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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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English Use in Aviation Communication

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ICAO Phonetics and Numbers

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Air Traffic Control Phraseology (Airspeak)

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My blogging style and a few useful tips

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My favourite place for writing/blogging

This post was inspired by a short post and a great idea by Zhenya whose blog I enjoy reading and highly recommend.

Zhenya’s questions about blogging, or writing in general, [habits, routines, tips] are:

  • What are your 2-3 favorite writing habits/rituals you find helpful?
  • What are 1-2 writing habits you find less helpful, (and would like to get rid of in the new year?)
  • What is one new idea (tip, habit) you would like to start in 2015, and why?

I think that talking about our blogging style or our writing habits is a very interesting idea, and our practical tips might be very useful for some new bloggers.

Blogging, for me, is an amazing way of learning through writing and reflecting. It helps me a lot to clarify my thoughts on teaching/learning, because I usually understand some things much better after writing them down.

I love listening carefully to other people (students, or ELT bloggers and teachers on Twitter) and reading some wonderful, inspirational blogs where I find a lot of interesting ideas, and I enjoy reflecting deeply on what I’ve heard or read (usually in solitude, while listening to music). When I find a topic interesting or intriguing, I usually spend a lot of time musing about it and exploring it in books, on the Net, and not until I get a complete idea what I’m going to write in my post, do I begin writing it. When I finish the post, I check it a few times (for grammar, vocabulary, or spelling errors), and when I hit publish, I’m usually very happy and relaxed.

Before writing a post I brainstorm some ideas and thoughts that spring to my mind. I write notes on my computer (in word document), or my notebook/planner, sometimes on pieces of paper that I put in the box, etc. I find this habit very helpful because I used to forget some (maybe interesting) ideas because I didn’t jot them down.

Blogging is really enjoyable, but it can be at the same time very demanding and time-consuming. I’m still struggling to choose the correct word in order to convey my thoughts and ideas while writing my posts. I’d like to get rid of the habit of feeling still (after almost two years of blogging) as a newbie because I’m a non-native English speaker who will never write so well as a native English speaking teacher.

My idea for 2015 is to improve my writing (especially my vocabulary), and to find more time for blogging and commenting on other blogs I like.

I’m looking forward to reading other comments or posts on your blogging style, habits or some useful tips.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Some random thoughts on learning and teaching (from 2014)

STUDENTS

We judge others every day and whether we admit it or not, we all make snap judgments within a matter of seconds. We think that we know our students, and in some ways, perhaps we do. But do we really know them (do we really know anybody) if we do not know struggles they face, their true potential, their personal stories, or dreams they pursue…

Do grades (marks) really express an evaluation of the quality and quantity of learning? Why do we obstinately continue with the perverted practice of grading?

Our insistence on attempting to evaluate students’ performance through a system of grades or marks is the most unfair and tyrannical of all the practices in our schools. Grading and labelling tend to punish the less able students, who may be trying very hard. Arthur E. Lean, an American professor and educational philosopher in his essay “The Farce Called Grading” (1976) claims that the reason people hold on to them is because they are familiar and they act as an incentive that pushes students to work hard, while they actually make students pessimistic. Lean argues that grades are unfair and extremely subjective, and provides many examples of real life situations where grading varies drastically, and where it may be influenced by many factors outside the student’s educational status. In addition, Lean provides an alternative to the grading system, which is written reports that give in-depth information on a student’s status, and parent-teacher meetings.

In his essay Lean quotes Louis T. Benezet (an American educator, education administrator and multiple U.S. university president):

“A sustained effort should be made to throw out false inducements to learning. In one way or another most of these refer to our obsession with grades…. As a system for evaluating attainment of broad educational aims, it remains a failure. Few teachers have any systematic idea of how to grade fairly. Grading is also the chief villain behind the scandal of college cheating.” Read the rest of this entry

The world is full of magical things

The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.

Bertrand Russell

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Wisdom begins in Wonder

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Do we train for passing tests or do we train for creative inquiry?

Reflecting on the way our students learn and the methods we use as teachers to motivate them to learn on their own is the best way of measuring the quality of our teaching.

Students should be encouraged to think for themselves, to discover, to try out new things and not to repeat what they heard in class. Exploring and finding the ways to arouse kids’ curiosity and interest them in learning is the most important.

What is the purpose of education? is the first question teachers should ponder and try to find an answer.

According to Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned linguist and philosopher, “highest goal in life is to inquire and create. The purpose of education  is just to help people to learn on their own. It’s you the learner who is going to achieve in the course of education and it’s really up to you to determine how you’re going to master and use it.” An essential part of this kind of education is fostering the impulse to think critically, create alternatives to well-worn models, and challenge authority.

Chomsky defines the opposing concept of education as indoctrination. Under this model, “People have the idea that, from childhood, young people have to be placed into a framework where they’re going to follow orders. This is often quite explicit.” For Chomsky, this model of education imposes “a debt which traps students, young people, into a life of conformity.”

We live in an extremely orderly society and our schools are organized the same way. Traditional educational system fosters conformity, and people who do not conform, who are different from a group, are punished one way or the other.

I think that one of the most important goals of education is to create independent thinkers who are willing to challenge authority, and who are not interested only in “fitting in” and conforming in order to be likeable and avoid conflict within the group. Read the rest of this entry

About Truth, Knowledge and Russell’s Teapot

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A few quotes I like about education and reading books

Cool things that happened during the winter holidays

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How to enrich your vocabulary

 

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Eleven Things (a blog challenge)

I have been snowed under with work lately, so I am daydreaming at the moment of travelling to a beautiful sunny and peaceful place like this one in the picture above (the photo was taken last summer in Varadero, Cuba by my friend Milena M.). 

Ten Months Round up & My New Year Resolutions

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The Simple Joy of Reading

The aim of the activities described in this post is to encourage the habit of reading books and to kindle imagination and creativity in your students. 

Challenges of introducing/using CLT in Serbian public schools

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The use of video as a starting point for a lesson

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What Is Your Personal Theme Song?

This blog post was inspired by a great idea of writing about our personal theme song by Shelly Terrell and Vicky Loras. As I found it very difficult to choose just one personal theme song, I decided to write about a few songs or compositions I love listening to, either for pleasure, or because they remind me of some interesting moments in my life.

I have always loved music and languages, and I have always been interested in the correlation between music training and learning languages. The languages that I love most because of their intonation and rhythm are English and Italian. In fact, they have a very different sound system and prosody, but both languages are very melodious and sound really wonderful to me.

The first song I would like to mention here is the Italian song ‘Donna con te’. I was fascinated by the song the first time I heard it, about twenty years ago. It was because of Anna Oxa’s amazing performance and her beautiful voice, and, also, because I was studying Italian then and was in love with the Italian music, culture, and really beautiful language..

Quanti ricordi dietro me
li segnerò nel diario della vita…

 

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