How was your weekend? Ah, that old tried and true question you ask at the beginning of class. It doesn’t matter if it’s Monday morning or Wednesday afternoon, if you’re meeting with your student for the first time since the weekend, it’s a natural question to ask. But week after week of the same intro question before class really kicks off is a bit of a tired approach. By asking this question, we limit our student’s opportunities to practice their conversation skills and consistently force them to use the simple past tense. I think it’s time we switch things up with some new conversation starters for the beginning of class time and we’ve got some ideas to get you started!
Instead of talking about the past (“How was your weekend?”), why not look at the present and near future? This question gives learners a chance to evaluate and share what they plan to achieve this week (personal or professional, or both!). Maybe there’s something they’d like to achieve that you can help them with (an important report they need to prepare in English for example), or maybe there’s a personal goal they are working towards (going to the gym 3 days this week). Either way, sharing goals with someone else increases the level of commitment one feels to reach their goals. Plus, this is a great way to learn more about your student, not to mention, it leaves you with material for a follow-up conversation (“Hey how did it go at the gym last week?”).
Speaking of the future, why not ask a more open-ended question like this one? Here, students can share something they’ve got coming up like a vacation, a holiday or event plan, a friend’s wedding, or the completion of a personal project. A question like this is a stress-free one to respond to since it’s so broad and it asks about a positive upcoming event. This question also allows you to get to know your student more, typically on a personal level, depending how they choose to respond. Who knows, you might find out that you share a birthday with your student, or that you’ve been to the same vacation destination!
And along the same vein as the previous question, we can ask about specific events or holidays coming up. This question allows you to get to know your student’s country and culture a little bit more which is great especially if you’re teaching online from a distance, or you’ve just recently settled in your student’s country. Be sure to ask about traditions surrounding holidays as well! Students love an opportunity to share something about their culture and traditions so don’t be shy in asking follow-up questions as well!
Rather than asking about a specific time, like the weekend, we can ask this question to open the scope of your student’s response about the past. Asking about a memorable moment or day from the last 7 days also gives your student an opportunity to avoid talking (or thinking) about a negative experience they may have had over the weekend. For this question, they’ve got a chance to talk about something they feel proud of or excited about. Their responses could reveal something they’ve been working on for their job, or a personal win – either way, they’re bound to share something positive which will help to start the lesson off on a positive note.
If you’ve noticed that your student enjoys their job or talking about their work, this is a great prompt to open up with. While responding, students can use a variety of verb tenses and talk about different interactions they’ve had so far in the day. Your student’s response allows for lots of follow-up questions and more information about your student’s work responsibilities and tasks which will help you continue to tailor your lessons to your student’s needs. If, after your student’s response, you learn that your student has been having a rough day so far, take this as an opportunity to make the class fun and stress-free.
Similarly to the previous question, you can ask this one to learn more about your student’s work responsibilities and tasks in order to help you better tailor your lessons to your student’s needs. Make sure you ask if they’ve been using English or will need to use English for one of the projects/tasks they’re working on. Ask follow-up questions about their projects because the information they provide can act as material for activities or examples moving forward.
That’s it! Just a few ideas to get you started and out of the “how was your weekend?” rut. Which ones will work best for your students? Feel free to put them on a rotation and add some of your own to keep the conversation tailored to your student. By switching up these intro questions, you’re sure to have more engaging conversations with more opportunities to share and learn new vocabulary. What’s not to like about that?!