Activities to do the First Week
By Rochelle Keogh
The first few days of class can be hard to plan. If you are unsure about your students' expectations or proficiency level, it is especially difficult. But . . . the first few days are also the most important. They can make or break the atmosphere in your classroom. The ideas listed below are designed to help you get to know your students (and help them get to know each other) as quickly as possible and establish a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom. Students, especially in a community program like ours, who feel that language learning will be enjoyable and comfortable will learn the best.
Use these activities to get you started. They can be adapted for many levels, or can be a source to spark your OWN creative ideas! The most important thing to remember is that your students are apprehensive and may feel uncomfortable at first. Put them at ease and most importantly, sell yourself! Let them know that you are a good teacher and that the lessons and activities they participate in for your class will help them learn English. Good luck, and have fun!
- Have students come up to the board, write their names and tell any special meanings associated with their name. They can also write any characters from their own language, or tell why their parents gave them their name. This is a good chance to talk about the differences among cultures in name choices (i.e., some cultures are more likely to choose a family name, some will choose a name with special meaning, etc.). In a more advanced class, this can always lead into a discussion of changing one's name with marriage, how it is done in various cultures, and why.
- Bring a world map to class and point out to the students where you live, where you or your family is from originally, and where your ancestors come from. In a very beginning class, students can point to their home countries, and tell its name. This can provide a starting point for learning country and city names. The teacher should write the names of countries and cities that the students are unfamiliar with on the board.
- Introduce yourself by showing pictures of you and your family. Teach the students any new vocabulary related to family (i.e., mother, father, brother. . . or for more advanced classes mother-in-law, cousin, nephew, etc.). For homework, have the students find two or three pictures of their family and bring them to class. Have the students talk about their pictures in pairs and prepare a short presentation (written if necessary) for the class. Then have each student show their pictures and introduce their family. This helps students get to know each other as well as building vocabulary. In an advanced class it can be used as an introduction and schema building activity for writing short biographies or autobiographies.
- Later, the family picture activity can be expanded to give students practice with comparing and contrasting. Put them in pairs and have them compare and contrast the people in their pictures ("Your mother is taller than my mother. . ."). Provide students with any vocabulary or expressions they will need beforehand. You may want to select a few pictures to point out such things as blond, fair-skinned, bald, curly hair, etc., that students may not know the words for.
- In an intermediate or advanced class, let the students interview a partner and write down their name, native country, and two interesting or unusual things about them. Then the students should make up another fact which is not true. When they introduce their partner, the class must guess which facts are true and which one is false.
- Bring construction paper, old magazines, glue, and scissors to class. Have beginning students cut out pictures that represent things they like to do and paste them on their construction paper. Have each student show their collage to the class and the teacher can provide new vocabulary words. If they are true beginners, be sure to provide a sentence model on the board for them to use, such as, "I like to_____." After all of the students have presented, have them switch collages and then explain to a partner the hobbies represented in the new pictures. This will help them practice any new vocabulary. (The teacher may need to model this for the class before having them do it on their own.)
- Another variation on activities to learn names is the name chain game. In this game, a student says their name and where they are from. The next student must say the first student's name and country before introducing himself. The third student must say the first and second student's name and countries before introducing himself. This chain continues until the students can't remember or all of the students have introduced themselves. For more advanced classes, have the students give their name, their country, and a hobby.
- One thing that can save you a lot of headaches and frustrations is to make your class rules very clear in the beginning. You want to be firm, but not overbearing (especially for a community class), and one of the best ways to do that is by making it fun. Some of your students have never been in an American classroom setting and may not have the same expectations and etiquette that you expect. Try showing them a movie clip like the first few scenes of Stand and Deliver or the lunchroom scene at the beginning of Lean on Me Both of these clips show obviously BAD behavior and the students will laugh. After the clip, ask them what behaviors were unacceptable (they can all come up with at least a few!) and use this as a chance to introduce what is acceptable in American classrooms. Be sure to stress that students are expected to respect their teacher and listen attentively! Another good clip, which shows GOOD classroom etiquette, is from Dead Poet's Society when Robin Williams has his first class meeting with his students. This is a good clip to use to stress how differences in classroom expectations can be very positive.
The most important thing to remember the first few days is to be confident and in control of your class and at the same time make learning English enjoyable for your students. Easier said than done!! Good Luck!