to School Lesson Plans
Background image created by Jannoon028 –

Back to School:
Easy, No Prep Activities for Your First Week

Even experienced teacher’s get first day of school jitters when starting a new gig. Not only do you have to meet a dozen or more new colleagues (in your second language), you also have to introduce yourself to anywhere from 300 – 1,000 (not exaggerating) new students who may or may not understand anything you’re saying.

There’s the usual balancing act of being friendly but not too soft, being firm but not too hard, and in general setting up the atmosphere and relationship you want to have in the classroom.

Many Language Assistants and ESL teachers may tell you to rock the standard “About Me” presentation, but I’m a serious proponent of cutting out the tired old PowerPoints and switching toward more interactive activities that get students up, thinking and speaking, even despite limited language abilities.

Here are my favorite tried and true first week of school activities for everyone from the 18-year-olds down to the little pre-school kiddos.

Guess Who Said It
Designed by Freepik

Guess Who Said It

Best for: 12 – 18 years (In Spain, this is first of ESO up until 2º bachillerato)

Objective: Practicing vocabulary related to personal information, hobbies, likes & dislikes

You Need: Scratch paper, a timer and a chalkboard or white board for keeping score.

Get Set Up

  1. In small groups, give students 3 minutes to brainstorm questions they would ask when they are getting to know someone new (minimum 5 questions).
  2. Ask 2 or 3 volunteers to come up to the front of the classroom. If there’s another teacher in the classroom with you, get them involved too!
  3. Explain that they are going to ask the questions they brainstormed and have to guess who answered which answer. They might not understand the concept at first, but they will once you get started so don’t waste too much time explaining.

Get Started

  1. Select a group to ask a question.
  2. The 3-4 people up front secretly jot down their answers on a scratch paper and the teacher writes all answers on the board, mixing up the order (see picture above).
  3. The remaining groups have to guess which person said which answer, ie: “I think Maria likes listening to reggaeton, Javier likes listening to trap, Ana like listening to pop and the teacher likes listening to rock & reggae.”
  4. Groups get a point for each correct answer. You can continue soliciting responses & giving points until someone gets all answers correct, using deduction to find out who said what.
  5. After every one or two questions, bring up different volunteers to answer with you.

Why It Works

  1. The first unit of most language books practices asking and answering questions about personal information, so the vocabulary is relevant.
  2. Most students at this age have practiced this vocabulary for many years. I like to start every course off “easy” by activating prior knowledge and building confidence, otherwise they’ll learn early on to tune you right out.
  3. This game represents my preferred teaching style – having fun while still focusing on content, correcting structures as needed and engaging students through a points system and interest in their classmates.
Ask Me Anything
Designed by Freepik

Ask Me Anything!

Best for: 8 – 12 years (In Spain, this is 3rd to 6th of primary)

Objective: Practicing asking & answering questions related to personal information, hobbies, likes & dislikes

You Need: A chalkboard.

Get Set Up
Write information about yourself on the board, such as your name, favorite animal, favorite sports, instruments you play, etc.

Get Started

  1. Students ask the questions that you have answered, IE “What is your favorite color?” Each group that asks a question gets a point.
  2. You model the correct response – “My favorite color is green. What’s your favorite color?” and select several volunteers to also answer using the full response (not just “Green.”)
  3. Once you’ve gone through all of these responses, invite student to ask you whatever questions they like, and allow several students to answer the questions as well.

Why It Works

  1. The first unit of most language books practices asking and answering questions about personal information, so the vocabulary is relevant.
  2. Even low level students should know these basic question & answer formulations. Starting off with vocabulary they know will help them build confidence and feel comfortable with you.


Back to School
Designed by Freepik

Show Off For Me!

Best for: 4 – 7 years (In Spain, this is the two higher levels of infantíl and 1st  to 2nd of primary)

Objective: Find out what your students know by allowing them to show off for you. Focus on basic vocabulary such as colors, numbers, days of the week, etc.

You Need: A chalkboard is helpful, but not necessary.

How to play: Kids at this age often understand more than they can say, so build confidence by focusing on basic vocabulary that they already know. At this level, kids aim to please and want to participate, so there’s nothing wrong with letting everyone tell you their favorites. Focus on:

  • Days of the week (ask them if they know a song about the days of the week).
  • Favorite animals (let them mime their favorite animal and the other students have to guess.)
  • Favorite colors (and point to something of that color in the classroom)
  • Have them point to parts of the body
  • Ask about their brothers, sisters and pets
  • Count as high as they can
  • Sing the ABC song

Why It Works

Keeping it simple helps to build their confidence and makes them feel proud of what they know. Exaggerate your pronunciation and body movements to help them understand and big smiles help shy students feel confident.

Best of Luck!

Will you get bored? Absolutely. Will it feel like a Tinder date from hell answering and asking the most boring questions imaginable, over and over? At times. But you’ve got to start somewhere, and coming in with an interactive game as opposed to a boring PowerPoint will definitely be in your favor.

Don’t forget to follow me for more ESL Lesson Plans 📚 and adventures ✈️ in the Canary Islands, Spain and the world 🌍!

✌️💙, Erica

<span style=”font-size: small;”> © Erica Edwards and, 2016-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Erica Edwards and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. </span>




One Comment Add yours

  1. Hey girl, I used the guess who game three times so far this week and it worked great, thank you so much this was a lifesaver!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s