Who’s Who? A student-centered, task-based activity to establish a learning conducive atmosphere

Byron O’Neill, Kyoto Notre Dame University & Russell P. Hubert, Kyoto Sangyo University


Quick Guide

  • Key words: Asking questions, first-day activity, learning conductive atmosphere
  • Learner English level: Pre-intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity level: University and above
  • Preparation time: None
  • Activity time: 60 minutes for 25 students
  • Materials: Blackboard, paper


This activity works well in the first class of speaking skills and conversation courses. It establishes a learning conducive atmosphere by allowing students to become familiar with each other through a demonstration of confidence in their spoken and written English ability. By changing factual statements into questions, students have an opportunity to review basic grammar and verb structures and decrease their response time for formulating their own questions, resulting in more fluent interaction.


Step 1: Ask students to write three to five factual statements about themselves on a piece of paper. Provide level-appropriate examples on the blackboard such as:

  • I went to Hawaii last year.
  • I play video games every day.
  • My father is a dentist.

Step 2: After students are finished, collect the papers and mix them up.

Step 3: Choose one statement from each student to write on the blackboard. Try to select a statement unique to that individual to decrease the number of identical responses in the questioning part of the activity (Step 6). Make any necessary grammar and spelling corrections beforehand. Alternatively, these statements can be read aloud to the class.

Step 4: Ask students to write the statements on a piece of paper.

Step 5: Tell students that they will be turning the statements into yes/no questions. Use the blackboard to illustrate the three examples from Step 1:

  • Did you go to Hawaii last year?
  • Do you play video games every day?
  • Is your father a dentist?

In more advanced classes, instruct students to try to avoid yes/no questions in favor of more open-ended inquiries:

  • When did you go to Hawaii?
  • What do you think of video games?
  • What does your father do?

Step 6: Have students move freely around the classroom to ask each other questions. They should be allowed to ask up to three questions to one person before being required to move on. Tell students to write the names of classmates who answer “yes” or give a correct answer to any question.

Step 7: Closely observe the students and take notes on any difficulties they have without making any corrections. This allows you to become better aware of the level of the class and to identify any common errors being made, which can be addressed upon completion of the activity or in future lessons. Since this will be the first speaking activity of the course, withholding any immediate corrective feedback will also encourage students to participate more fully in future activities with less fear of making mistakes.

Step 8: At the end of the period, have students go back to their seats. Announce the “correct” answers. Since many of the statements will relate to more than one student, inform the class that only the name of the student that originally wrote the statement will be considered acceptable.

Step 9: If appropriate, give some kind of prize or reward to the students who got the most correct answers.


This activity also works well for English department faculty introductions during university freshman orientation. Instead of having students write about themselves, ask teachers to write statements beforehand to be compiled into a handout. With teachers spread around a room, students approach them in pairs and ask questions to get to know their teachers better. This is an excellent way for students to use English for the first time at the college level and get used to working collaboratively with a partner. As students tend to choose gossipy or simple topics, teachers should try to include statements such as, “My daughter is a flight attendant,” or “I love spicy food” while avoiding sentences such as, “I study cognitive linguistics” or “I took students on a 1-month study tour to Canada last year.”


This activity gets students speaking for an extended amount of time from the beginning of the school year. It creates an environment where they will gain the confidence to more actively participate in future classes through initial inquiries into the past experiences and personal characteristics of their classmates and teachers.