Your First Lesson

The first lesson: If you're a newly qualified teacher, then entering a class for the first time can be a harrowing experience. What most new teachers fail to realize is that the students are probably just as nervous as the teacher and whereas the teacher is 'questioning' his/ her ability to adequately teach English to the students, the students are most likely unsure of their ability to adequately learn English. Given this situation, neither party knows what to expect from their first meeting. Probably, utmost in the teacher's mind is the question, 'Will they 'like' me?' Unfortunately, this is not the question that a new teacher should be asking. 'Like' is akin to developing a friendship, and though being 'friends' with your students seems to have a certain inherent appeal, it is so much more important to be 'respected' as a teacher. Therefore, your first lesson and subsequent lessons will be crucial in establishing the atmosphere in your classes and your students' attitude towards you. Keep in mind the old adage "first impressions count" and apply this to your first classes.

Ten Useful Teaching Tips

  1. Make your role clear you are a member of staff, not a member of the student body (no matter how close in age) so do not set out to be "mates" with them. Keep a friendly distance, keep personal details about boyfriends/girlfriends to yourself.

  2. Look professional: do not totally change your style but dress appropriately for the school culture, respect the staff dress code. Students need to perceive you as a teacher.

  3. Sound professional: be careful about your voice (clear and calm) and posture. Students need to feel you are in control or they will take control.

  4. Assert yourself: establish rules from the start and make them clear. No more than 5 will do. For example: do not start the lesson or explain activities if students are talking. Always expect silence before you speak. Have signals for getting attention (clapping hands twice) or for students to speak (putting up hands).

  5. Be organised: plan, plan and plan again ! If you will be alone with groups decide how you will introduce yourself and plan a task to get to know students. What will you write on the board? How long will the activity last ? What will you do if they get too noisy?

  6. Be positive: smile, even if you are feeling a nervous wreck. Concentrate on giving students positive attention with encouraging smiles and praise for answering questions.

  7. Show real interest: listen to their answers and react "That's a good answer" "I like them too. Have you got their latest CD?" Keep your response as natural as possible.

  8. Make an effort to learn and use their names: Make name-tags, cardboard name plates for desks or mark names on a seating plan of the room.

  9. Be patient: You may be the first native speaker they have ever met. Give them time to ask you questions and give them time to get used to your voice.

  10. Have fun: try to relax and enjoy yourself. A sense of humour helps too!

Developing motivation: One of the biggest mistakes that new teachers make is to consider the first lesson as a time for them to get to know their students. Often overlooked is that this is also a time for students to get to know each other. Understanding this, it is easy to see that one of the teacher's first tasks is to get the students to feel at ease with each other. It is my belief that if the students learn to be 'friends' with each other then there is less focus on the teacher and the students will have 'another' reason (besides learning English) for coming to class regularly (and on time). Accepting this, the teacher must create a special 'getting to know each other' atmosphere in the very first lesson. Doing this will also yield the secondary benefit of setting the stage for future pair work activities.

Ice breakers: Though there are numerous ways for students to get to know each other, the way that I LEAST endorse is for students to stand up and simply introduce themselves. This is not just pedestrian, but also qualifies less as an activity than it does an 'obligation'. Therefore the teacher's first real task is to plan a way of taking the 'obligation' out of this oftentimes mundane activity and make it into a fun-filled learning experience. The following activities, referred to as 'Ice breakers' are offered as possible suggestions to assist the teacher in accomplishing this. Please note, however, that one activity may be more appropriate for a certain age group/ English proficiency level than another.

Activity 1: Crystal Ball Predictions

This initial "getting-to-know" one another game loosens up your class with laughter and giggles.

    1. Supply the students with a list of topics to ask each other about, for example: name, pets, hobbies, favorite food
    2. Pair them up. One student is absolutely silent as the other asks them questions ("Do you have any pets?") and that same student predicts what the answer is by writing it down.
    3. After finishing asking all the questions the interviewers take turns standing up and introducing their partner with their predictions during which time they are corrected by their new friend (which is the first time they are allowed to share the truth).

