With very young learners much of what they do in the classroom revolves around them. Before school they are often the centre of ‘their’ universe so starting school can sometimes be a bit of a shock. This activity is suitable for language assistants and teachers.

Some of them will be new to the social context of a school and so they will need a gentle introduction to you, their classroom and the children around them. It can be a daunting experience for everyone concerned. To ease them into it you should begin with topics that they are familiar with. It is no surprise that many primary English textbooks have ‘All about me’ as their first topic. Some teachers say you shouldn’t smile until Christmas, others say Easter. Personally I find it hard not to smile! Whatever you decide to do you need to combine a reassuring atmosphere, personalised topics and routine into your first few lessons.

Age: 4+

Objectives

  • Reassure nervous children
  • Create a safe learning environment
  • Install easy-to-follow routines

Materials

  • A5 paper for every child
  • Large sheet of paper for your self-portrait
  • Large, poster size calendar
  • Small cardboard boxes (one per child) or large envelopes

Welcome

Start by welcoming them into the classroom. Be ready before your lesson begins so that you can stand by the door rather than being stuck behind a desk shuffling papers.

  • The first sentence
    You can have a welcome phrase that you use for every lesson such as ‘Good morning. How are you?' You will find that after a few weeks the children will start to repeat back to you the same sentence so it’s important to maintain the same opening expression. You can of course have two so that you don’t sound like a parrot. You will need to prompt the correct response of ‘Fine, thanks’ but once they have heard it a few times they will be saying it back to you with a big smile. This will give them a sense of achievement as soon as they cross the classroom threshold. It will also make the ‘English classroom’ a special place whereby they need a new language to enter in, just like a password. It’s important that you welcome each child individually. They need to feel noticed and welcome.
  • The hello song
    Primary children in general love to sing and it’s important to have a welcome song that you can sing at the beginning of each lesson. It is an interactive routine that signals the start of the lesson.Use a song that has an easy to remember melody with lots of repetition; the easier the lyrics the better. If it has actions as well then not only will your learners find it easier to understand, the quieter children will be more inclined to participate. Here is a site for pre-schoolers but with songs that are suitable for young learners in an EFL class: http://www.preschooleducation.com/shello.shtml. You have many to choose from but this is one of my favourites:
    Start the day with a smile (sung to The Mulberry Bush)
    This is the way we start the day,
    Start the day, start the day.
    This the way we start the day,
    So early in the morning.
    First we smile and shake a hand,
    Shake a hand, shake a hand.
    First we smile and shake a hand,
    So early in the morning.
    Then we sit down quietly,
    Quietly, Quietly
    Then we sit down quietly,
    So early in the morning.
    We listen very Carefully,
    Carefully, Carefully.
    We listen very carefully,
    So early in the morning.

I like this one because although it has the excitement of a song it also encourages the children to calm down and be ready to start the class. A golden rule is of course that you should never start the class or an activity until everyone is quiet and listening. This song also allows children to have contact with you and the other children with the ‘shake a hand’ part. This is a first step towards making them feel part of a group.

Learning Names
It’s vital that you quickly get to know everyone’s names. This makes the learners feel like you know them and care about them. It also helps for organizing activities and discipline. The quicker you learn their names the better.

  • The name game
    Everyone stands in a circle. They need to be able to see each other. One person has to say their name and do an action at the same time. This could be waving their hand or taking a bow etc. It doesn’t matter what but make clear that each action needs to be different. This you do by correcting the first copied action until it’s something different. It’s natural that they will all want to do the same thing but they will quickly understand that here they need their own action. You go round the circle with everyone saying their name and doing their action. When you have been round the circle twice you then say someone else’s name and try to remember the action. The person you choose then must say someone else’s name and do the action that goes with it. This continues until everyone’s name has been said.
  • Extra tip
    I find it difficult to remember names, especially when you have lots of different classes starting at the same time. What I do is photocopy the register and make personal notes next to each child such as ‘long dark hair’ or ‘wears pink glasses’. These prompts quickly become redundant but certainly help in the beginning.
  • The name song
    Here’s another song from the same pre-school website. This one deals specifically with learning names. I would demonstrate with everyone and then split the class into two groups otherwise it could take a long time to get round every child. You can say the first verse and set one group off and then move over to group two to set them off. Make your way from one group to the other to listen in and learn their names.
    Glad to see you (sung to Frere Jacques)
    Teacher:
    I'm Ms. (name); I'm Ms. (name).
    That's my name. That's my name.
    Glad to see you here
    Glad to see you here.
    What's your name? What's your name?
    Child:
    I am (name), I am (name).
    That's my name, that's my name.
    I am glad to be here,
    I am glad to be here.
    At school today. At school today.

All About Me
Once they are starting to feel at ease in an English classroom you can move onto your first topic. Keeping it personal helps the children to relate to the topic. Use easy but useful language that they can learn in one lesson. They should leave the classroom feeling as though they have achieved something.

  • Self-portraits
    Take a large piece of paper and draw a picture of yourself with a big smiley face. Do this before the lesson to save time. Write your name underneath your picture. Hand out sheets of A5 paper to the children and ask them to draw a picture of themselves and to write their name underneath their drawing. Give them a time limit so it doesn’t turn into an art class as they will probably be proud of their drawings and take their time. Don’t rush them but don’t let it drag on either. When they have finished, show them your picture again and say 'My name is ___'. Then go round the class and get them to hold up their picture. Ask the question: 'What’s your name?' They can use your model to answer 'My name is ___'. Then once they have practised this for a while underneath your picture you can write your age: just the numbers. You say 'I’m ___ years old'. Go round the class and ask a couple of children 'How old are you?' Then ask everyone to write their age on their picture. You move on to asking everyone’s age and finally they stick the pictures onto their envelopes or boxes described below.
  • My box
    This can be a one-off activity or you can develop it into an on-going project. If you don’t have the space to store small boxes for everyone you could use large envelopes. They should be big enough for the children to stick their self-portraits onto the front. You can gradually build up the contents of the box. For the very young learners it can be pictures of their families, drawings of their favourite toy, a label cut from their favourite cereal packet, etc. This can obviously be spread over a series of lessons, be kept going up until Christmas or can see you through the whole year. It requires a little forward planning in the beginning but once you’ve integrated it into your class routines the children will look forward to it and expect to add something new to their ‘All About Me’ box.
  • Birthdays class poster
    It’s good if you can talk about birthdays early on that nobody gets missed out at the start of the school year. See if it’s possible to take digital passport size photos of the children. You may need written permission and it might be too complicated but it’s worth asking. If you can then make a very large calendar that you can display all year. You can teach the months of the year and each child can come and stick their photo on the day of their birthday. That way you can sing ‘Happy Birthday’ when need be. If you can’t take photos then give out small strips of paper (pre-cut so that the names will fit onto the calendar), and ask the children to write their names and then stick them onto the class poster.

Links

  • Here’s a link to a printable ‘All about me’ booklet you can make with your learners. There are a couple of pages that you could leave out, i.e. my address and my telephone number but otherwise this could easily be adapted to younger learners.
    http://www.alphabet-soup.net/me/specialbook.html
Author: 
Jo Bertrand
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