Icebreakers and Building Rapport
Updated: Jan 26, 2022
Whenever my friends and colleagues ask me to give them advice on child development, I say two words: "Attachment Theory" Among other fascinating discoveries, here's what I find extremely relevant to teaching: when a child and, indeed, any person, is stressed, they are not open to or even capable of learning. Starting 3:45 in the video below, we see that a stressed monkey is unable to study the things around him until he receives love, comfort and reassurance.
Our job as a teacher is to build that bond with our students first and teach them second. For, unless we do the former, we will not have much success in the latter. This is particularly important for the first meeting. Below are some practical ways in which this bond can be built.
1. Ask me
Allow your students to ask you any three questions to learn about yourself. Promise them to be honest and do so. This way you put yourself into a vulnerable position and they cannot help but sympathise with you.
2. True or False
Hand out sheets of paper. Explain that you all are going to write three facts about yourselves: two true, one false. Then all of you are going to read the statements and the rest are going to ask questions to find out which one is false. Needless to say, you have to do this too and, preferably, read your statements first.
Write different questions and mark them with standard M&Ms colours. Bring in a packet of the sweet. Whenever a student picks a candy of a specific colour he/she should answer a question.
4. Google "Icebreakers for the first day at school".
There are numerous blog posts and videos on the topic. Don't be lazy. Go out there and find the one that suits you best.
NB At times, you may be asked to teach a group that have been studying together for some time. In this case, they are not new to each other. YOU are the newcomer that has to introduce herself and get to know the students.
While the first lesson is crucial for bonding with your students, you will also need to maintain it throughout the course: every lesson, each lesson. Here are some tips on how to do that:
Among my family and friends, I am considered to be a bore who profoundly lacks a sense of humour. With my students, however, I strive to see funny things in the texts, situations, their mistakes and laugh at them in a kind way. Good jokes are great icebreakers in themselves, they help to create an atmosphere of fun and kinship.
Train your brain to notice positive things around you and comment on those. Notice when your student has got a new/nice/interesting piece of clothing/haircut/accessories and voice that: "You look nice today", "Is that a new shirt?", "I like your new haircut". In addition, I often greet my students with: "Hello, beautiful/handsome".
Apart from the appearance, praise your students on making progress, doing a difficult task, being friendly and helpful.
3. Show They Matter
People are very selfish creatures. I say this with all love and respect. We are interested in ourselves and those who share this interest. Without being overly nosy, ask about your students' work/school/hobbies/siblings and REMEMBER their answers. Then use this information to show that it was important enough for you to register. For example, you know that your student has a nephew called David. When a topic of children pops up, ask: "Does David do this?/How does David behave in such situations?" This also refers to teaching new material, e.g. grammar. When you build context, bring examples from their lives.
At the end of the day, all these techniques are called to show love. We could all use some love, couldn't we?
P.S. 2 It may be really hard to be positive, show love and appreciation towards others when you are exhausted and unhappy yourself. For this reason and not only, it is important to take care of yourself, do things that make you happy and restore your vitality. Also,it's OK to be human sometimes, show your students that you are down and let them cheer you up. However, thisshould not be at every lesson. Nobody wants to study with a constantly depressed teacher.