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Haz el bien, y no mires a quién. -Spanish Proverb


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the simplest, best ever ice-breaker for adult EFL students

I am working at a language school this year, and my students range in age from mid-20s to mid-60s. Before our first classes together, I read several ideas for intro/ice-breaker activities that work well for adults learning English. I came across one that I hadn’t seen before, and it goes something like this:

1. Give the students strips of paper and tell them they have to think of an adjective that describes them and also begins with the first letter of their first name. Then, have them write their adjective and name, in that order, on the paper.


2. Have each student introduce themselves, adjective included (Hi! I’m Musical Megan), and then tell the class a little about themselves: why they’re studying English, where they work or what they study, and any other interesting facts about themselves they’d like to indulge.

3. After the introductions, gather the strips of papers from the students and mix them up. Explain to the students that they are going to come to the front of the class one at a time, and that you’re going to tape one of their classmates’ names to their forehead without them seeing it first. They then have to show their classmates the name and then ask them questions to figure it who it is. They must ask yes-or-no questions only, and they must start with basic things (Am I a man or a woman?), move onto more detailed things (Am I an engineer?) and, if needed, resort lastly to physical characteristics (Am I wearing a blue scarf?) Finally, they have to try to remember the name of the person they’ve figured out is on their head before they take it off (Am I…Mikel?)

4. The next turn goes to the person who’s name was on the forehead of the classmate before them. If my name was on Mikel’s head, it is now my turn.

This game works really well for both intermediate and more advanced adult ESL students. For the lower levels, it helps them work on simple question structure (a common mistake for Spanish people is to say “I am a teacher?” instead of “Am I a teacher?”) and recall basic vocabulary about personal and physical characteristics. The more advanced students seem to naturally rise to the challenge of making their questions more complete and varied.

This activity makes everyone laugh (we all look and feel pretty dumb with a piece of paper taped to our forehead!) and loosen up, learn each others names and get to know each other a little bit. Meanwhile, as the prof, you get a pretty good idea of their level of English right off the bat. I think it might just be the perfect adult EFL ice-breaker.

Have you used this or a similar activity before? What other ice-breaker activities have worked well for you?


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Dondequiera que vayas, allí estás.

So…I’ve been in Spain for almost a week now? Whaaaa? It still feels very much like a dream. That’s so cliché, but it really seems that way more than any other time I’ve traveled. I think it’s because my surroundings are so familiar, and I’ve dreamed of them often since I left here last May, so it’s hard to believe that I’m actually physically here again. Add to that sleep deprivation and jet lag and what do you get? Life in La-La Land.

I rather loathe the very journal-esque stlye of this post, but I felt it was best just this once in order to fill ya’ll in on things. I’ve split it up by subject so you can read about whatever interests you.

Livin´la vida vasca:

I spent my first few days here truly living the life of the Bilbao natives as I’ve been staying with my friend Xandra and her mother, both Bilbao natives themselves. We go for coffee at 7, pintxos at 8 and maybe dinner at 9 or 10; all the while visiting with their friends and family in the streets. Never in a hurry. Always enjoying the moment.

I’ve been so lucky to be staying in a home until I find my own place. Xandra and her mother are so helpful and caring. My first day here, Xandra’s mom made me tortilla española immediately upon hearing it’s one of my favorite foods. It was easily the best I’ve ever had. On Sunday, she whipped up some patatas en salsa verde con merluza (a fish commonly served here) which was magnífico.

I spent Saturday buzzing around my old haunts in Getxo and taking in the late-summer sun on the beach. On Sunday, I went to Sopelana with the sole purpose of watching the sunset on one of my favorite beaches in the world. It was completely worth the trip.

