Three No Prep Activities for the First Day

It’s Back to School time!!

Officially school started over a week ago at the high school and I don’t go back to school at the college for another week.

Here are three no/low prep activities you can do with any class, but the newbies.  (For my take on starting with the with the newbies see this post.)

1. Categories

I don’t know about you, but when my students came in after the summer they hadn’t spent it practicing any French and I like the delicate toe dipping back into the TL.  Here’s how it works:

Brainstorm a list of categories (themes) students should know.  For example: School, Home, the Beach, Brandon Brown Wants a Dog, etc.  Whatever they most likely studied.  Then one at a time put those on the board (or on a slide deck) and instruct students to come up with a list of words that have to do with that topic.  It just needs to be a list.  (Don’t worry, we’ll make sentences later!) For example for school students might list: listen, pencil, paper, fun, partners, etc.  Give them oh, three minutes per topic.  Give prizes or Señor(ita) Bucks or whatever your reward system is for the most words, the most interesting words, the longest word, etc.  Whatever you want.  Here’s the important part- both partners have to write down the exact same words.  After each category I’d ask for volunteers to tell me some of the words all in TL.  Next, have them switch partners and go on to the next category. Repeat until you’ve gone through each category.  I’d recommend no more than four categories.

When you’re done you’re left with some nice lists and hopefully students have got their TL brains loosened up and working a bit.  But here’s where it gets really good:  send them to the next partner.  (See they’ve worked now with five different people, reviewed, hello, my name is, your name is, etc.)  With this last partner give them the instructions that they will have 10 minutes to come up with a 30 second conversation about one of those topics.  It can be a story.  It can be a dialogue.  It can be a newsflash, but both people need to talk.  I limit the time.  This isn’t about proficiency or an assessment, this is about getting their mouths moving again in the TL and for you to get an initial idea of their raw language abilities.  Then they can present their 30 second dialogues/stories the next day or on Flipgrid or Recap or whatever way makes you the happiest.

2.  Meeting someone you don’t know

For students who are new to a class together they need to get to know each other.  There’s lots of cute icebreaker ways to do this, but I am not that kind of girl.  I can’t stand icebreakers.  When I see on a meeting agenda icebreakers or getting to know you activities, I start planning a bathroom emergency.  I understand as a teacher that icebreakers are necessary, so here’s how I do it in class.

In partners ask students to brainstorm a list of questions you could ask someone you don’t know or have just met.  It’s important to specify that “How are you?” does not count.  While they’re doing this you can walk around and help and gush and see how they’re starting off the year.  When they’re done I usually ask for volunteers and write their questions on the board.  If I notice that they may need extra help, then when we brainstorm the questions, I’ll also review how to start the answer.  So when we write “Quel âge as-tu?” I’ll also get them to tell me and I’ll write “J’ai…”

But not done yet…..have students choose five of the most important questions. Which five do we have to know about each other?  (Hopefully they chose name as one of them if not say, “Oops, I said six questions” and mark name as one of them.)  One year students included – What’s your favorite book?  (That was a bookish class.)  One year, what’s your favorite movie?  Doesn’t matter.  They choose.

Still not done… have students interview a partner and then present their partner to the class.  You can do the not fancy stand up and present and that’s like 15 seconds per kid or you can go fancy and have the students do a collaborative Google Slide or use Flipgrid or Recap.  (If you haven’t guessed yet I choose the non fancy option for this.)

3.  Whaddya do?

If students know the past tense already, then as far as I’m concerned that first week’s lessons should include something about what they did over the summer.  Ask yourself, how many times did someone ask you about your summer when you got back to work?  It’s all anyone wants to talk about.  Sure, you can change it up and throw in an infographic about typical vacations in your language culture and have them compare, but I just like the no-nonsense tell me about your vacation.  (For ideas about talking about vacation here’s a whole post.)

This year I’ve been particularly interested in how many different ways I’ve been asked about my summer since I’ve been back:

Were you able to get away?

Did you get to relax?

Did you go anywhere?

Did you get out of town?

Catch any good movies?

What’d you binge on on Netflix?

Imagine the discussion that ensues with students around the intent of those questions.  Instead of just asking “What did you do?”  if I ask, “Were you able to get away?” I’m asking the same thing, but focusing on where the person went.  When I’m asked “Did you get to relax?” the questioner doesn’t want to know about how I got my pool clean.

First, ask students to write down or state what they did.  Then give them some alternative questions like the ones above and ask them to refine their answers.  (Fair warning- this next step is a bit of prep.)  Have these questions on cards and give the students the cards to circulate and ask what everyone else did, but focusing on the nuances of the question.

There you have it- three (mostly) no prep activities to start the year off in the TL!

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