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The First Class
Even experienced teachers often feel nervous on day one with a new group and many claim that the adrenaline actually helps the class go well. So, don’t panic if you feel a few butterflies in your stomach.
There are several things you can do to help make the first day less daunting and ensure that the class goes smoothly. Firstly, be clear of your objectives.
- Usually these will include:
- Getting to know the students’ names
- Letting the students get to know you and you them
- Assessing the level of English of the class
- If you come out of the first class and you can remember a few of the students’ names, a bit of information about some of them and you have some sort of idea about their level of English, you have done well! Don’t be too ambitious with your first lesson plan. Keep it simple and achievable.
- If you have the chance, find out as much about the students as you can beforehand. Ask other teachers about them and they may be able to guide you as to their level and which individual students may need special attention.
- Try to make a good first impression on day one. Wear your smartest clothes and look professional! Don’t overdo it, and make sure you are comfortable, but first impressions do count. A confident smile as you go into your first class will help to create a good atmosphere in the room.
- Keep your plan for day one very simple and make sure you are comfortable with the activities you have planned. Write them out in your own words on a sheet of paper so that you can refer to it if your mind goes blank. Here are some ideas for first class activities that can be used with all levels and age groups. They should help you to achieve the three objectives listed above.
It’s vital to learn your students’ names as soon as you can. Invest time at the beginning of the course to learn them and make a conscious effort to do so. It is so much easier to create a good relationship with the class and call on students to answer questions when you know their names.
- Labels or name tags
Take sticky labels to the first class and ask students to write their names on and wear the stickers. Wear one yourself to make them feel comfortable about them. Alternatively students can make name tags on squares of card to fold in half to put on the desks in front of them. The advantage of tags is that if you have a big group you can ask them to put them out in the first few classes until you know everyone’s names.
Move the chairs into a closed circle and sit in the circle with your students. First, teach the hand actions of lap (both hands to lap), clap, left click, right click. When they get the hang of it, add these words in time to the rhythm “Concentration, concentration, concentration now beginning, are you ready? If so, let’s go!” On the first finger click, you say your name, and on the second click you say the name of someone in the circle. You have passed the turn to the person you nominated on your second finger click. Then they say their own name on the first click and the name of another student on the second. Start by going round in a circle, then bounce the names around.
- Add an adjective
After an initial introduction, tell students you want to try to learn their names. Introduce yourself by saying, “my name’s Jo and I’m Jealous”. (Replace Jo with your name and an jealous with an adjective which has the same first letter) Emphasise the fact that your adjective starts with same letter as your name by stressing the pronunciation of both the sounds. Invite the students to introduce themselves in the same way. This activity can really help you to get to know the names quickly. You may find though that the adjectives stick in your mind better than the names!
Getting to know each other
Your students will probably be eager to find out information about you. It’s also important for you to find out about them so you can tailor make your future classes to suit them better. For example, if you find out you have several fans of the same pop group in your class you may decide to use a song by the group in a future class. If you have a group of football fans you will be able to tap into this interest at a later point in the course.
Here are two very simple activities to do this.
- Personal Star
Draw a star on the board and inside it put 5 or 6 answers to questions about you. (My answers are Blue, Oliver, November 22nd, 1974, Brazil, Cornwall, and111.)
Tell students that the star contains information about you. Ask them, “What are the questions?” If they don’t get the idea give an example. Tell them “My favourite colour is blue. What question do you need to ask to find out this information?” Elicit from them, “What’s your favourite colour?” and cross out the word ‘blue’ from the star. They should be able to ask you questions to eliminate the rest of the clues. They may be tempted to ask “Who’s Oliver?” for example. Encourage them to ask the question properly before crossing off the information. If your students struggle with this, you may decide to focus on question forms at a later date.
When they have asked you all the questions, put the students in pairs. Ask them to draw their own personal star and put 5 pieces of information about themselves inside. In pairs they can ask each other questions to find out about their partner. If your students already know each other well encourage them to put different things that their partner won’t know about them. For example, they may put the name of a pet or a favourite actor. When they have all finished, ask them as a group to tell the others what they have found out about their partner.
- True or False?
Write 3 statements about yourself on the board, 2 true ones and 1 false one. Grade the statements depending on the level of the class. For beginners I put:
- I practice yoga three times a week
- I have two sisters
- My favourite singer is Dido
(all in present simple)
- For a more advanced level you may put:
- I have ridden an elephant
- I once did a bungee jump
- I hate waiting in queues
(a mixture of tenses)
- Ask students to guess which one is false. They could have a class vote to see if they can guess. They will then probably ask you to elaborate on the information received. Then, ask the students to do the same and write 3 sentences about themselves. In small groups or as a whole group students read out their sentences and the others guess the false one.
By this stage in the class you may have some sort of idea of the level of the group. It can be a good idea to ask the students to do a piece of writing for you early on in the course so you can find common mistakes to work on in future classes. One way to do this is to write a letter (or postcard, or e-mail) to your class introducing yourself. Then, ask them to reply to you with information about themselves. You will be able to find out more about the individual students. You could ask them to include information about the areas they find easy or difficult in English and the areas they would like to try to improve in your classes.
I hope this has given you some ideas for your first class.
Take a deep breath before you go in, and try to enjoy it. Good luck!
By Jo Budden
First published 2008