The first day of class is always a mixed blessing. Going back to school is very exciting and meeting new students for the first time is always a pleasure. But it’s hard to plan for the unknown: What moods and personalities will your new students have? How will the class mesh? What needs and interests will they have? More concretely, there’s a lot of logistical uncertainty. Students are late or go to the wrong class, books and resources don’t arrive on time, copy machines break, printers or computers are being used by admin staff, and so on! There’s a lot to think about, a lot to do, and a lot can go wrong. So I’m sharing some of my first day of class advice for teachers.
I collected most of these ideas as I was working on my book 50 Activities for the First Day of School. Obviously, you should take them with a grain of salt. What works for one teacher in one classroom may not work elsewhere, so go with what works for you! My biggest tip for the first day of class for teachers is:
Don’t expect perfection!
I always love learning from others, so please do feel free to add your own first day and back to school advice for teachers in the comments!
First Day of Class Advice for Teachers
Setting the Tone
- Be enthusiastic. Be happy to see your students and happy to get down to work. This can be easier said than done. There are some people who adopt a slightly ironic teacher persona. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of humor. But on day one, sarcasm can come off as surly or even mean.
- On the same note, ignore the 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. It’s much harder to enforce a rule later on that you were lax about at the beginning. Be firm and consistent, but not condescending.
- Give students an overview of what they are going to be learning in your class. This might mean handing out a syllabus or letting them flip through the book. Focus on how they will grow in the end. This doesn’t mean you have to have every day or minute planned out or that you don’t make room for creativity. But students like to know that there’s a plan.
- Be particularly strict about any shows of disrespect to other students. That helps make the students feel comfortable and safe. Be sure to be consistent on this point.
- In particular, never let a student feel ashamed about their name, nationality, or native language. Sometimes we accidentally make disparaging remarks about how hard a name is to pronounce, or a weird fact we know about their country that might portray the country in a negative light.
- Most students want to walk away from the first day feeling that they have learned something. They don’t want to feel the first day was just logistical stuff like learning rules and getting books. Nor do they necessarily want to just play games all day. Be sure to choose activities that have a purpose beyond fun. I’m a big fan of activities that build community and also give language practice such as those in my book, Classroom Community Builders. 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.
Icebreakers and Warmers
- 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.
- In fact, getting to know you activities can have more than one function. You can build community, have students learn names, and practice language in one activity! Consider losing Two Truths and a Lie, and doing a classroom community builder instead.
- Students are more likely to comply with rules if they feel they have had a say in the rule-setting process. Get them involved with an activity like Classroom Rules Negotiation (pg. 60) which also helps build community by getting students working together.
- You can also cover rules and the syllabus in a way that is interactive and dynamic with a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt!
- One of your goals should be to build rapport, not just between you and the students but between the students too. Here’s some more resources for great icebreakers and rapport builders!
- Write your name on the board, if it’s not on a syllabus or hand out. It’s hard for students to catch names when they go by fast!
- Consider jotting down student names too. Fast-paced activities like Toss a Ball make it hard to catch people’s names and it’s shocking how often students don’t seem to really learn each others’ names.
- Make sure you know what students like to be called. I know some teachers prefer to set a particular tone in their classroom, whether formal or casual. But not all students are comfortable with teachers using their nicknames.
- Don’t tell students how hard their name is to pronounce, or force them to have nicknames, or accidentally disparage their names. People often take jokes or funny comments on personal things badly, regardless of intention.
- Bring back-up for any technology. Don’t depend on the projector absolutely working, especially not on day one when the IT guy is busy doing his own first day tasks.
- Stack up handouts or resources you will give to students neatly. Put them in the order you will use them in before class begins. That way you aren’t scrambling to find things in the middle of lessons.
- Consider breaking up your first day activities. You can hold off on the icebreakers until day two and some teachers do apparently!
- 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. If nothing else, it lets you model what to do when things wrong for your class!
You can also download a beautiful abbreviated version of First Day of Class Advice for Teachers suitable for hanging in the staff room! Check out more back to school advice from our authors and share your own first day of class tips for teachers in the comments!