Things in Common
Ways of improving class cohesion while practising loads of language
As any good host or hostess will know, showing people that they have things like their hobbies and hometowns in common is the best way to improve the atmosphere and make sure that everyone gets along. Not only is this also true in the language classroom, but getting students to find things in common with each other is also a great language activity as it means that they have to think carefully about what they say and listen carefully to their partner’s responses. As you will see below, it can also be used for lots of different language points and with very different kinds of classes.
The simplest way of using this idea is to ask them to find a certain number of things in common as quickly as possible or to find as many things in common as they can in a fixed time period, e.g. 5 minutes. They could do this by making statements about themselves that they think is also true of their partner (e.g. “I am human” “So am I”), asking questions to get responses that they think they can agree with (e.g. “Were you born in this city?” “Yes, I was” “Me too”), or make statements about their partner and themselves that their partner can then confirm or deny (e.g. “We both/ all like ice cream” “Actually, it hurts my teeth so I don’t really go for it very much” “Oh, right. That’s just me then”). With lower level classes and groups that you haven’t used similar activities with, it is usually best to say which of these three methods you want them to use. The simplest of the three is making personal statements for your partner to react to (“I like my English teacher” “Me too! I love her!”
As this activity naturally produces a range of tenses and auxiliary verbs, it is a great activity for reviewing those. It is also very easy to adapt the simple method above to other language points, for example:
– Find things in common about last weekend/ last week/ last night/ yesterday (Simple Past)
– Find things that you were doing at the same time yesterday/ at the weekend/ last night (Past Continuous)
– Make predictions about your future/ your career/ this weekend/ tonight that your partner also thinks are true for them (Will)
– Find things that you are both doing right now, e.g. “I am breathing” and “I am wearing make up” (Present Continuous)
– Find plans and ambitions that both of you have (Going to)
– Use these words and expressions to find things in common (Vocabulary revision, e.g. phrasal verbs)
– Find as many things in common as you can which use the word “make” (Collocations)
– Find things in common about next weekend (A mix of future tenses, mainly Going to and Present Continuous for future arrangements)
The variations below also make it possible to use this idea for quantifiers and the language of likes and dislikes.
You can feedback as a class by asking the team who have say that they have the most things in common or finished first to say what they have in common. If they can’t remember that number of things, the chance to win is passed to another team. Alternatively, each team can read out one thing that they think most people in the class also have in common (for everyone to react to) and one thing that they think is not true for most of their classmates.
Students are usually familiar with the phrase “Me too” and maybe some other phrases with the same function such as “So do I” and “So can I”. They might also know the negative forms of “Me neither” and “Neither __________ I”. For higher level classes it is possible to extend this language with more idiomatic phrases such as “What a coincidence/ You’re kidding/ No way, I __________ too” and “That’s the same with me”. What is more likely to be worth the effort of teaching at any level, however, is language to use when they don’t have things in common, e.g. “Really? I…” and “Do you? I…”
Typical mistakes and confusions
– Students tend to over-use whatever form they know well, often meaning “Me too”. While this isn’t a huge problem, it goes against the English system of avoiding repeating the same phrases more than once. One possible reason for this is that repetition means to an English speaker that the person isn’t really listening or isn’t really interested, like the stereotypical husband pretending to listen to his wife’s story while reading the newspaper. It can be worth pointing this out to students to show them the need for more of a range of language, and to use this as an introduction to the general concept of avoiding repetition in English (in contrast to some other languages)
– Students tend to have a few problems with some of the trickier auxiliary verbs, e.g. “Do you have sisters and brothers” “Yes, I have” x
– Students sometimes have problems missing off the main verb, e.g. saying “I can play too”
– There being two perfectly acceptable pronunciations of “neither” can confuse students, and I often find them “correcting” each other
– Students sometimes use the language of agreement and disagreement in the wrong places, e.g. “I like cheese” “I agree” x, which could possibly have the strange meaning “I agree that you like cheese”
– It is fairly common for students to use short answers in place of the right forms, e.g. “I go to the gym twice a week” “No, I don’t. I never do exercise”. Telling them to stick to statement/ response and avoid questions as suggested above can help with this
– Because “neither” is a negative expression, students can sometimes try to use “Neither do I” etc in place of “Do you? I…”
– It can be more difficult for students to use “neither” when the original statement contains a negative expression that isn’t “not”, e.g. “I never go swimming”
Most young learner classes can’t be left to play this game in pairs and small groups as suggested above, or at least not without quite a bit of preparation. One variation that you could do first or instead is to have them make statements for the teacher to respond to (e.g. Student “I am in this school” Teacher “So am I. Very good!”), with one point for each thing you have in common. You can make sure a range of language is used by putting all the phrases on the board and ticking off each one as you use it.
Another possibility with a fairly small group of young learners is to sit everyone in a circle and take turns trying to make statements that the next person will respond positively to as you go round the circle. Anyone who gets a “Really? I…” statement is out of the game and steps back from the circle or sits down. For example, Student 1 says “I am a boy” and Student 2 on their right says “So am I”. They then say “I am eight” and Student 3 on their right says “Really? I’m nine” and so Student 2 is out. Continue until there is just one student left, until no one has failed for a while, or until students who have already dropped out are getting restless.
The idea of having a list of phrases to be ticked off mentioned above can work just as well with adults working in groups. You can also play a similar card game by giving those phrases on slips of paper which are dealt out among the group. Every time someone can get a response that is written on one of their cards (e.g. getting your partner to say “Neither am I”) can discard it, and the person who gets rid of all their cards or has the fewest left when the teacher stops the game is the winner. I call this game Answer Me, and have put a link to a version below.
Another variation that works just as well with adults and kids is to give them a list of statements that they should complete with true things in common, e.g. “We both/ all have a few __________”, “There are one or two __________ in our __________” or “Neither of us can stand __________”.
While writing this article I have also come up with a few variations that I haven’t had the chance to try yet. One is to play a bluffing game where students must respond to all statements as if that thing is also true for them, e.g. “I have five younger sisters” “What an odd coincidence. So do I”. Their partner should then guess whether that is really true or not, after asking more questions (e.g. “Really? What are their names?”) if they like.
It is also possible to add a written element to this game, for example to make post-task error correction easier. Each student writes ten pieces of information about themselves on a blank piece of paper with their name on top and hands that into the teacher. The teacher shuffles the papers and hands them out at random (checking that no one gets their own back). The person who receives the piece of paper writes down true responses next to each statement, e.g. 1. “So do I” and 2. “Interesting. I’ve only ever been to Japan”, this time without writing their name on the paper. The teacher collects the completed papers in and gives them back to the people who first had them, i.e. the people who wrote the statements. They then try to guess who wrote the responses to their statements.