My three favourite activities for first lessons with adults

MY-FAVOURITE-ACTIVITIES-FOR-FIRST-LESSONS-WITH-ADULTSIn this post, I am describing my three favourite activities for first lessons with adult learners. I have been mostly using them during my individual classes. The objective is to learn more about the students through conversations and initially assess their language.


I like keeping my first lessons speaking-oriented and not as scripted as the ones that follow usually are.

My main aims behind each of these activities are:

  • learn more about my students
  • initially assess their language
  • break the ice and make them feel comfortable in class
  • learn more about topics which they are interested in / unwilling to discuss (I have found lists of topics to tick or asking my students point blank “what would you rather NOT talk about?” not as effective as introducing a variety of topics during the first meeting and gauging their response.)

My rationale for each activity:

  • not too personal but relatable
  • not controversial or too serious (let’s leave that for later if they show any interest)

My role in each activity:

  • encourage them to speak but know when to move on
  • provide as much language as necessary as the lesson goes by
  • correct as we go and be ready to point out some areas we should work on at the end of the lesson

This or That

This activity is based on the idea of a tournament bracket. The objective is for the student to choose one option over the other and explain why. The end result is establishing our student’s favourite / preferred  thing/activity in a given category.

Why does it work?

For the first lesson, I try to choose quite broad topics which are neutral enough not to cause offense yet might be easily personalised. This or That is, in fact, a great conversation starter and each choice might be developed into a meaningful conversation. It enables the teacher to find out more about the student and share some information of their own (if they choose to do so). It gives the student plenty of opportunities to talk about familiar topics and review and learn a lot of vocabulary.


Associations is a series of words, images and sound effects which are meant to encourage students to share their opinions, experiences, and thoughts.

Why does it work?

I enjoy its open-ended formula, extreme versatility, and the fact it does not put students on the spot by asking seemingly effective questions such as “What do you think about capital punishment?”. Students might choose to share as much as they wish and the fact that there are no wrong answers here makes it possible for this activity to go for a long time. There is loads of emergent language to explore (or emerging unexpected language as Dominic Walter called it) and some true potential for authentic, genuine conversation.

Latest Breaking News

Students retell the latest news using pictures as hints.

Why does it work?

A lot of teachers might find news topics too risky for the first class but, for me, it is a risk worth taking. I do try to stay away from heavy topics but there are many headlines to choose from. Most importantly, each news story is just a starting point for further discussion and for the teacher to feel the room. On top of that, this activity offers a great variety of vocabulary to be used on less familiar topics.


What do you usually plan for your first class with adult learners?


  1. This is amazingly helpful. I always do a needs analysis in the first lesson, but “This or That” will definitely give me more insight into who they are and what they’re interested in. Thank you!

  2. Great activities!! I loved this or that! Thanks for sharing, I’ll definitely try them out! 🙂

  3. Pingback: ELT | Pearltrees
  4. I tried This or that with my university students and they had no idea who a pen pal is. When I explained they were all like: “Why do it…?” 😉 So my comment on this activity is that some concepts may be a bit outdated for the today’s youth 🙂 But generally the formula of the activity is really engaging 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • We can always call them “language exchange partners” to make it more universal 😉 And this concept is actually well worth exploring.

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