Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ace Your First Class with New Students

I give my first class a lot of consideration and thought for it is the very lesson that paves the way and lays the groundwork for the whole course. The first class of each new course is probably the most important for such reasons as getting to know my students, establish a friendly rapport, explain the course syllabus, and meet my students’ needs and demands for learning English. To ensure my first lesson goes smoothly and comfortably, I introduce the prescribed textbook but don’t use it on the first day of the course; rather, I set the first lesson for students to know about their teacher, classmates, and the components of the course. Here are some ideas to ace your first lesson with new groups.

Breaking the Ice 
After students and I introduce ourselves, the first thing that comes to my mind is how to build a congenial rapport and create a pleasant atmosphere. Breaking-the-ice activities are best to start with as they make learners interact and feel relaxed with each other. 

Paper ball game: This no-brainer game is most suitable for learners to memorize everyone’s name and have fun. Make a ball out of recycled paper and demonstrate the activity by asking one student to throw the ball to you, catch the ball and say your name; then say another student’s name and throw the ball to her; she catches it, says her name and then utters someone else’s name and throws it to them. The game goes on for a few minutes until everyone remembers their classmates’ names.

What are you thinking about now: Another quick game to break the ice is to ask students to throw a ball (see above) to each other and every time someone catches the ball, she tells the class what she is thinking about right now. Encourage the others to show interest and comment on what the student has said before she throws the ball to someone else to say what he/she is thinking about now. 

Getting to know you: Draw a star with five points on the board and write five words/phrases around the star. (your nationality, age, shoe size, years of experience, etc.). Tell students this is some information about you. They work in pairs for two minutes to form questions for those answers. Elicit the correct questions and elaborate on each answer. Next, ask students to draw a star on a piece of paper and write some personal information around it. Have them exchange their papers with their partner. Students should ask each other why they wrote that information and ask follow-up questions. Demonstrate the activity by taking a piece of paper from one of the students and ask: “Why did you write 2014?”, for example.  Keep the exchange going by asking some follow-up questions. Instruct students to take it in turns to ask and answer questions about each other. 

Needs Analysis
It is also vital in the first lesson to know more about your students’ learning styles and needs for learning English. I usually find an informal needs analysis is paramount at this stage. Probing students’ individual personal goals in learning English is something we should take into consideration from the beginning of each new course. For this reason, write up the following questions on the board and ask students to write answers to these questions (adapted from Martin, 2011).
  • What do you need English for?
  • How would you like to learn English?
  • What activities do you prefer?
  • What do you find interesting about learning English?
  • What do you find difficult about learning English?
  • What do you expect to learn in this course?
  • What can you do to improve your English outside the class?
Once students have finished, get them discuss their ideas in small groups before you hold a plenary discussion about the answers. Listen carefully and take notes of students’ needs to refer to them during the course. You may want to add other questions more related to your students’ level and to the course your teaching. 

Course Syllabus
Now it is time to discuss the course syllabus and see if it or parts of it meet students’ needs for learning English. Write up the objectives of the course, textbooks, requirements and assignments, grading policy, and expectations. Clarify any unclear areas about the course and give advice on how students should do during the course to get high grades and get the most out of the course. You may also want to explain the methodology that you’re going to use to achieve the aims of the course and the rationale behind it. 

Classroom Rules
Classroom rules vary from one institute to another and from one age group to another. Yet, it is a good idea to negotiate the classroom rules with students. Don’t be very strict and let them have a say in the rules. That would make them feel they are being respected and treated as equals. I usually write the following rules and explain the reasons for them. 
  • Arrive promptly for classes.
  • Bring your books and notebook.
  • Refrain from using your cell phones; put all your phones on silent mode. If you have an urgent call, step outside into the corridor.
  • Don’t make fun of your friends.
  • Speak only in English. 

That’s all for the first class, but if you’re teaching English for Specific Purposes (ESP) or Academic Purposes (EAP), it would be beneficial to have students write a short paragraph about how English would make their studies or jobs better in the future. Students read their paragraphs in groups and discuss their ideas. This activity helps the teacher gets a better idea of the students’ linguistic strengths and weaknesses.

What activities do you use in your first class? Share your ideas with us in the comment box below?


Martin, M. (2011). Approaching a first class with a new group.

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