I know it is October, and all of the good "What to do on the First Day" blog posts rolled out in August so that teachers could use them for ideas in September! But . . . I'm coming in late this year as I picked up some late-start classes. I met two classes for the first time last week, and had another first day of class yesterday. After teaching for over 20 years, I have my first day of class pretty down pat, but it might go against the grain. I stopped reading my syllabus aloud a long time ago. I don't lecture about myself. I don't read a long list of punishments if a cell phone rings in class. I also don't give a lengthy diagnostic test!
Here's my First Day Recipe, tried and tested:
1. Scope the room out early.
This is important because you don't want to get lost, and you want to know if there is something weird going on in there logistically. I've been assigned to teach my college ESL classes in science labs, mini-auditoriums with immovable lecture-style seats, computer labs, and trailers. I check things out because I have to be able to figure out how to factor in group work, walk-in-talk activities, and so on. I can also do a test run of technology and any other Smart-class tools (or find out that there are NO tech options), so that I can plan accordingly.
2. Give students something to do as they come in.
Students walk in nervous on the first day and are not sure what to expect. ESL students are often not just new to the school, but brand new to the country and to the educational system here. Even students who are familiar with the college could be rushing in just on time or even a bit late after getting lost or walking into the wrong building or room elsewhere. Most likely there is another class right before mine that is just getting out as I arrive. I need to get set up, turn on any equipment, take out handouts, and so on. So instead of having students stare at me in silence while this is all going on, I like to have something for students to do right away. I have them complete a short questionnaire and survey about themselves. It's one way I can walk away having their email address, and also a chance for me to get to know their nickname if they have one, their technology tools at home, something about their interests and hobbies, and any questions they have. It's also something that eases them in because they can usually complete it without problem and gives them something to focus on. While they are doing this, I can take the time to set up, help any students coming in, and walk around a bit.
3. Get students up and moving and talking right away.
As soon as I can, I like to get them out of their chairs and talking with each other. There are many ways to do this, but one activity that always works is a Find Someone Who activity. Students have to walk around and talk to each other and write their names down on a handout that includes boxes with descriptions they have to find matches for. I like to include spaces for things where they have to find people who have things in common with them such as, someone who was born in the same month as them or someone they have another class with. I also include things about the class such as, find someone who loves writing essays, or someone who has used Voicethread before. In this way, students get to meet each other without the formality of a forced pair interview and get to practice their listening and speaking skills. I love that during this time it's loud and chaotic in the room! (Students also get to ask me questions). Because everyone is busy and engaged, then I can monitor and welcome any really late stragglers that come in at this point.
4. Give students a little information about yourself. Make them guess!
Students are always curious about their teacher! They get to watch my welcome video for homework, but for in class, I give them a quiz about me. We talk about first impressions, and then they answer True/False questions. I include statements such as, "Denise is a vegetarian. Denise loves to get up early." This is a great way for students to learn a bit about me without me having to bore them with a lecture or introduction spiel. If I have student teachers or other volunteers helping me in class, I prepare a quiz about them as well. We go over the answers, and then students write three sentences about themselves. They write two truths and a lie, and it always seems to be a hit. I have them share their three sentences with their group and then guess the lie.
5. Give students a taste of what they'll do in class.
Although a big part of the first day of class, especially in an ESL class, is about building class community and getting to know each other, I want students to do something that relates to the course content. A short activity or exercise related to the level and skills gets everyone on the same page. In a reading class I usually give them a fun short reading that I may do timed to get a sense of reading speed. In vocabulary class we learn a few silly words or try to figure out a word of the day. In a pronunciation class we do some tongue twisters. Something that gets them interested in the content and gives them a little taste of what's to come sets the stage for the semester.
6. Get a diagnostic before students walk out the door.
This comes along the heels of number 5 above. Especially in a writing class, it's great to have something for me to take home that gives me an idea of where they stand on day 1. I have had students do a fun cell phone picture share to get to know a group, but then I'll have them write about the picture so that I can see their sentence structure, grammar, and vocabulary level. In a listening class I've had students listen to a dictation about something interesting happening on campus so that I can take a look at how well their skills are. A short diagnostic is good for me to have in hand right away so that if a student is clearly misplaced they can get into the correct level class as soon as possible.
7. Finally, go over class information - just a tease. Give students the nitty gritty to go over for homework.
Though I do not read the syllabus aloud page by page, I do (finally, after all the fun stuff) go over vital class information. I pass out a hard copy, and let them know there is more information online at our class LMS. I point out really important information about how to reach me, and class goals, any attendance policies, and so on. I really spend less than 10 minutes on this part. Then I send them home along with a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt worksheet that they fill out. This means they will actively read it, and be able to ask questions when they come back to the next class.
8. Give students a take-away.
Instead of having the students walk away empty-handed, I usually give them something related to the class. A bookmark with a quote for a reading class, or a promise of an email I'll send with a silly video of a grammar song they should watch online before the next class. Call it homework or a "to-do," but basically it's a way for students to start being invested in the class and know that there is something they need to do before the next class besides just show up.
Lesson Learned: On the first day, build a class community, give students a taste of what's to come, get everyone up and moving . . . and hope they can't wait to come to the next class!