A Good First Day: 13 Steps to Ensuring a Great Start with a New ESL Class

A Good First Day
13 Steps to Ensuring a Great Start with a New ESL Class

Graham Dixon
by Graham Dixon 5,346 views |

First days can be scary.

There are many unknowns and we must be ready to be adaptable and roll with the punches. Some simple steps can make this nerve-wracking day much more manageable, and less stressful. And, dare we hope, possibly even enjoyable. Here are TeflGuy’s tips for having a great first day.

Make It Easy through the First Day

  1. 1

    Know Your Customers

    Find out everything you can about this group. How many students are there? Where are they from? Who has taught them before? Email or call, well in advance, to ask their previous teacher for any background they can provide. Figure out which first languages they speak; is there a preponderance of a particular one? How old are they? What do these things tell you about what to expect? What support might you need?

    Try, also, to get hold of your students’ schedules, so you can see in which part of their day your lesson will take place. Are they likely to be awake and fresh, or tired after a long reading class, for example?

  2. 2

    Plan Like a Professional

    Your lesson plan is your life preserver, your distress flare and your shark repellent. It will keep you on track, ensure you don’t forget anything, and enable a smooth, well-paced flow of events. Your plan should include:

    • Everything you plan to present and practice during the coming class: vocabulary, structures, matters of pronunciation and intonation, and skills work
    • Your aims for the class, and any reminders you might need (your list of class rules, or cool facts relating to today’s topics, for example)
    • The structure of your lesson; the classic ESL format would be:

      Review - Presentation - Controlled Practice - Free Practice - Consolidation/Game

    • Anticipated timings for each section of the class.
    • Space for notes on future work, problems, and self-assessment.
  3. 3

    Gather Your Resources

    Do you need copies of a worksheet? Or access to a projector, or computer? What’s the fastest way to bring up the YouTube video you want to show? Could a word be taught best by using a real object, which you could bring in? Think about these issues well in advance, so that you’re not embarrassed by a projector with a failed bulb, a computer which won’t connect to the school’s wireless, etc.

  4. 4

    Find a Class List and Learn Names

    I make a point of doing my level best to learn the name of each student in our very first class. The process is quicker and simpler than you might think:

    • Have each student introduce the person to their left
    • As they do, circle round the whole group, up to that point, reminding yourself of their names by actually saying them: “OK, so that’s Jessica, Liu and Peng…. Thanks, nice to meet you. That makes it Jessica, Liu, Peng and Cara.”
    • Every fifteen minutes, provided it’s not awkward to do so, stop the class and say, “OK, let’s see if I can get everyone’s name.” Proceed round as you did before, “Jessica, Liu, Peng, Cara…” all the way to the end. Ask the students not to remind you, unless you’re really stuck. Do the same at the very end of the class.

    My memory is far from perfect, but using this method, I absorbed a hundred and forty student names during my first week at a new school in Boston.

    An alternative is to have the students make name cards to put on the edge of their desks, decorated as they see fit.

  5. 5

    Make Sure Your Classroom Is Ready

    Alongside the necessary materials and electronics, make sure your board is clean and that you have sufficient pens or chalk, preferably of different colors. Check that there enough seats for everyone, and that your desk is in good order (if you use one). Make sure the windows open, and that the temperature is going to be comfortable, especially when the room is crammed with bodies. If work is needed (a broken air conditioner can wreck a semester) then ask for it as far in advance as possible, and if nothing happens, keep asking. You have the right to a comfortable working environment, as do your students.

  6. 6

    Predict Problems

    If you’ve got sixteen students, and eleven of them are Spanish speakers, you’re going to have an ‘L1’ (first language) problem. I have a zero-L1 policy  and either find ways to separate the Spanish-speaking students (which is often not easy if they are a majority) or make a special agreement with them as part of my Class Rules.

    Could any of the ethnic mixes in your class present problems? Is there any advice from previous teachers which might shed light on potential trouble?

  7. 7

    Keep Yourself Fit and Rested

    I would always counsel a responsible lifestyle, plenty of rest, and a meditation practice. An exhausted, distracted, hungover teacher will likely not provide the best educational environment. Keep hydrated and bring with you a source of caffeine, if you care for it; I couldn’t teach without a big flask of hot, green tea.

  8. 8

    Relax and Breathe

    Whatever happens, you’re in charge, and nothing that goes wrong is meant personally. If you feel yourself becoming frustrated, step back and take deep breaths. Never raise your voice or lose your cool.

  9. 9

    Look Professional

    You’ll more quickly gain your students respect by keeping a professional appearance. The same is true of being sure not to use bad language or disrespect any of your students. Scoring points at the expense of other teachers is also bad form. In some sectors, teachers are considered alongside doctors and lawyers as professionals, and I believe this is how we should behave.

  10. q

    Maintain Eye Contact

    This does wonders for the students’ attention levels by reducing their tendency to drift off and become distracted. It also lets them know that you are fully engaged in the work, as they should be.

  11. w

    Praise Them (Like You Should)

    Offer positive feedback as often as reasonably possible. Learning English is like climbing a mountain, and a pat on the beck every few hundred yards is a powerful encouragement.

  12. e

    Be Fair and Firm

    Be light-hearted, but only up to a point. Never let your students talk over you, or disrespect your classroom instructions. This doesn’t mean shouting but it means using facial expressions and body language to convey your displeasure; this is often enough.

  13. r

    Say Thanks

    At the end of each class, I make a point of thanking my students for their time. They have make a conscious choice to come to class, to work well with myself and their classmates, and to gain skills in an important area. I genuinely appreciate this, and never shy away from telling them so.

I hope that your first days with new classes are smooth and enjoyable!

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