Help your English Language Learners feel comfortable and confident this year with these fun, low-prep ESL First Day Activities!
If you’re looking for ESL first day activities, you’ve probably noticed that most of the icebreakers and other first day ideas out there are language based. They either require a lot of talking, a lot of reading or a combination thereof. You know it just won’t work for your ESL students!
That’s why I’ve created this list of ESL first day activities that will work for you, whether you’re teaching a fully ESL class or just want to make sure your English Language Learners feel included in your general education classroom. The best part? They’re all super low-prep, saving you time for all the other back-to-school craziness.
While we’re at it, if you’re looking for more low-prep ways to ensure your English Language Learners are finding success in your classroom, click here for your free guide! It’ll walk you through my 7 secrets to becoming the engaging, organized, calm, supportive ESL teacher you’ve always dreamed of being!
I’ve taught just about every type of ESL class imaginable. I’ve had grade level combos of just ESL students, a class of only newcomers, ESL students in a general education classroom, ESL students in an inclusion classroom, online ESL classes…the list really does go on. The one thing that’s remained a constant through every type of class, though, is that many of my English Language Learners were excited for the first day of school…but all of them were at least a little bit scared.
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As you already know, the first day of class is usually full of icebreakers and surveys, all of which require language. They require students to talk to each other and in front of the class, read independently, and write their answers. That can be overwhelming for a new ESL student just trying to figure out how your classroom works! I’ve learned to take it slow and easy on the first day of school with these ESL first day activities. They’ll all help your students feel comfortable in your classroom while giving them a chance to ease into the school year and get to know their classmates and your expectations! Plus, they’re just plain fun!
1) Take a Walking Tour of the School
I love, love, love a walking tour of the school early in the day. It’s a great way to show students where to find all the essentials, like the bathroom, drinking fountain, office, nurse, etc., while helping them feel confident navigating the school on their own. If you have newcomers, a walking tour is also a great time to go over those important basics, like how to use the bathroom stall and sink! While you’re giving your tour, you can demonstrate appropriate hallway behavior and expectations for areas around your school. Remember to act as much as possible! It’ll help your ESL students understand what you’re talking about while being a more memorable and effective explanation for all of your students!
2) Play with Playdough
It doesn’t matter what age your students are, playdough is a fun first day activity! Students of all ages love playing with playdough (don’t you?), and it can be a calming activity that helps with first day anxieties. Put play dough out for students to use while you’re explaining class rules or give students a task, like spelling their name or making a class logo!
3) Build Something Together
Challenges that require students to build something together are one of the most fun and effective ESL First Day Activities. Students can practice working together and communicating (an important skill regardless of language level!) and will have fun completing the challenge. If you’re worried about language being a large barrier for your students, make it a silent challenge! Add in a friendly competition for increased engagement! I like to have students build the tallest tower possible out of index cards. Just one thing to keep in mind if you decide to go the marshmallow and toothpick tower route: marshmallows have gelatin, so your Muslim students will not be able to eat them!
4) Read a Simple Passage About School Expectations
I like to incorporate a bit of academic work into the first day of class to build expectations and gauge students’ abilities and skills. One easy way to do this is to read and/or listen to a short comprehension passage about typical first week topics, like school supplies or expectations for math class. This helps reinforce back-to-school concepts while setting the expectation that we have important classwork every day. Just keep the texts especially simple and age and level appropriate so students feel confident, not discouraged! Interested in doing this with your students, but don’t have the time (or energy) to make your own resources? I have you covered. Click here for my simple back-to-school reading and listening comprehension passages!
5) School Rules That Last
School rules are an important part of the first day of school, and that shouldn’t change just because your students are English Language Learners. However, the way that you review school rules should. Start by acting out the school rules. After you act it out, have a few students volunteer to act them out, too! Then, have students create posters (or small signs) for each rule. Be sure each sign has an image that can be used to explain the rules to new ESL students that join your class later in the year! This is a great activity to do in small groups.
6) Silent Ball
I always love to end the first day of school with a game of Silent Ball! If you’ve never played Silent Ball before, don’t worry, it couldn’t be simpler! Students form a circle around the room (or stay at their desks, your choice!) and toss a small ball (or a crumpled-up ball of paper) from person to person. If a student drops the ball or talks, they’re out. For extra fun, have students sit on their desks and then move back to their chairs when they’re out!
So, now you have a list of ESL first day activities and feel confident you’ll survive the first day of school…but what comes next? Click here for ideas, action steps, and worksheets that will help you create a classroom that supports your ESL students while maintaining your work-life boundaries. It’s possible, I promise!
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