Ideas on Teaching a New Group

Joseph Cronin, Kyoto



  • Key Words: Speaking, Ice breaking exercise
  • Learner English Level: All
  • Learner Maturity Level: A
  • Preparation Time: about 5 minutes
  • Activity Time: 15-30 minutes

It's a fact that many Japanese students after six years of English study at junior and senior high school are unable to make simple introductions in English in a manner that non-EFL teaching native speakers feel comfortable. Some students cannot even give their name in a natural way. When I ask a student his or her name at the beginning of my first class the exchange often goes something like this:

"What's your name?"
"My name is Katsuhiko Moriguchi."

This reply seems very unnatural to me; the "My name is" part is unnecessary. In addition, a long name like this is often difficult for a non-Japanese speaker to understand. Sometimes one or two students will just give their first names in reply. I feel all students should feel comfortable introducing themselves so I teach this in my first lesson with a new group. I also want to give the students a chance to learn each other's names.

Getting Started

First, I bring in sheets of A4 paper with a student's name written on it, for example "Hiroko," folded so that it will stand on the desk in front of a student. I show this to the students and have them each write their first name on a piece of paper which they fold and leave in front of them so I can read it. This way I can quickly call on people. I explain to them that they will need to bring this name card to every class. (Some teachers may be able to remember all their students' names but I have too many classes to be able to do this.)
I write the following two conversations on the board:

Conversation 1
A: I'm Joe, and your name is?
B: Tomoko.
A: Tomoko.

Conversation 2
B: He's Joe, I'm Tomoko, and your name is?
C: Hiroshi.
B: Hiroshi.

I read conversation 1 with Tomoko and she reads conversation 2 with Hiroshi. The students begin to understand what they are supposed to do. Obviously the next person has to continue saying the names of all the students already introduced and asking the name of one more student. This goes on for six or seven students, and then the next group of students starts anew.

I have the students gesture with their right hand to the person they are referring to. I also ask the students to say their names a little slower and a little clearer than they might be tempted to, imagining they are saying their names to someone who speaks little or no Japanese. It's also important that the students really try to memorize each other's names rather than just reading from the piece of paper on the desk. When they forget a name they just say "I'm sorry" and the other person should say his or her own name, like this:

F: He's Joe, she's Tomoko, he's Hiroshi, she's . . . I'm sorry.
D: Shizuka.
F: She's Shizuka, he's Kazuyoshi . . .

I mention the fact that four syllable names, typically boy's names, can be very difficult for English speakers to pronounce and that most Japanese living abroad who have such names often come up with a shortened form that is easier to pronounce. Some of the students choose to use a shortened name in the English class, but I leave that entirely up to them.

Further Practice

For an opportunity to review names I write the following model conversation on the board:
A: I'm sorry. I forget your name.
B: It's Kimiko.
A: Kimiko.

Then everybody in the class stands up and walks around asking other students' names using this model. (With a higher level class I teach "I've forgotten your name," but the pronunciation is much more difficult.) I then write up another model conversation:

A: Hiroko, this is Satoshi.
B: Hello.
C: Hi. Nice to meet you.

I make the point that if both B and C say "Hello," it's fine. I then put the students in threes and have them practice making introductions. Many Japanese are over-effusive with initial introductions. For most young people the age of my students the model dialogue above is adequate to make a natural sounding introduction in English. I feel that rather than teaching a large number of different forms it's better to teach fewer and get the students to feel comfortable with them.


The language focused on in this lesson is not very difficult but it is terribly important. The students should learn to take pride in doing simple things very well. It's not all there is to language learning, but it's something I think is often missing in teaching in Japan.