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Birth Order Icebreaker
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Make four signs labeled (in big letters)
"First Born (Oldest)" "Middle" "Last Born (Youngest)"
and "Only (No Brothers or Sisters)." Put one in each corner of the
room (or one on each table, if you happen to have four tables).
Do this before any students have come to class.
As students come to class, ask them questions to help them
get into the correct groups. ("Do you have any brothers or sisters?
Older or younger?") Once most of your students have arrived, they
can get started.
Tell each group to let each person speak briefly about what it
was like to be a ______ (first born, last born, etc.) in their
small groups. Tell them that they will later report back to the
class as a whole about the advantages and disadvantages of being
in their birth order. As the teacher, you can either join the group
that you belong to, or go around to the different groups to make
sure they're letting everyone talk.
(Allow approximately 15-30 minutes for this).
Start with the "first borns." Ask them to tell the rest of the
class about what it's like to be a first born. Encourage 2 or
3 people from the group to speak.
Next, have the other groups comment on what they know about first
born children. Go through each group this way: first the group
itself speaks, then the other groups speak about them.
Next, share the following information about birth order
personality characteristics with your students. You could
make a handout or overheard, or else read a description and
let them guess who it describes. (These lists come from Dr.
Kevin Leman's "The New Birth Order Book," a great resource
on this topic). Go over any unfamiliar vocabulary in the
process. (Alternatively, you could put some of the words on cards
and ask the groups to categorize them into the four birth order
groups, and then see how they do with it).
"First born: perfectionist, conscientious, list maker, well-
organized, hard driving, natural leader, critical, serious,
scholarly, logical. Doesn't like surprises; loves computers.
Often compliant: has difficulty saying No."
"Middle Child: mediator, compromising, diplomatic, avoids
conflict, independent, loyal to peers, many friends,
secretive, unspoiled, has reasonable expectations."
"Youngest Child: manipulative, charming, blames others, attention
seeker, tenacious, people person, natural salesperson, precocious,
engaging, affectionate, loves surprises."
"Only Child: little adult by age seven; very thorough and deliberate;
high acheiver; self-motivated; fearful; cautious; voracious reader;
black and white thinker; uses "very" and "extremely" a lot; can't
bear to fail; has very high expectations for self; more comfortable
with people who are older or younger."
(The New Birth Order Book, page 15).
Next, each person can speak about these characteristics. A good way to
do this is to have each person talk about one characteristic he
either agrees with or disagrees with. Ask the student to give an
example. As you go around the room doing this, you (and the students)
will get to know a little bit more about the students.
If a lot of students complain that the personality characteristics
don't fit, explain that other factors can affect personality.
For instance, if there is a big age difference between siblings,
sometimes these descriptions do not hold up; additionally, if a
youngest or middle child is the first male or female amongst the
siblings, that person may act more like a first-born child.
The last step can also be used as a brief writing activity.
Karin M. Abell
Durham Technical Community College ESL Program
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