Back to School Does Not Have to Mean Back to 'I Don’t Get It!'

August Engaging Whole Class 2

For many students summer vacation means adiós or adieu to second language practice. They don’t use it, and they start to lose it. But on the first day of school, if your students have forgotten skills you labored to teach them last year, take heart. After a few days of practice, they will get them back, and here are three great ideas for kickstarting conversation on day one!

Activity 1. Rapid Fire Summer Q&A

The idea of this activity is to get students communicating in the target language (TL) right at the start of class, when there is a good possibility at least some of them will be looking at you with blank stares. Have students work in pairs and then take turns asking (and responding to) yes-or-no questions about their summer break from a list provided in the target language.

Tools needed: A visual for each of the questions to be presented slideshow style and one list of questions for every two students.

Before class begins:

  • Prepare a list of questions covering common summer activities in the TL. Here are some ideas:
    • Did you eat ice cream?
    • Did you eat a hamburger?
    • Did you eat a hotdog?
    • Did you eat watermelon?
    • Did you wear flip flops?
    • Did you wear shorts?
    • Did you turn on a fan?
    • Did you go to summer school?
    • Did you go to camp?
    • Did you work?
    • Did you mow the lawn?
    • Did you go to the beach?
    • Did you go to the pool?
    • Did you go to the mountains?
    • Did you visit another country?
    • Did you visit family?
    • Did you use sunblock?
    • Did you get a sunburn?
    • Did you get caught in the rain?
    • Did you see any fireflies?
    • Did you see any sharks?
  • Prepare a slideshow with a visual cue for each question.

During class:

  • Divide the class into pairs and give each pair a set of questions in the TL.
  • Project the slideshow with visual cues.
  • One student will ask all the questions first, and then the second student will take the list and ask all the questions. As the first student asks the questions, the second student answers “Yes” or “No” in the TL. If students do not understand a question, have them refer to the image on the overhead which should help clarify.
  • Keep things moving quickly by showing each image for only 20–30 seconds. 
  • When the list is done, the second student takes the list and you restart the slideshow as the first student answers the questions. 
Activity 2. What I Did Last Summer: Reimaged

This is a spinoff of “What did you do over the summer?” Your students will be asked this in nearly every class, so unless there is a twist, they may not be overly enthusiastic about elaborating on it in yours—and in a second language to boot. Try the following game, in which they talk about what they did in an unusual way.

Tools needed: One dictionary for every 3 students, one hat, pens, and paper.


  • Divide the class into teams of 3 students. 
  • Give each team a dictionary with the TL. Their vocabulary will be rusty, so scaffolding with dictionaries is a must.
  • Have each team write a list in the TL of the most unusual things they did over the summer. Make sure they do not write their names on the list.
  • Fold the lists up, place them in a hat, and give the hat a shake.
  • Give each group a list, have them read it aloud to the class, and have the teams guess who wrote that list. Teams get one guess, and team members are allowed to discuss with each other whose list they think it is, but only in the TL. If they slip into English when deciding, their turn is automatically over.  
Activity 3: Time Capsules

Have students make beginning-of-the-school-year time capsules to be opened at the end of the semester. These can be done on the second day of school, as by then students will have met all of their teachers. 

Tools needed: One regular-size mailing envelope per student, pens, and paper.


  • Have students answer the following questions in the TL, tailored to suit their level:
    • Who is your favorite teacher so far?
    • Which class do you think you will do best in?
    • Which class, if any, do you think you will not do well in?
    • What about your schedule do you like best and what do you like least?
    • Outside of school, what are you most looking forward to this fall?
    • Outside of school, what are you least looking forward to this fall?
  • As students answer the questions, go around the room and help them elaborate on their answers in the TL. 
  • Once all students have completed the activity, give them envelopes, have them write their names and the dates on each envelope, collect them, and announce that they will be reopened at the end of the semester. 
  • Save the envelopes for the end of the semester, at which point you can have students compare what they wrote with how the semester turned out in an end-of-term writing activity.

Most students go into a new school year excited for a fresh start and the opportunity to learn. They may joke about their language skills being rusty, but in fact they want to get them back every bit as much as you want them to. Providing them with focused and (hopefully) fun ways to jump back in to speaking another language, without making them feel awkward, will be a confidence booster for your students and a relief for you. 

If you use any of these activities and have a moment afterwards, we would love to hear how they went for you. In the meantime, have a great first day of school and remember: Once students start using it, they stop losing it!


Looking for additional fun ideas to keep your students engaged in the target language? Learn more about HMH’s World Languages programs.

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