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The first class – tips and ideas

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The first class meeting of any course is one of the most important classes, much more important than many teachers realize. It can greatly influence students’ opinions about the course and the teacher, as well, therefore the first class is also the most challenging of all the classes you will have during the semester.

The first day of class is the time to introduce yourself and the course, gain the students’ interest, create a positive classroom atmosphere and foster teacher-student rapport.  What is, also, very important, the first day is an opportunity for you to get to know and begin to evaluate your students and assess their language skills.

From my own experience, after experimenting and reflecting a lot during many years on establishing the goals for the first day of class and strategies to meet these goals, I believe now that:

  • as the first class sets the tone for what is to follow, teachers should behave the same way they will behave for the remainder of the semester
  • in the first class of the semester, and when a lot is happening, there is no need to cover everything to the point where students are overloaded with the course information
  • it is important to create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to a positive learning experience, this being an essential starting point for effective learning in any classroom

The first class should be well structured with a variety of activities and an appropriate pace. These are some of the first class ideas I have found interesting and useful for my (intermediate and upper-intermediate level) students:

1.  Students ask the teacher whatever they feel is important to know about the course.

(apart from the course related questions, they can ask you some personal questions, if they want to, and of course if you are willing to respond to such questions)

This is an activity for fostering teacher-student rapport. It also creates an environment where meaningful questions about the course are not only wanted but expected. Students usually want to know what is in the syllabus, how much work to expect, and what the teacher’s policies on attendance are.

While you do not want to discuss personal information such as, for example, your age, a divorce, etc., there are some things you would want to share about yourself (how you would like to be called by your students, your educational background, why you are enthusiastic about your job or the course, etc.)

2.  Teacher writes a few things/phrases about herself/himself on the board. Students ask questions in order to guess and find out what the phrases are about.

This is a fun activity for creating a positive learning atmosphere and teacher-student rapport, fostering students’ interest and curiosity, and also a very useful way for practising making questions.

3.  Interview your partner about her/his expectations of the course. Tell the class what your partner’s expectations of the course are.

This activity communicates key elements and expectations for the course. This is also an opportunity for the teacher to discuss the roles/responsibilities of the teacher and students, and is beneficial to the teacher and student because it draws the students into the course content.

4.  Finish the sentence: A good way to learn English is…

Give students the following sentences (on the whiteboard, on an overhead projector, or as handout). Tell them they can agree, disagree, change the sentences, or add their own sentences. This can lead into a class discussion about how to learn a language, as well as past experiences learning a language.

A good way to learn English is…

  1. Speaking English in class with a professional English teacher.
  2. Speaking English with other students in the class.
  3. Speaking English in a café with a native speaker of English (not necessarily a teacher).
  4. Living in a country where people speak English.
  5. Watching films and TV in English.
  6. Reading books and newspapers in English.
  7. Repeating what the teacher says in class.
  8. Keeping a notebook of new words.
  9. Doing some English homework (writing or reading) very often.
  10. Having lots of tests in class to help us remember.

5.  Flash fiction (or Microfiction)

e.g.

  • look through the window / choose a photo in your mobile phone, etc. …and write whatever comes first to your mind (in 100 words)
  • write a story in just six words
  • write a tweet on the book you have read recently (140 letters)

Flash fiction is a short form of creative writing to use in class. This activity does not require students to write a lot, but they must stick with the 100 word / six word / 140 letters… rule.

This is a great way to practise editing and reformulating ideas. You have to condense the idea of a story into one image or idea. It also requires students to have a very good grasp of English, and particularly to have a large vocabulary to be able to express themselves in different ways and control their writing.

Twitter is the ultimate modern short form of writing (or flash fiction) with the restraints of 140 characters.

You can find a lot of six word stories on: Six-Word Memoirs and your students can also submit their six word stories there.

I found some of the activities I described here on the Internet, or I heard about them at various seminars. As I have used them for so many years I no longer remember where it was from originally (so I cannot reference it).

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About ljiljana havran

English language teacher (General & Aviation English), passionate about learning and teaching. Curious, adventurous, a lifelong learner. Love: good books, music, lots of dance.

5 responses »

  1. Great ideas here and a well-balanced perspective, Ljiljana. Thanks for sharing.

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    • ljiljana havran

      Thanks so much for your comment and kind words, Hana. I’m glad you liked my first class ideas and tips, and I always enjoy reading your wonderful blog. 🙂

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  2. Hi Ljiljana

    I really enjoyed this post. I first read your comment on Mike Griffin’s blog and loved the 4 ideas you shared on how to make the very first class less ‘teacher-talking/centered’ and then checked here to see if you have written more on this topic. Wonderful!

    I love your list of ideas, and my favorite (something I have never done myself) is 5 (flash fiction, or micro fiction) I mean, I have never thought about these ideas as suitable for the very beginning of a course, and now that I read your post I can see how they fit. Indeed, a lot of spontaneous ideas, and a lot of ‘real personality’ coming out in such an activity. I think it will be fantastic for a first day on a training course for teachers, too.

    Thank you for the inspiration!
    Zhenya

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    • ljiljana havran

      Hi Zhenya

      Thanks a lot for your comment. I’m glad you enjoyed the post and liked my list of ideas.

      As for the flash fiction idea, I heard about it at a Serbian ELTA seminar a few years ago. I tried it out at the beginning of the first term with my 4th year secondary school students (upper-intermediate level) and it was really interesting and fun. Although teenagers are not very enthusiastic about writing and find it a bit daunting, writing some very short stories is not requiring them to write a lot (up to 100 words, or just one sentence in a tweet…). This activity is also suitable for the beginning of a course because students are writing whatever comes first to their mind, for pleasure and not for grades.

      If this post has inspired you to try writing some very short stories with your students, or on a training course for teachers, you can find a lot of lovely ideas in the great post by Jo Cummins: Very Short Stories – https://creativitiesefl.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/very-short-stories/

      Thanks again for your comment 🙂

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      • Thank you very much for the reply Ljiljana. I agree that writing for pleasure, or for fluency (not accuracy or grades), for communication is something helpful and desirable in class. Also, I am wondering if trying this type activity as early as day 1 on a course shows students that writing can be pleasant and not something to fear.

        Loved the link to the post you added – a lot to try and think about. I am a fan of 50 word sagas (not even sure when and where I first heard of this idea, but used it a lot in classes) and now the range of possible micr fiction is growing! Thanks you once again!

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