As we enter the early days of the back to school season (hopefully, the very early days), I thought I’d share some tips for starting class off on the right foot. Get the tone for the year set in the first day of class. Many of these are self-evident, but it never hurts be reminded. Please feel free to add your own advice, tips, tricks or first day hacks in the comments!
- Write your name and your students’ names down. The first day it can be hard to catch people’s names, particularly if you’re doing a fast-paced icebreaker.
- I am a staunch defender of icebreakers. If you chose one that is fun and engaging, that relates to the topic of the class, and has some purpose beyond fun, I think it’s a great way to kick off class.
- Be enthusiastic. Be happy to see your students and happy to get down to work. Or at least make a good show of it.
- Organize handouts and papers and textbooks before class so you know where everything is. I get to class 10-15 minutes early and make neat stacks of everything in the order I will need them in.
- Bring back up for any technology. Don’t depend on the projector absolutely working, especially on day one when the IT guy is busy doing his own first day tasks.
- Give students an overview of what they are going to be learning in your class, whether it be a syllabus or a chance to flip through the book. Focus on how they will grow in the end.
- Forget Pinterest, especially if you’re a new teacher. Little is going to be picture-perfect on day one and in fact there’s reason to believe students learn better when things go a little awry.
- There’s an old teacher adage, “Don’t smile until Christmas.” Research shows that students study better when they like the teacher, and when they feel the teacher likes them. So don’t be afraid to smile and be kind. Set the tone of your classroom as a comfortable place to study.
- On the other hand, don’t be a pushover. Be strict as well as kind. It’s much harder to enforce a rule later on that you were lax about at the beginning.
- Be particularly strict about any shows of disrespect to other students. Nip teasing in the bud so students know your classroom is a safe place.
- Remember, icebreakers like Memory Chain have students revealing facts about themselves. Make sure no one is being made fun of for something they revealed to the class.
- A lot of getting to know you activities ask students to produce an interesting fact about themselves. Model what you mean by an interesting fact.
- Students are more likely to comply with rules if they feel they have had a say in the rule-setting process. You can always do a rule-negotiation activity.
- Decide whether you want to call students by their formal names or nicknames. If the latter, it’s always good to ask “What do you prefer being called?”
- Don’t stress about the first day too much. Students know you’re on the spot and they are forgiving. More forgiving than you will be on yourself.
- Most students want to walk away from the first day feeling that they have learned something, not just had fun all day. Be sure to choose activities that have a purpose beyond fun. Thanks to the wise Penny Ur for this insight.
- It’s easy to fit in a quick lesson on a new grammar point or vocabulary item. When students are speaking, pay attention to some of the common errors you hear or places where they could use some new language skills. Then follow-up your icebreaker with a quick lesson that fits those needs.
- Knowing how to manage when things don’t go according to plan or when you make a mistake is an important skill for studying and for life. If things do wrong on the first day, turn it into a learning opportunity and show them how well you can do under pressure (I know, easier said than done).