Now switch off the person being interviewed and the person predicting. Create unexpected topics and relax with strange results of this activity.

Activity 2: New in Town

You're new in town. If you were going to advise someone who is moving to your home town, what would you tell the newcomer about,

  • Places to visit/entertainment
  • Places to go shopping
  • Good schools to attend
  • Sports facilities in your town

    1. Make groups and give each group a piece of paper with one of the items listed above on it to discuss.
    2. As they discuss the question, one person should write down the answers
    3. After a couple of minutes, one person from each group joins a new group. This person reports their findings to the new group, which then makes their own additions to the list.
    4. This play continues until each group has had input into each list.

Reform the original groups and then each group writes the new comer a welcome letter telling them all about their town.

Activity 3: True or False

This game is ideal to be used on the first day or even at a later time. Here are the instructions:

    1. Each person should write down 5 things about themselves that are true and 5 things that are false (in a random order).
    2. Each person around the room reads their list in no particular order and the classmates have to guess if it could be true or false.

Some of the things people have written on their list in the past are:

  • I like dogs,
  • I took horseriding for 10 years,
  • I cannot swim,
  • I have five brothers and sisters, etc.

This activity allows the members of the class to get to know each other in a very non-confrontational way.

Activity 4: What made you smile today?

This activity works great with the students at all levels. The objective of this activity is wake the students up in the morning. Simply ask them:

"What made you smile today?" Let them tell you about the things that made their day/morning.

You won't believe where the conversation can take you... Good luck

Activity 5: Two or Three Things in Common

This activity is for the first day of class with students who don't know each other. It requires no preparation. The students must ask each other questions until they find three things that they have in common. They must be things that are not obvious. For example, they can't say we both have black hair. It is easy to model the activity interviewing a student until you find three things that they have in common with you but don't spend too long doing this. Students can repeat this several times and then report back their findings to the class.

Activity 6: M & M's

Pass around a bowl of small candies such as M&M's and ask the students to take as many as they would like, but not to eat them yet. Then ask each student to say something about themselves in English for every piece of candy that they have taken.

Activity 7: Show my Name

This is a variation of the well-known name-chain, where the first student says his/her name, the second student has to repeat the previous name and add his/hers and so on till the teacher repeats all the names.

To make it more fun - it can be done with absolute beginners as well - the students not only say their names but have to add a movement, e.g.,

    1. First student: My name is Tom (he coughs a bit).
    2. Second student: His name is Tom (cough) and my name is Joe (claps his hands).
    3. Third student: His name is Tom (cough), your name is Joe (clap) and I'm Sue (she hits her face a bit).
    4. The game continues in this fashion

This is fun if the students' movements are strange - you may even let them think of it before start the game.

Finally the Teacher has to repeat all the names and movement preferably not in the seating order.

Follow up: The next lesson it's enough just clap your hands and ask who it was to recall each others' names.

Activity 8: Can you guess?

This is a "Getting to know your teacher" activity. Students feel curious about the teacher, and we're always demanding information from them, but we never let them know anything about us, and believe it or not, they tend to consider us some kind of robots, who are locked in a wardrobe after the class ends! Let them realize you're a person and you have a life, and write on the blackboard your name, surrounded by words that are answers to questions they should ask. Write obvious ones and difficult ones, for them in groups to think hard and feel the challenge. Here is an example:

25, The Black Cat, Eternal, Myriam, Green, Norway, 39, Spaghetti, Beautiful, 1

It seems easy, but can you guess everything? Well, 1 means 1 sister (or brother), Myriam is the name of your sister or best friend, these are more or less easy, but what's 39? (it can't be your age!!). Maybe it's your shoe size. Beautiful is your favourite perfume; Green is a colour you hate; etc.

Students usually have a good time with this exercise. Don't be afraid to use personal info: they adore it. (of course without including intimate details). Have fun!

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