As another academic year starts, most of your groups will probably be meeting for the first time, and as usual you’ll want to turn that gathering of strangers into a cohesive group of co-learners as quickly as possible. The magic square is one way to do this—a get-to-know speaking activity that works equally well at any level (except zero beginners). Like many get-to-know’s, it uses simple personal prompts to stimulate interaction among students.
What you prepare:
- Some pieces of blank paper (can be scrap, blank one side) cut into squares, as many as there are students in your group. Use squares, not rectangles.
- Your own completed magic square (see illustration for an example, and instructions below).
What you do:
- Show the students the blank squares and tell them it’s a magic square. Don’t feel silly saying this to adults.
- Give each student a blank square, and tell them to write, in one corner, the name of someone who is important to them. Check that all the students have done it, i.e. are ’on task’.
- Tell them the categories for the remaining three corners. In the example here, I’ve used an important place, an important date (I usually specify that it NOT be their birthdate), and an important object. You can come up with other categories easily, according to what you think will be relevant/generative.
- Demonstrate the activity first by showing the students your magic square, and getting them to ask you about one of the corners. Then do an open class demonstration between one of the students and the others.
- Tell students to get up and mingle, and talk to at least 3 other students, asking about the things in their magic square. You can limit this—e.g. ask about only one thing, and move on.
- Students mingle and chat. As with any mingle activity, you may need to use a signal or nudge individual students to get them to move on.
- After some time (5-10 minutes?)—and certainly before energy wanes—get students to sit down again. Do feedback with them by asking them what they remember about each classmate.
A few comments:
- You may want to collect their magic squares to use for follow-up activities in subsequent lessons, e.g. figure out whose square belongs to whom, write 3 questions for each square, write a story based on the 4 things, etc.
- Yes, you can do the whole activity without a square, by just having Ss write the 4 pieces of information in their notebook. But it’s not the same. Use the magic square.
- This activity can of course be done at any point in a course, not just in a first lesson.
- You can use it to practice specific language—question formation, indirect questions, modals of deduction—by imposing prompts or restrictions on what students say. As with any mingle, you can use it to practice turn-taking skills, e.g. interrupting a conversation, taking leave of a conversation.
- As mentioned above, it works well at any level. With very low levels, you need to consider the categories in relation to what you feel Ss can do, and possibly provide more structure for the interaction than you might otherwise. For example, for the ’important person’ corner you might provide the prompt ’Is he/she your partner/a family member/a friend/etc.?’
I hope you and your students have fun with this one. We’d love to hear about YOUR favourite first day activity. Register on the website (it really is easy) and let us know!