My First Day

Haven’t managed to work this into my opening day lesson – yet.

I’m taking a quick break from pronunciation writing, as I wanted to share what turned out to be a good first day lesson. I had been very inspired by the spate of “What i do in my classroom?” style posts that appeared around the time of Chia Suan Chong’s “teach off”, and then I read Rachael Roberts’ excellent post on building bonds on the first day, and thought I’d just add to the pile of first day activities.

In her post, Rachael recommends not putting too much pressure on students to learn each other’s names. I actually took the exact opposite approach, but framed right I think that can work too. I’m a big fan of getting students to do something slightly silly on the first day as a way to break down some of the barriers too. This semester my first day name learning game was dueling pistols.

It’s pretty simple to do. Ask the students to say their names out loud while sat in a circle, and then divide them into two teams. The teams form two lines facing each other (there can be as many people in the lines as there is space, and if at all possible the teacher should join in), and everyone says their names one more time. Teams then stand back to back, and without looking behind them, change places so that they don’t know which person on the other team is behind them. Someone counts to 3, with students taking a pace on each number, and them turning on 3. They must then say the name of the person opposite, and shoot them with their finger (being a friendly, peaceful blog, The Breathy Vowel does not advocate the use of real weapons in this game). As in a traditional duel, he or she who shoots first is the winner. If you’re feeling particularly cruel, or your class is dramatically inclined, you could even have the losers pretend to die. The winners are then counted, and the team with most winners has to repeat their names again. Repeat as many times as necessary, and make sure to mix the teams so everyone learns everyone elses name.

In the end this game was great fun, despite a few “WTF?” looks from the students when I explained it. It’s also pretty effective for name learning, as it forces students to remember and use names as if their lives depended on it. As a teacher though, be prepared to be annihlated by each and every one of your students, who of course already know your name.

I think it’s also a good idea to reveal something of yourself to the students if you expect them to do the same in class, and it seems to me only fair if the teacher goes first. Like most teachers, I prefer it if the students have to extract the information from me, but in Korea this often ends with the same old questions being trotted out about whether i like Korean food, even from higher level students. I wanted to try to get them asking better (or at least more interesting) questions, and try to connect with me in different ways. I did this through realia, always a bit of a favorite of mine. It’s interesting the change that objects make to the atmosphere in the classroom – the presence of something not usually seen there causes a frisson of excitement i think, and using your own possessions gives students a tangible connection to your life, which helps to break down those teacher student barriers. Thus, I bought with me to class: my passport (trustworthy students required here), a Spanish language copy of One-hundred Years of Solitude, a picture of my previous town in Korea, a bottle of English ale (Theakston’s Old Peculier if you’re interested), and The Handbook of Applied Linguistics. This generally allowed me to talk about important and interesting things in my life like my studies and living in Guatemala, and hopefully piques the students interest to listen to them.

The task was simple, take an object, look at it and come up with four questions for me about each object. In order to provide a decent amount of language for the students to use in their own attempts later, I asked them to dictate the questions that each group asked as exactly as possible, as well as a short summary of my answer. This wasn’t a particularly exciting task, but did serve to share a lot of language, extract a lot of information about me (including impromptu follow up questions), and serve as a model for the students.

We were already sat in a horseshoe shape, so I had the students review the questions that they had dictated, then mixed up their positions so they were working with different people. They then produced an item important to them (I set this task during pre-class speaking tests), and I modelled a conversation about our respective items with a confident student, making sure to include the question “Why is this important to you?”. We then did the conversations for a couple of minutes, and at the end I shared anything useful I’d heard from monitoring / conversations with a student. Then every second student moved around two places and we repeated the conversations. In most classes we did this four or five times, and then the students had to secretly choose the students they were most interested in. I’ll be using this data for next week’s seating plan 🙂

I hope that there’s something useful in this first day lesson for you. I feel like it was pretty successful in introducing me to the students, getting them used to the concept of repetition of activities (one that will feature heavily this semester), and was a little bit different to traditional first day approaches. However, I’m sure it could be jazzed up a little, so if you have any ideas about how to do that, do leave me a comment.



5 responses to “My First Day

  1. Just writing to confirm I have read this before retweeting, to endorse fun in the classroom plus blind retweeting could result in death in these parts!

    On a serious note, this sounds fun mate, my opening lessons are always a bit, well, dull compared to this!

    p.s Grrrr wordpress comment system annoys me, always seems to delete my post as I forget my password or something.

    • Hahaha, cheers Walshy. Yeah, this was a bit of fun actually. I think I’m going to make them pretend to die next time though.

      I never really notice WP comments because I’m always logged in. Maybe because I’m not running my own hoity-toity high falutin’ independent website! 😉

  2. Alex, as usual, a wealth of great ideas to add to any class. I love how creative you have made some seemingly typical activites. I’ve done something similar to dueling pistols but never thought of that killer twist that probably made dueling so much fun!

    Also, the get to know you bit was pure gold. Real objects def get students interest and I cannot tell you how much I liked how you flipped it around on them and will use it for the seating plan. Genius! I bet thats a move that will create some seriously dynamic classrooms!

    Props to you my friend!

  3. Cheers again John,

    Any plans to start blogging again soon? I miss your posts dude.


  4. Some great ideas here..I loved your way of putting pressure on the students! (and thanks for the mention)
    I agree completely about both telling them about yourself and the real objects..a favourite first day activity of mine is to have students guess and then see what is in my handbag -but guess that might not work for you 😉

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