ESL Activity of the Month: The Star

This is my ultimate, shit hot, mind blowing, effective, useful, low prep way to start most TEFL classes with most levels (from about the age of 9 or 10 upwards), and it’s called the Star. If Batman had ever been a TEFL teacher, then surely he would have started with this lesson too.

I’ve done this for the last 12 years at the start of most courses and it works a dream, mainly because it involves all the skills, give the students some information about you, and you get to know a little about them, and their level and motivation. Here’s how it works.


Don’t do this many points or you’ll be there all day… Photo by Shyn Darkly


All you have to do is either prepare a star on an ebeam, or Power Point slide (or draw it on the blackboard if you’re still using chalk) with 8 points. At the end of each point write something important about you. This is my example for this year:

Tottenham, Chelsea, 2, Mateo and Claudia, Writing, Running, New York, 2nd of September.

I kick off with this in my first class. I show my students this information and get them to ask me questions about why this information is important to me. I try to make sure everyone gets a chance to ask me a question, mainly to see what their grammar and questioning skills are like, but also their level of humour.

Once they get the question right, I expand and either tell a little anecdote, or just show a photo. For example, I show photos of my kids, where I went on honeymoon, my parents dog, which is called Chelsea (not my favourite football team).

When I’ve gone through all my points I get all the students to prepare their star in their notebooks. I go round monitoring, helping with spelling or ideas if they are stuck. Then once most of the class have about 8 points, I do one of two things.

1st thing

If they are a small class with a high level, I get each student to come out and write their own answers on the board and get the rest of the class to ask questions. This is great with adults and also higher aged teenagers.

2nd thing

With the younger ones I get them to ask their partner questions first, then rotate round the class asking two or three students. Here’s where I pay particular attention to who switches to L1 straight way. I also make notes of any mistakes with pronunciation or question forms which I go through later.

Then each student presents their original partner. Once I’ve listened I ask one follow up question to keep them on their toes, see their level, and also have a bit of banter with the class.

Why is this a great first lesson?

  • You hear each student speak and immediately become aware of their level.
  • You get to know something about each student, which you can use later to build rapport.
  • You let them know about you, show you’re human, and give them a giggle with your silly photos.
  • You can help straight away with pronunciation and grammar issues.
  • It breaks the ice with a new class.
  • Putting students out the front can work both ways, either giving them confidence at the start of the course, or making them too nervous, so you have to be careful here, especially with younger students.
  • Not much prep. I just tailor the vocabulary for each level and expand where necessary depending on whether they’re interested, or not.
  • You can be yourself from the off. Each time you do the lesson you gain confidence, which gives a great first impression, plus you can sit back and watch them perform and get a first impression of your class quickly.

So, what’s your best first class activity? Have you ever done the star before?

2 thoughts on “ESL Activity of the Month: The Star

  1. Cool idea! Visual and stimulates some good interaction. I like that you’re able to share some stuff about yourself beyond the usual boring basics.
    I wrote about sharing yourself with students awhile ago. I was much less successful at the beginning of my career because I just told students to “ask me anything!” which didn’t lead to an ideal situation! Your structure seems much more effective.
    Here’s the post if you’re interested:

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