The first week of school is a crucial time to get to know your learners and establish a classroom community. Having a clear focus and game plan can set the tone for creating a welcoming and successful learning environment. Here is my three-fold focus for the first week of school with some practical tips to implement with your learners.
1. Focus on Creating an Inviting Classroom
Welcome your students into your class as if you were welcoming them into your home. This will automatically reduce their anxiety and make them feel more at ease. Here are a few tips to do so:
- Send out a welcome email to the students before the first day of class. Introduce yourself and provide some basic information about the class (location, time, materials needed, etc.). This information will help orient the students and help establish a connection with them. You might even be surprised that some of them will want to connect with you even before the first day of school.
- On the first day, be present in the classroom before the students arrive. Greet each one as they come in, learn their names (and the correct pronunciation), and ask each one a couple of questions to get to know them better. By doing this, you can informally assess their speaking and comprehension skills, but it can also help you connect with them on a personal level.
- Make yourself available to the students as much as possible—during break time or after class, and provide your contact information.
- Model the behaviour you want to see in your class. Be friendly, smile, make everyone feel comfortable and valued. Even if that means going out of your way, do it. You won’t regret it.
2. Focus on Creating Student Connections
Many learners may be apprehensive about speaking in a new language with their peers, so make your activities student-centered, so they can get to know each other.
- Arrange the desks in groups of four and invite students to join a group. Have them introduce themselves to each other and do a get-to-know-you icebreaker.
- A simple icebreaker like Find 3 things in common always works well with high elementary to advanced learners. Here’s how to do it:
- Tell the students they are going to have an open conversation with their groups and the goal of the activity is to find three things in common with each other.
- Each person takes turns talking about themselves. Give them some directives—speak about their families, hobbies, studies, jobs, travels, and so on.
- Tell them that obvious similarities do not count (country of origin, gender, studying English, live in same city, etc.).
- Give them about 15 minutes to discuss.
- Circulate around the classroom to listen to the conversation (this serves to help you informally assess language skills, personality types, and learn something about them).
- Comment or even ask more questions to encourage more discussion.
- At the end of the activity, ask one member from each group to report back to the group.
You will notice students will have a certain level of comfort with one another after doing this icebreaker, and you will be more informed on how students interact in groups and their language abilities.
3. Focus on Collecting Student Information
- Even though your school may have a rigorous placement procedure, you may want to do a few short language tests to assess student skills. These tests certainly don’t count for marks (and you can tell the students that!), but will help inform you, their teacher, on where some of their strengths and weaknesses lie.
- As a first homework assignment, give the student a questionnaire to provide more information on the students’ backgrounds, learning goals, time management, social skills and type of participant (see example questionnaire; .docx).
- Collect the questionnaire in the next class, and, in the first week, have a follow-up face-to-face meeting with each student to discuss the questionnaire.
A three-fold focus can contribute to setting the right tone for establishing classroom interaction, creating personal connections with your students, and acquiring student information from informal and formal observations. By the end of the first week, you will better know and understand your learners in order to provide them an enjoyable and successful learning experience.
The sooner you get to know your students, the better it is for everyone.
What is your focus in the first week of school?