- Keywords: Primary knower, authentic teacher-student interaction
- Learner English level: High beginner and above
- Learner maturity level: High school students and above
- Preparation time: 20 to 30 minutes
- Activity time: 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the number of students
- Materials: Worksheet (optional)
The first class of the term, wherein students often give self-introductions is probably one of the few times when students are the “primary knowers” in class because they know more about the topic than the teacher. In most classes, the teacher is the primary knower. There is a much greater opportunity for authentic interaction when there is a genuine and meaningful information gap, as is the case in the first class of the term. One of the main principals in task-based language teaching is making use of the learner’s personal experience in class. The purpose of this activity is to have students introduce themselves and their classmates using their own words while focusing on meaning instead of merely for the purpose of practicing language. If teachers want to highlight specific structure while maintaining the focus on meaning, they may use prompts or questions to elicit specific grammar. The outcome is that students use English freely for the meaningful purpose of getting to know their classmates and thereby gaining confidence and improving fluency.
No preparation is required. Students can write their introductions and information about their partners on a piece of paper. If, however, teachers would like to include a number of prompts, a worksheet can be prepared as an option. For example, I had my medical students write about their future goals as doctors to prompt the use of future tense and auxiliary verbs such as may or could to describe possibilities.
Step 1: Have each student write his or her self-introduction in their notebooks or on the worksheet.
Step 2: Have students make pairs, exchange their self-introductions, and read each other’s self-introductions silently without using a dictionary. Writing in Step 1 and reading in Step 2 should give students time to gain confidence to start interacting orally in Steps 3 to 5.
Step 3: If the information is unclear or there are unknown words, students should ask their partners. Also, students should take some time to ask their partner follow-up questions based on the content of the self-introduction. It is important to tell them not to worry too much about errors as long as they can understand the meaning.
Step 4: Have students write an outline of their partners’ introduction based on the original information that they learned by reading the self-introductions written by their partners and the new information that they got by asking questions. If they already know their partner, they can add new information that was not previously included, such as musical instruments they can play or sports that they are good at.
Step 5: Get all students to introduce their partners to the teacher and the rest of the class. If they forget the information and they can’t improvise, they can look at the outline they made in Step 4. In this way, the outline can be used to provide cues for lower level learners.
This activity works well in classes where students have met for the first time as well as where they already know each other, but the teacher should be new to the whole class. Some students are accustomed to giving self-introductions and may have memorized them since they have been asked to introduce themselves in the past. Getting students to introduce their classmates requires them to use different English. Also, Japanese people tend to be modest and avoid talking about their achievements. By requiring students to introduce a partner, we avoid this pitfall and the information tends to be more complete and subjective. Many teachers have conducted self-introduction activities, yet it is important not to take for granted the real and meaningful information gap that exists in the first class when students are the primary knowers. This activity capitalizes on this rare opportunity and re-creates real world interaction within the classroom.