Experiences of an English Language Teacher

First Lessons: Ten GTKY Ideas

You are probably wondering what on earth “GTKY” means.  Well, put simply, it means “Get To Know You”.  You usually teach your first lessons with similar activities so that you can get to know your students.  Nevertheless, every teacher, whether they are young learner teachers or adult teachers, have to deal with the fact that they are going to be meeting some new students on a regular occasion.  I don’t know about you, but for me I feel slightly nervous when meeting a new class of students and I usually have several thoughts running through my head during this time: “Will these students like my lessons?”, “I wonder what the students are going to be like.”, “What lessons will my students respond to?”, etc.  This post looks at ten lesson ideas to instantly develop rapport, learn more about your students as well as help you relax in first lessons.

1. True or False?

This is one of my favourite activities that I like to start with my first lessons.  I write up three sentences up on the whiteboard about myself and usually in this order:

  • I have lived in 6 different countries. (true: France, Germany, Cyprus, Korea, Romania and the UK)
  • I can read and write Korean. (true: usually quite badly though)
  • I am 34 years old. (false: a bit of a surprise to some I imagine but I am actually 35 years old)

I get students to discuss in pairs/small groups which sentences they think are true and which is false.  I mention that there is only one false sentence whilst there are two true sentences about myself.  I almost always write the false sentence about my age as I like to hear how young, but mostly, how old the students believe I am.  It is always nice to hear that students believe that I am 30 years old but I try to forget those thoughts that some students think that I am much older.

This is a wonderful little activity you can do first to the students and generates great rapport with all in the classroom.  After demonstrating the activity, you could get students to create their own true or false sentences about themselves.  Students love for you to learn a bit more about them as well.

2. Student Posters (Young Learners)

If you are teaching young learners, then you could get students to create a poster about themselves.  I usually demonstrate about myself with the learners and bring in a prepared poster with my name on the top on the A4 piece of paper and then other pieces of information.  I show this to all the students and ask students to create their own posters about themselves.  This art activity is really not suitable for adult learners so I would recommend that you don’t do this with them.  Additional information you may wish for students to add could be written on the board so that students have a good what they would like write.  For example, you could include the following:

  • Family
  • Sports & Hobbies
  • Likes & Dislikes
  • School
  • Pets

Students could also include images with their posters but you could also get students to create a digital version of their poster.  If your school has a class set of iPads or a dedicated Computer Room, then you could get students to create their own posters with access to their Facebook, etc.  Tablets and laptops will help with the creation of a digitised version of the student posters.

3. Five Fingers

On the whiteboard, draw round your hand.  For each finger write down information about interests or alike.  For example, you could include the following information for each finger:

  • A number which is important to you.
  • An important or personal place that you have visited.
  • A name of a person who is important to you.
  • The name of a sport or hobby that you enjoy.
  • The name of a song that you enjoy listening to.

Once you have demonstrated the activity on the whiteboard, get students to do the same activity on a spare piece of paper.  Get students to trace round their hand and then include information about themselves.  Get students to share information about themselves and get them to ask and answer questions.  When you are monitoring, you will be able to assess ability, possible language problems to remedy in a future lesson as well as provide some error correction at the end of the lesson.

4. Adjective Names

For this first lesson icebreaker, you will need a small sponge football and obviously some students.  It is a wonderful lesson to remember names.  Get students to stand in a circle and then pass the ball to a student and say their name but precede it with an adjective that starts with the same letter of the name.  For example, with my name “Martin”, you could think of “Magical Martin”.  If it is “Julio”, then it could be “Jealous Julio”.  It is probably best to explain this via the whiteboard initially.  If students have a problem thinking of a suitable adjective, then they have to sit down.  The person that remains standing at the end of the activity is the winner.  This GTKY activity is a wonderful chance for you to remember names, get the students to think of suitable adjectives as well as have a bit of fun for the first lesson.  It is possibly best suited for a strong Pre-Intermediate group of learners.

5. Creative Name Cards

One of the most important things to consider when you are teaching a new class for the week, month or term is learning the names of students.  One way is to get students to make their own name cards which could be displayed from their desks and then brought to future classes.  If you are anyway as bad as I am with names and faces, it always does help if you have student name cards to hand which you could glance to when you have a sudden moment of uncertainty.  To make them a bit more creative, you could ask students to draw things which are important to them (ideas could include numbers of importance, hobbies, family, etc).  It is all a good conversational starter and it will prompt learners to share experiences with each other (hopefully in English).

