F is for First Lessons

4 07 2010

Students doing pair work in the first lesson of the beginners group

The Methods course that I am teaching this summer has just embarked on a short round of teaching practice classes. To help the teachers plan their first lesson, I pulled a few old favourites out of the drawer. They are roughly divided into those that have a mainly interpersonal function (such as forging a collaborative group dynamic) and those that are primarily diagnostic (identifying strengths, weaknesses, interests, and styles). Feel free to post variants, additions – or attributions (apart from the few I dreamed up myself, such as the star warmer, I have no idea who invented the rest).

1.         Interpersonal

•          My name is… and I like… A memory game. Go round the class: the first person completes the formula “My name is …and I like ….” (Or “…and I’ve always wanted to…” or whatever seems appropriate for the level).  The  next person reports this (“Her name is …and she likes….”) and then adds their own name and something they like, and so on, each person reporting on what everyone else has said, before adding something new.

•          Five-pointed star: Learners each draw a five pointed star. On the first point they write a person’s name that is important to them; on the second a place name; on the third a number; on the fourth a date; and on the fifth a sign, symbol or logo.  They then get into pairs or small groups, show each other their stars, and ask and answer questions about them.

•          Find someone who…: Students circulate, with prepared questions, and then report to class. A useful variation is where everyone (anonymously) supplies an interesting fact about themselves on a slip of paper: these are then collected and one student dictates them to the class (“This person has been to Hawaii…” etc). The dictated sentences are then used as the basis for the Q & A milling activity.

•          Teacher interview: In open class, question a selection of students individually re jobs, English learning experience, mainly, about 5 minutes each, very conversational. Ask them to do same to you, but first to prepare questions in pairs (writing). Check questions; write erroneous ones on to board. Class check. They then ask you questions. In pairs/groups they write up a summary about you. Monitor writing and share any interesting errors. (If there are several teachers – as in the case of a shared teaching practice class – each can be interviewed in rotation by different groups, and then summaries compared).

2.         Diagnostic

•          Topic ranking: students in groups brainstorm topics they are interested in and would like to talk about in class. Feedback on to board in the form of a list.  Re-group students, and each group has to choose a short-list of, say, three. Feedback on to board. Then have an open class vote (show of hands) for the final three.

•          Questionnaire/survey: Prepare a questionnaire/survey about students preferred learning styles and activities. E.g. Do you prefer to work a) individually; b) in pairs; c) in groups; d) as a whole class; e) doesn’t matter?  Students complete individually, then discuss either in groups or open class. (Students could also prepare the questions themselves, working in pairs or small groups).

•          Activity smorgasbord: Prepare a sequence of short activities of different types, e.g. game, pair discussion, group paragraph writing, listening task (eg. describe and draw) etc. Each activity should last no longer than 5 minutes. Then hand out questionnaire listing the activity types and ask learners to rate them (e.g. like, didn’t like, neutral). Then compare findings in small groups and report.

•          Free discussion: generate an open class chat about a theme of common interest to all (e.g. the best/worst things about this town). Using your best dinner party host skills draw students out, and keep the focus off heavy correction. If/Once the discussion gets going let it run. Then put sts into pairs/threes to write a summary of what was said  e.g. as if for an absent class member. Monitor and correct. Note any interesting language stuff that emerges.

•          Discussion cards: Prepare some discussion topics on cards. For the first day, these could focus on language learning experiences and preferences.  Number the back of the cards. Place these face down on the floor at the front of the room. Students form groups: a representative from each group takes a card, returns to the group; the group discusses the topic until it’s exhausted; then they take another card. Groups report on their discussions at the end.