The Internet TESL Journal

What's the Truth?

Carole Allen Poppleton
cpopplet [at]
Maryland Institute, College of Art, Baltimore, MD, USA

Most teachers know the difficulty of an opening lecture, introducing students to the goals and expectations of the course, and, hoping beyond hope sometimes, that the students might respond at some point during that first session. I have found a fun and inventive way to make my students feel relaxed with me and to begin to feel relaxed and comfortable with one another in a question / answer, pair share activity. I've found this specific warm-up game workable and useful at a variety of English proficiency levels. For lower level classes, simply make the statements more direct and use appropriate vocabulary. For more advanced, you can expand your "true or false" questions based on students' capabilities. The main objective is for the students to feel comfortable and to meet at least one person in the class and to begin building rapport while practicing writing, listening and speaking.

Step 1

The instructor introduces herself to the class and makes a few casual remarks to get the students acquainted with his/her voice and intonation. Next, the instructor tells the class that they are going to play a game called "What's the Truth?" On the board the teacher lists five sentences about herself (again, these can be very basic or more complex depending on the level), two that are false, three that are true. For example:
  1. I love to cook and eat Indian food.
  2. I speak three languages: Spanish, English and Russian.
  3. I am married and have two children.
  4. I love to write short stories and poetry.
  5. I lived and worked in Japan for two years.

Step 2

The teacher tells the students that some of these statements are true while others are false. She reads the sentences aloud to the class and it, collectively, votes on which are true and which are false. The teacher counts the votes and writes the numbers next to the statements. All of this creates quite a lot of giggles and guesses as to which sentences are true. I believe it helps to get the students thinking about the instructor as a "real" person, just like them.

Step 3

Next the instructor reveals the three statements that are true and asks the class which one they would like to know more about. Everyone votes and the teacher then spends a few minutes talking about herself: her love for ethnic cooking, her life in Japan, the book of poems she just wrote, etc. The "opening up" of the teacher in front of her students helps to lighten the atmosphere and begins to set the tone for the semester's learning experience.

Step 4

Now it is the students' turn to play the game. On a sheet of paper they must write two false statements and three true ones about themselves. These sentences can be very simple or more complex, but I usually stress that students try to be as creative and free as possible. Allow about 5-7 minutes for the writing process. After completion, break the students into appropriate pairs (perhaps selecting them by gender, native language, race, age, etc. to form diverse groups) and have them begin to play "What's the Truth?" This instantly gives them something to focus upon and talk about as they try to guess the truth about their partner. After the true sentences have been revealed, the students, too, must choose one sentence or topic statement to discuss further. Depending on how talkative and lively the class is in response to this game, the instructor should allow about twenty minutes (10 minutes per person) for the elaboration of the true statement.

Step 5

The final phase of this game is for the pair teams to stand up and introduce each other, by name, to the rest of the class and tell one "true" interesting fact about one another. By warming up with the pair share activity and by introducing and talking about someone else, the performance pressure is lessened for the speaker and the rest of the class begins to become familiar with other students.


If time allows and the instructor is stressing listening and memory skills, she could also "test" the class on each other's names, or what information they have learned about each other. For example, the instructor could say, "Keiko, what do you remember about Hsui-Jen?" or "Who can tell me first the name of the student who studied in Russia?"

I have found this introductory activity, which takes virtually no preparation time, to produce lively, fun and often-times surprising results. I had a student reveal that he was a doctor in his native country, a woman who adores Elvis Presley songs, and one young girl confessed that she once gave $50.00 to a street beggar because she had no change! Most of the students really begin to speak and laugh with one another as they read their "lies" and tried to decipher the truth. At best, each student has become better acquainted with another student and all have become better acquainted with the instructor as a person, very similar to them, who has likes, dislikes and has possibly experienced a few adventures!

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IV, No. 5, May 1998