Saturday, October 22, 2016

It's that time of the year - First Lessons Part 1

I'm one to get all sorts of excited when I think about a whole new academic year to share with new (and sometimes old) students. The first lesson in particular can be more nerve-wrecking, preparation wise, than if I were preparing them all for some Cambridge exam.
I guess we've all been there, trying to make the first lesson a smashing success, or like I like to call it, to knock it out of the park before the game starts.
Over the years, I've tried (and had some flailing fails with) some many 1st lesson ideas I thought I should share it with you guys.
These ideas are mine, or at least I think they are, slightly modified from year to year, class to class.
Tried and tested.
Here you go. Feel free to reuse, modify, maybe give credit or send little teaching demons my way because it was a bad idea.

*Post-script: I've also taken the liberty of making the explanations fun since there is nothing more dreadful for a teacher than an ill-explained trick. It's like throwing Houdini in a tank and then turning off the lights. Just no.

The 5 Questions (or more)
 Chances are you don't know your new students and they don't know you. Good. You can use that to your advantage.


Ah. The land of full grown, fully understanding, slightly prone to judge, experienced human beings who have spent a lot of money to be there and are expecting you to bring your A game.

Step 1 - Lower levels (and/or you can't speak their mother tongue) - Say your name, write it on the board. Ask the students their names, which even the lowest of levels have usually covered. Now use your wonderful teaching hands and show them a five. Then say "five questions". Repeat. Say "five questions for me" and point at yourself. Repeat. Say "You write five questions for me" while pointing at them, miming writing, flashing the five and pointing at you. Good. You're at least on your way to become a professional mime. Students should have understood by now and this should be obvious by looking at their relaxed facial expressions. Now it's time to pair them up, again by physically going near them and using your hands as human pairing brackets. That's it. They should be on their merry way, with you hovering, smiling, offering some help (don't go in an steal the show).

Step 1 bis - Higher levels (and/or you speak their mother tongue) - You lucky dog, you can actually use complexly connected sounds to communicate. Say your name, write it on the board. Ask the students their names. Say " I want you to write at least 5 questions to ask me. They can be about anything. Go crazy/I like crazy questions." Don't forget your ICQs (for those of you running to get a methodology dictionary or your CELTA notebook - Instructions Checking Questions - I've got you covered).
ICQs: Do you have to write? What? How many questions? The questions are for...?
Now it's time to pair them up by physically going near them and using your hands as human pairing brackets, as before. Again, that's it. They should be fine, but you still need to hover, make a mental note of any errors you spot, don't say a word about that yet (nobody likes the "You were 99% right but you screwed up the spelling of a preposition so you're crap" teacher).

Step 2 - for everybody - Ask the students to dictate the questions, by naming them and waving a "come here" and saying "Question 1". Write questions as they are. Don't correct now. Make sure everybody gets a chance to speak. IF you have huge classes (that sucks), keep track of who has spoken, because if there is one thing all students like, it's saying something to the teacher, in front of the class, after having had sufficient time to plan it. Write more than five questions, but (obviously) do't write the same question twice because the students came up with a slightly different way of asking for your favorite food.

Step 3 - for everybody - See if there are any errors. If you're lucky, there are. So who is going to correct them? You? No way! Put an asterisk on the questions with an error in them and then write "* = error" on the board. Let it sink in. Say "Question 1, 2, 3 etc have errors. In pairs. Correct them."
Check whatever cognate resonates with correct in your students language or simply learn "right" and "wrong" in your students language, they'll come in handy while you teach them anyhow.

Step 4 - for everybody - Ask students to give you the corrected version. If the pair you've selected doesn't have it, ask another pair (don't forget to smile while you shut them down) and proceed until you have the corrected version. If all he students are unable to correct the question (be careful that you're not asking them to use something way above their level in which case you need to tell them so, mime it if necessary and give them the correct version), something I think has happened maybe once or twice to me, write the correct version and wait of the AHHHs.

Step 5 - for everybody - Now you have a set of questions. And they're all yours. It's your students genuine curiosity about your person that has produced them. So show respect. Throw in some acknowledgement for their own culture. You are on their turf. You chose to be there. So show respect. Answer the questions. Slowly, repeating when necessary. If some questions are too personal (but they almost never are), just invent something.

Step 6 optional - If the questions would be irrelevant for the students, take a minute and modify them. I imagine you want to ask your students some stuff as well. Well, this is your chance.

Step 7 aka my fav - for everybody - The fun begins. You've answered the questions. That's all the talking you'll be doing. Turn to the students and say "Now you". Point to the questions, use your human pairing bracket hands and say "The questions, in pairs. Now. You have 5 minutes."If you have a computer/IWB in the room, use a timer. You can find awesome timers online. See that everybody is on track and then grab a notepad and a pen and go monitor. Write down errors but also examples of good language.

Step 8 - for everybody - Change pairs. Make sure this can be done easily and quickly. So prepare the room before the class or if you can't, think about your pair changing before class. This step can be repeated as many times as you want until maybe everybody has had a chance of speaking to each other.

Step 9 - for everybody - When students are finishing the last questions on your last pair change, wipe the board clean and write a few examples of errors and maybe one or two examples of good language. Put an asterisk on the error sentences and a smiley face or heart on the good language ones. Ask students to correct the errors live with you or in their final pairs and then go through it together.

Step 10 - for Lower levels - Write two questions, similar to the ones from the original list and say "Write these two questions in your notebook." Mime write, flash two. Say "Homework". Learning the mother tongue for this will also be very useful, just to be able to make the concept clear. Say "Answer  the two questions for homework." They should have got what you want them to do. If they didn't and come back with nothing next lesson, it's fine, you have a whole year ahead.

Step 10 bis - for Higher levels - Write two questions, similar to the ones from the original list and say "Write these two questions in your notebook." Say "Answer  the two questions for homework.". Try and make the questions more challenging. Something that would require a serious answer.

Kids and Teens

Little people, bent on making things just a little bit trickier.

Step 1 to 10 apply as they are, just make sure that the questions are G (General Audiences - All Ages Admitted)

Step 7 and 8 might need a little coaxing, but I've learned using a bit of background music (whatever 5 member pop boyband hits and a couple of dance songs will do)

That's it. This one activity can keep you going for a full 90 minutes, if done thoroughly, and it can definitely fill 60 minutes. I've done it more times than I can count and it is by far my favorite. It's light, good for revision (hello question formation, how you doin'?), great for setting up a scheme (error correction done by students) and overall fun to do.

The Sound Eater

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