6. Find Somebody Who …

This is possibly the most common get to know you (GTKY) activity which has been used by language teachers the world over.  It was used in my university when I started my undergraduate degree.  It is simple really and you can create your own worksheet for this.  You get students to find out about each other and is best used when learners don’t really know about the other students in the classroom.  You can get students to find someone in the class who:

  • has met a famous person; or
  • has more than one pet at home; or
  • can play a musical instrument; etc

It is very simple and you can collect the worksheets after the activity that could be analysed afterwards so that you can then learn a bit more about your students.  A template of this simple activity is attached to this blog post so feel free to download it and incorporate it into future lessons.

7. Who Am I?

This is an interesting activity does require a little preparation but nothing too time consuming.  Cut up strips of paper and say to students that they need to write an interesting sentence about themselves: “I have a younger brother and an older sister” and students should not write their name on their strip of paper.  It is probably best to tell students to write at least no more than four sentences (with each sentence on a strip of paper).  You mix up all the student contributions and then pick one up and read it to the class and students have to guess who wrote the sentence.  It is an interesting activity and at the end of it, you could get students to recall anything that they can remember about their peers.

8. The Questions

Have a think about some common questions you usually ask when you meet a person for the first time (What’s your name?, Where are you from?, etc), but before you write anything on the whiteboard try to think of personal information about yourself and write this on the board.  This could include the following as an example:

  • 35 (How old are you?)
  • Maidstone (Where were you born?)
  • Germany, Cyprus, Romania, France and South Korea (Which countries have you lived in?)

Students then have to guess the questions (correct questions above in brackets) for the answers above and go through the first answer as a demonstration with the whole class together so students are aware what they have to do.  Get students to work together in small groups and so that they can check their answers, then work as a whole class and get some suggested questions for the answers and board these up.  You could then get students to find out about their partners/small groups with the boarded questions which could prompt them.

9. Classroom Rules

It is always a good opportunity to set the scene for students with rules, particularly for younger learners who are aged between 12 to 16 years of age.  This activity is suitable however could be used with any students no matter the age.  First you ask students to think of what they “Can” and “Cannot (Can’t)” do in the classroom and split up the board in half.  Learners walk up to the board and then write up their own ideas for each section.  Common ideas suggested include; “Only speak English”, “No mobile phones”, etc.  Once you have a lot of ideas boarded up, you could give the whole class a piece of A3 paper and ask students to create a Classroom Rule Poster which could be stuck up in the classroom and referred to in the future.  For example, if students are chatting in their L1, I remind them that they suggested that they should only speak in English and point to the poster.  It is a reminder and less authoritarian in its application as all ideas come from the students in the first lesson.

10. Guess Who We Were?

The final GTKY lesson idea is probably one of the best if you are able to organise it effectively. This first lesson idea has been done in our school before with our young learner classes.  It does require a little preparation and you do need some access to photos which could be scanned but with most teachers being on Facebook, you have access to half the material required (hopefully).  First ask all teachers/staff to bring in a really old photo of themselves as a baby or young child and a recent photo.  Scan these photos and create a worksheet where students have to match the corresponding photo of the baby/child to the more recent photograph.  Students work in groups and coordinate together.  It is a fun activity which is aimed at relaxing students in the classroom and you could extend it by getting students to create a similar worksheet or presentation and getting the teacher to guess which photo is connected to the student in the classroom.

What are your favourite get to know you activities?  Do you have a different first lesson warmer/icebreaker?  Have you tried any of the lesson ideas suggested and how was it?


  1. I have used 2 (posters) successfully with adults. I just get them to draw a symbol to represent themselves. First I show them my symbol which is a sunflower and a watering can: because I love my garden and then I tell them tongue in cheek that I see my students as delicate plants that have to be watered and carefully nurtured 🙂 They always laugh. I purposefully don’t draw too well so that they understand it’s not about the art. Great ice-breaker for A2 or B1.

  2. A variation on Five Fingers is to get Ss to come up with items for ten fingers and mingle with others, sharing their ten things while holding out their two hands, fingers splayed. When they find something common, they close a finger.

  3. This is a comprehensive topic. Thank you!

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