No matter how long you’ve been in the industry, starting a new class can be intimidating. There are a lot of variables that you simply don’t know; additionally there are no routines or ground rules from the teacher nor expectations from the students. Both you and the students are stepping into the unknown with only a flimsy lesson plan in your hand and the best of intentions.
Ok, ok, maybe that’s a bit overdramatic. To be honest, there is very little that can go wrong on the first day that cannot be recovered from. That said, starting things off on the right foot will make subsequent classes much easier and more productive. Keep reading for some best practices to help you start your new class the right way.
If you’re looking for some “Get to Know You” activities to do on the first day, you can gain access to the resource by clicking on the button below. Note that these wouldn’t be appropriate if it’s an existing class that you are taking over, only if it’s a brand new class that’s been created. More on this in the next section.
Is This Really a New Class?
This is a good question to ask yourself before you start planning. If it isn’t a new class, but instead a class that you are taking over from another teacher, you shouldn’t spend the whole class having the students get to know each other. They already know each other as they’ve been studying together. Granted you don’t know them yet, but spending a whole class period on “get to know” activities would not only be a waste of time, but likely the students will find the activities boring.
Another thing you should do if this is a class that you are taking over, is to get as much information as possible about the class from the previous teacher.
- What routines did they do in the class?
- Are there any students to look out for?
- What is the class struggling with?
- What are some of their favorite games?
- What classroom management system do they use, and is it effective?
If it is in fact a brand new class, then spending a class period on introductions is justified. The students will feel more comfortable speaking and participating if they know each other. It’s a good way to ease them into the way the class will work and to what your expectations of them are.
In either case, you should definitely spend a bit of time introducing yourself. However, in both cases, you shouldn’t make yourself the focus of the whole class. I’d suggest doing a very short introduction by telling your name, age and country of origin. After that, you can open up for any questions the students may have. If you prefer to gamify this, have the students try to guess different things about you. Keep this brief! Don’t start your first day with a bad balance of teacher talking time.
Learn the Students’ Names
Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language -Dale Carnegie
I’ve heard all the excuses before, that the students’ names are too hard to distinguish or difficult to pronounce; that there are too many students to remember all of their names. That the teacher is simply “not good with names”. Imagine how you would feel if after a few months, spending three hours a week with someone, they still hadn’t bothered to learn your name. You’d probably think that person didn’t really care about you very much.
Whether it’s children, teens or adults, knowing the students’ names is essential. I guarantee that the response and effort you will get from a student will be greater if you use their name versus just point at them or consistently say things like, “what about you?”
If it’s a brand new class, plan a number of activities where you will be learning the students’ names as they learn each others. Another good practice for learning names is audibly taking roll call for the first couple of weeks. This will help you put a face to the name during the early weeks.
If you are really struggling to remember names because you have a large number of students in a class, don’t try to do it all in one lesson. Instead make a concerted effort to learn five to ten students names each lesson. Try to call on them a lot during that lesson and make mental notes that will help you to remember them.
Remember That It’s Easier to Get Easier (hopefully not applicable to adults)
The above is a classic saying about classroom management. It refers to being more strict in the beginning and gradually more easygoing as time goes on. If you start your class in a relaxed laissez-faire style and then discover that the class is chaotic and unmanageable to run in that style, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to change than starting with a more structured style. If, on the other hand, a class doesn’t really seem to need to strictly adhere to the classroom rules, then you can gradually become more relaxed–it’s simply easier to do it that way.
It’s a good idea to start to set up classroom rules and routines from day one. That said, I’d advise not trying to set up EVERY routine on day one. It takes a lot of time to set these up the first time, and you don’t want to spend the entire lesson on routines. It won’t be fun, and the students likely won’t remember it the next class.
Have a Backup Plan and Don’t Get Cocky
Though your new class will have been level checked and hopefully placed into the correct class, it’s hard to tell just how easy or difficult they’ll find the new material. Since you might not really know your students level, it’s good to come to the class with a few ideas on how to vary the activities. If their level is higher than you expected, try to make the activities a bit more challenging. If they are weaker than expected, make the activities simpler. Much of the time, all you need to change is the target language for the activity (e.g. one word, whole sentence, more complex structure, etc.).
Another thing that I can’t stress enough, is that if things go well the first day, don’t get overconfident. Similarly, if the class is a disaster, try not to get discouraged. Often the students are just testing you out on the first day. You may find them behaving very differently in subsequent lessons. If the first day doesn’t go well, spend some time reflecting on why, and think about ways to improve it. That’s the secret to success.
If you’d like a few ideas for “get to know you” activities, you can gain access to them by clicking on the button below. These activities are aimed at teens, adults or medium to high level Young Learners. For low-level young learners, I recommend keeping the “get to know” portion of class simple and just do a ball toss game with names. The rest will come later.