The enchanting old part of Getxo

Al atardecer en Sopelana

The new job:

Yesterday morning, I set out to commute to my school for the first time. The school is in a pretty small town right outside Bilbao called Amorebieta. It seems everyone knows where Amorebieta is, but knowing how to get there is another thing. As I’ve said many times, things just don’t tend to be very straight-forward here. There’s a lot of asking random people on the street, backtracking, hurrying and then waiting. I’m lucky though because I’m in contact with the girl who had my job at this school last year, but even with that it’s a bit of a challenge. I walked 20 minutes to where my bus should stop in downtown Bilbao, eventually found it, hopped on and hoped for the best. My directions for finding the school in Amorebieta once I arrive there were this: “stay on the bus until you go through a roundabout with a statue of a giant potato in the middle, then press the stop button. Get off at the next stop, walk straight, turn right and walk up the hill for about 5 minutes, walk across the highway, turn left up another hill and follow the fences all the way around to the front of the school (which is actually the back of the school from the road). Yes, my school is in the boonies. It’s a beautiful area though, really. Pictures to come 🙂

The frightening giant potato statue

Yesterday I just met the teachers I’ll be working with and one class of students. The auxiliaries (my position) are a bit like celebrities to the students, especially in a small town like Amorebieta where I am the only one. They all just stared at me as they passed. Some were saying things like, “Es ella? La americana? Tiene que ser…es rubia!” (Is that her? The American girl? Has to be…she is blonde!) Maybe they thought I couldn’t understand them, but nothing gets past “la rubia” 😉

Today we went to Vitoria, a town south of Bilbao, to the Basque Government headquarters for our official welcoming ceremony. It was less than thrilling, especially since a good portion of the ceremony took place in Euskara, the Basque language that none of us auxiliaries can speak or understand. They redeemed themselves, however, by serving us complimentary pintxos (tapas/small dishes) and wine over the noon hour.

The piso hunt:

The rest of today was spent in the seemingly never-ending search for a good apartment. It’s not that there aren’t apartments available in Bilbao. There are thousands. It’s just difficult to know what you’re getting into when you’re wheelin’ and dealin’ with sometimes manipulative and often cranky landlords that don’t speak a word of English. I’m sure that foreigners get taken advantage of often when it comes to renting apartments in any part of the world, and I was just doing my best to avoid that while also trying to arrange something with people I would get along with and in a place that wouldn’t add much to my already lengthy commute to work. All of these factors added up quickly and caused a lot of stress in these past few days.

Another girl in the program, Hillary, and I have been looking for apartments together since we got here. The hunt for an apartment is a very different thing here than it is in the States, because most people here actually OWN apartments since there are no houses inside the city. Some apartments are still rented though, and they are usually specifically for students and therefore come completely furnished. We scoured Spanish piso-rental websites like EasyPiso.com and Alkila.net for hours and hours. We called and called and called some more, having several awkward, language-barrier-filled conversations with landlords and potential piso-mates. Everything seemed to be a dead end. Discouraged and exhausted, we decided to take the advice of some of the teachers and find an apartment the old-school way: by looking for signs around the city with the little pull-off tabs with phone numbers on them. We took a few and then sat down in a park to make some calls.

The first call was to the only ad that had actually listed the price of the apartment: something we figured was probably a good sign. The landlord answered and was quite friendly. She asked what I was doing in Bilbao, and when I told her I was working for the Basque Government teaching English in Amorebieta, she said “No me digas (no way)….a girl who lived in this apartment last year was doing the same thing!” So, yes. Out of the thousands of apartments in Bilbao, I am ending up in the same one that Stephanie, the girl who had my job in Amorebieta last year, lived in. I immediately called Stephanie to ask more details about the place, and she couldn’t believe the coincidence. Hillary and I went to see the place, and it is huge and just fabulous. And since we had Stephanie’s word that both the apartment and landlord are totally legit, we couldn’t say no. It’s a 3-bedroom, and she offered us a discounted price while we are looking for a third roommate. But when we returned to Hillary’s hotel tonight she had a message from another girl in our program who is looking for a place to live. We called her, and voila, we had our 3rd compañera. We’re all the exact same age AND all grew up in small towns in the Midwest/Central US (ND, CO, MN to be exact). All of those coincidences just make the world seem so small!

The apartment we are moving into tomorrow is in Santutxu, a nice neighborhood in the Bilbao center, right by Casco Viejo, the beautiful old quarter of the city. We’re all so excited to finally get settled into our own place.

Thanks for reading!

Hasta luego, ¡Agur!