There’s a common difficulty I’ve encountered among language learners around the world, at various levels, and with different backgrounds—the hardship of introducing themselves. You might be surprised how many people cannot introduce themselves in a concise, coherent manner. It’s not limited to lower-level language learners either. Higher-level learners struggle with this at times and even native speakers!
Our focus here will be on using an introduction activity to aid beginner-level learners. We’ll show you how to help them gain a sense of accomplishment by class end. Today’s blog will not only offer an idea to work with beginner-level students, but also present a way to engage them in a meaningful, practical, and useful activity. Learning how to introduce themselves will serve them well both inside and outside ESL classrooms.
Introductions Are in Order
Now that your curiosity might be piqued, let’s look at an activity that will benefit beginners greatly. I’ve found one of the best ways to work with beginners is helping them to build an introduction. Most want to be able to tell others who they are, where they’re from, what they like to do, and more. But they just don’t know how to do it. This may be one of the reasons beginners are so apprehensive when joining your class. It may also be a reason why they’re so quiet. They just don’t know what to say from the very beginning of class when the teacher requests, “Please introduce yourself.”
By helping beginners express themselves with a concise and coherent introduction (in text form initially), you will pretty much instantly get their attention. Sadly, far too many teachers want to get right into a lesson before learners can even get past the first step. But teachers who want to get to know their learners—while helping them accomplish something basic but useful—will be remembered.
What Does It Look like?
I use the following format when working with beginners and their introductions.
1. Hi! My name is ____.
2. I’m from [city, country].
3. I’m a [your job title] in a [type of company].
4. In my free time I like ____.
5. I want to improve my English because ____.
6. That’s a little bit about me—thanks!
I use numbers so it’s easier for us to communicate which line we are both referring to. I use brackets so they can see what specific information I asked them for. The blanks offer them the opportunity to put their own ideas. Of course, if needed, you’re there to help with that. Number 6 doesn’t require additional information. It’s simply a realistic way to end the introduction. Interestingly, how to end comments is something many learners I’ve encountered are not familiar with.
For more proficient beginners, I give them a chance to fill in the blanks as they speak. Usually, for very low level learners, I’ll ask them the information for each line. Then, I fill in the answers so they can see. Later, when it’s complete, I ask them to recite it. After the first run, I create a short dialogue by requesting, “please introduce yourself.” Now, they do it for real, as if meeting someone for the first time. They may sound a bit monotone and or hurried at first (like they’re reading a book). So, I inject a little Terminator humour (i.e. “I’ll be back” in a monotone manner) then show them how to do it with rhythm.
Beginners (and even higher levels) often get a sense of accomplishment being able to express this information about themselves. I mean, after all, isn’t it one of the reasons they’re taking your class—to learn how to express themselves in English?
Model It For them First
Give your own introduction at the outset of the class in a similar format. This helps class members see and hear a practical example of what an introduction looks and sounds like. It also prepares them for what they’ll be doing next.
Branch Out If They Can Handle It
If you have a sense that they’re able to handle it, branch out with related questions for each introduction point they share. For example, if they tell you they’re from Cologne, ask them what it’s like. You might be surprised that they want to tell you more about their city. Or, they would love to tell you more about what they like (children and adults), or do for work. Not only that, but it’s something familiar to them.
They would naturally be able to tell you in their first language. The trick is helping beginners express it in the second language. I’ve had engaging first lessons simply working through an introduction. And again, this isn’t only for beginners. Even advanced learners you encounter may not know how to do this.
The beauty of this activity is that there’s a scaffolding between ideas and a meaningful target. Sometimes ESL lessons contain arbitrary or distant language that doesn’t relate or connect to students. But working through an introduction breaks that trend and brings English home to your students.
The next time you encounter a beginner (and it’s likely you will), they’ll likely not know how to introduce themselves. Try this activity to break the ice, to put them at ease, and to start from the get-go on something real and meaningful to them. I’ve been doing this for years, and it works. Even better, learners appreciate it.
Not only that, but the next time they introduce themselves in another English class (and they will be), they will have a pattern. They’ll feel more confident and you’ll have helped them accomplish an ESL goal. Being able to introduce themselves is a significant accomplishment to people. It’ll go a long way in reducing the tension while aiding class members in getting English one step at a time.
What are your thoughts? What experiences have you had involving introductions or the lack of them? Share your comments about today’s blog below. And, as always, feel free to share your requests for topics you’d like to see covered here.