First Lesson Ideas

It has been a while since I was off from blogging, with the occasional teacher interview.  I needed a well-deserved break from writing for a while and have decided to write this post about first lessons after participating with a recent ELTChat discussion a few days previously.  So apologies if you have been keen to read updates but I guarantee that more posts will be followed in the next few months leading up to Christmas.

Nevertheless, back on track.  When I remember my first CELTA lesson, it was quite worrying and nerve wrecking.  There were 6 trainees and 2 trainers watching the lesson and I only had to teach for 10 minutes.  It felt like a life-time.  As it was the first teaching day of the CELTA Course, we were advised to do a GTKY (get to know you) activity and gave us some wonderful ideas prior to the teaching practice.  Nearly eight years later, much of what I learnt during the teaching of first lessons still plays an important role in my teaching.  As I was told during the course, the first lesson with students is the most important: you have to remember names, generate rapport and build a sense of community with the learners.  However, I am awful putting names to faces and have a real hard time remembering names of people that I have met.  It always involves me having to repeat the name in my head a number of times until it fits.  Sometimes, if I forget I rely upon the name being mentioned in passing.  In the classroom, I have to try and focus on my memory and trying to remember names more clearly and hopefully these ideas will help you remember you students’ names.

Name Cards

This is a well-established activity so you can remember names more easily.  If you have any problems, you could look at the name card on the table.  However, it does cause the teacher to become a little lazy and rely upon the cards themselves.  Get learners to personalise their name cards by adding important numbers, pictures or text to these so it could generate some interest or encourage speaking.  The easiest way to create name cards is to fold a piece of A4 paper in half (width ways) and get learners to write (artistically or not) on one side.  I have seen learners accidentally write their name upside down and causes some students to laugh.  However, it is quite a easy way to remember names and refer to if in doubt.  Should you wish to test yourself, get learners to put their name cards face down and you could test yourself.  Students always find it funny when you mispronounce or miscall someone in the class, so lighten up a little and be more humanistic: everyone (students and teachers) makes mistakes.  Name cards, I have often found, are more suitable for younger learners or young adults.

Classroom Layout

You could draw the classroom pretty quickly on a piece of blank paper and write down the names of all the students on this.  You could look at the students and refer to you piece of paper to test yourself with names.  This all goes out the window when you get students to move about.

Funny Names

It is more memorable if you attach funny adjectives to names which start with the same letter as the name.  For example, if you have a Miguel in class you could call him: “Magical Miguel” or “Mysterious Miguel“.  This is a fun and lively activity if you get learners to do this themselves.  Get students to stand in a circle, throw a soft ball around and the person that receives the ball has to think of a relevant adjective to go with the name.  If a student can’t think of an adjective or can’t remember the name of the student, they have to sit down.  The winner is the student who is left standing and you could give that learner a badge or sticker.  You could also participate with this activity with the learners and feel free to have fun.  This will help names stick in your mind and you will also get the learners moving about.

Student Poster

You could get learners to create a poster of themselves.  It does involve a little work (behind the scenes) but it is rewarding for students.  You need to get a supply of pictures from the students (ensure you are allowed to take photos or receive photos from young learners for the poster) to stick on the poster.  Learners then glue their pictures and then write their names on it and you could get learners to add further information (age, etc).

True or False

This is an activity that I almost always include in my first lessons with new students.  The teacher demonstrates this activity first by writing between 3-5 sentences up on the board about themselves.  Sentences that I normally include are the following:
  • I have been married for 11 years. (true)
  • I used to live in Romania and South Korea. (true)
  • I am 35 years old. (false at this moment in time)
I then tell students that there is one false sentence and they have to speak with a partner and guess which is false.  Ensure students don’t misunderstand with false by grammatically incorrect.  The statements are either true or false.  It is always quite nice to put your age as false and then get them to guess your age – so how old do you think I am?  Answers in the comment section below.  Once the teacher has demonstrated this activity, it is always nice to get the learners to create the true/false activity to create and complete in groups.  You could finally get learners to read out sentences to yourself and guess whether they are true or false.  If you keep a list of the learners of the class, you could add some information to the student files to personalise future lessons.  This is another activity to include for first lessons to get to know your learners as well as remembering their names.

Find Somebody Who …

This is another popular first lesson activity for those learners who may not know each other and is very common the world other in the EFL classroom.  If you can find out a bit more about the students before they arrive for the lesson, this would help you create the things to find out can do particular things.  For example, if you can send out a questionnaire or survey to individual learners or get access to the pre-arrival questionnaire.  This worksheet will include things such as:
  • Find somebody who:
  • can play the saxophone
  • can speak three languages
  • has met a famous person
  • etc
This activity is probably more appropriate who is a Pre-Intermediate level or above. Elementary level learners, or below, will probably have difficulty understanding some of the expressions or the activity itself.  If you have trouble creating a “Find Somebody Who …” worksheet, there are plenty available online.  Just use Google.

Classroom Rules

If you teach young learners or adolescents, creating boundaries and routines are very important so that students know what to expect for the start of each class.  One way to develop routines is to develop a student-created classroom rules.  One way is to give A3 pieces of blank paper to groups of learners, get learners to split columns between “Students can …” and “Students can’t …”.  Groups of learners then decide what they are allowed to do and not allowed to do.  It is very student centred and you can always remind learners what they agreed to, especially if you get the learners to all sign their classroom rules.
This is really the best I can come up with when it comes to first lesson ideas.  I have used all activities above to some success and they are really useful to generate rapport and trying to remember names.  What are your favourite activities?  Do you have some lessons up your sleeve?  What do you do with young learners and is it any different to adult learners?  For me, the first lesson is the most important to generate rapport, learn more about the learners and them to learn about yourself as well as provides first impressions.  Do you agree?
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