Making the First Day of School AWESOME!
As the end of summer approaches and the start of a new school year arrives, people are always wondering how to take on the first days of school using TPRS or other CI methods.
Those who have been teaching with more traditional methods, know how to start. They either start with days, dates, and months for level 1, or weeks of review of last year’s topics for every other level.
Reviewing last year’s material is unnecessary for those who use TPRS/CI methods. Because we teach more deeply and without conscious memorization, little material is lost from year to year. Also, starting off with the basics like days and months is also not necessary, as they are more effectively taught in context as they come up naturally in stories, personalized questions, and interviews like la Persona Especial.
Here are some things that I never do at the start of the year and especially not the first few days:
- Review last year’s material
- Teach numbers, days, months, etc.
- Classroom rules
- Go over the syllabus
Many of these things are happening in the students’ other classes and they’re already bored by the time they get to you. This is your time to shine, to differentiate from the rest of the teachers and show the students that this class is different; this class is going to be fun; this class is the ULTIMATE language class, like none they’ve ever taken before (especially if they come from the textbook)!
What follows is a detailed lesson plan for the first day of school with slight variations for levels 2 and up. I hope you pick up a few tips and if you do something differently, let me know in the comments!
The first day sets the tone for the rest of the year. If you use the first day to go over your class information, class rules and procedures, or do anything but get into the target language as soon as possible, it will make it that much harder to do so later on.
I use the first day to start to get to know my students, to set a foundation for what is to come, and to build good relationships that will last throughout the year.
Before the kids arrive that first day, write on the board or make a slide with the following directions:
Please take a sheet of card stock, a piece of paper and some colored pencils. Using the card stock, fold it in half hotdog style and write your first name or nick name that you want to be called in class along with a single adjective to describe yourself. Ex: “Mean Profe.” This should be big and bold so I can read it from across the room. This will be your name card that you will use each day until I learn your names (this will take a LONG time).
At the top of the paper (hotdog style), write your first name or nickname as you’d like to be called in class. This should be big and bold so I can see it from across the room. Below that, draw a picture of some activity that you like to do. On the back of this paper, write your full name and what the activity that you drew was.
Be sure to create your favorite activity paper as well, only don’t do it on a small 8.5x11 paper, but rather on a poster board to have up as an example.
And Here Come the Students.
When that first bell rings, you’ll be outside your door, giant smile on your face, and you’ll welcome each student into your classroom and ask them to grab some supplies and get to work with the instructions on the board.
Feel free to shake your students’ hands or give them a high-five. You want your students to feel welcome and to think your class is the coolest class all day long!
Once the final bell has rung, enter your classroom and let out a loud, welcoming “Good morning!”, “Good afternoon!”, or some other appropriate greeting in the target language. Don’t hold back on this. Get excited. Get your kids excited. Smile! If you’re having fun, so are your students.
While you’re welcoming your new students to class, take a moment and notice them, really notice them. You’re looking for that student that might be a trouble-maker in another class (they are NOT going to be in your class). I know this sounds like profiling, but I promise you it is not. It’s an effective classroom-management technique that we’ll describe later.
While your students are finishing up their first bell work, take attendance and finish any other administrative tasks you have to do. Once you are finished, it’s time to start! Are you excited?
You’ll need a lot of board space the first few weeks of class or, you can do what I do, use a Google Doc so that you can write new words on the board as you use them. (Here’s a copy of my Google Doc template).
I prefer to type rather than write for three reasons:
1. I don’t have a lot of board space,
2. my handwriting can get sloppy,
3. having a digital copy is great for when students are absent.
I create one Google Doc per class period and each day start with writing the date in the target language on top of a new page.
Once you have your board space or Google Doc ready, start by introducing yourself in the target language. As this is level 1, EVERY TIME you use a new word you need to write it down along with its translation. Don’t write it up in sentences, just write each word as you use them. Students don’t know the language and you can’t assume anything. Each time a different version of “the” or a verb is used, it needs to be written on the board so your language can be 100% comprehensible. Don’t worry that you’re writing too much vocabulary on the board. This is only for their comprehension; it is not a vocabulary list.
Speak slowly as you introduce yourself. You don’t want to give your life story, but tell them your name, where you’re from (especially if you’re not from the city where you teach), a little about your family, and something particularly funny, embarrassing, or interesting about you.
This vulnerability is extremely important. It shows your students you trust them and that language class is a safe place.
Now collect all the activity papers that your students drew. Quickly group them together: sports, non-sports (reading, video games, watching TV), music (listening to music, singing, dancing, playing instrument), etc together. You may have to also make sub piles (football vs soccer vs basketball).
While you’re sorting the activity papers, find the one that the student you picked out earlier drew. That student is going to be the first student you talk about.
Talk About Your Preferred Activity.
Once you have introduced yourself, sorted the activity papers, and picked out your first paper, tell your students you’re preferred activity. Use your poster you made earlier and point to it as you introduce it. Don’t use the expression “like” in your language. Instead, just say, “I go to the movies” or whatever your activity is.
Once you’ve established that sentence, you’ll want to ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about that piece of information. Since it’s the first day, you’ll be sticking with yes/no and either/or questions.
“Class, do I go to the movies or do I go to the gym?”
“That’s right, I go to the movies.”
“Do I go to the gym?”
“No, I don’t go to the gym. I go to the movies.”
I would then add a piece of information to make that original piece of info a bit more juicy or funny or bizarre. It doesn’t have to be true, just eye-brow-raising.
“Class, I go to the movies on my Segway.”
Now ask your scaffolded, differentiated questions about the new information.
“Class, do I go to the movies in my car?”
“No, I don’t go to the movies in my car. I go to the movies on my Segway.”
“Do I go to the movies on my bike or on my Segway?”
“That’s right! I go to the movies on my Segway.”
Be sure that you’re writing down all the new words as you use them. This is so very important to be sure you’re 100% comprehensible to your students. It also slows you down so that your students have time to process what you’re saying. I prefer to do no oral translation during the first few weeks of school and only translate on the board because this gives the illusion of immersion.
You don’t want to spend too much time on yourself. The theme of this class is not you; it’s your students. So after a few minutes of your activity, you’re going to start with that first student.
Talk About Your First Student.
Now grab that first paper you chose earlier and ask, “Where is (insert name of student)?” You should already know who this student is, but you have to act as if you don’t. Have the biggest smile on your face as you ask the question and look around the room for the student. Your tone should be friendly and welcoming. Be sure to write new words on the board.
We chose this particular student , the potential trouble-maker, because we want to win them over on the first day. We want to make them the smartest, most popular, most interesting student on that first day. We want them to feel good about our class. We want them to feel loved and appreciated for who they are. When you make them feel this way, you get them on your side. And when you get them on your side, they will be less likely to cause problems in your class and in inevitable parent conferences, you’ll be the good guy amongst the teachers. 🙂
When the student identifies themselves, thank them, and then, in the target language, ask them their name. I know it was on the paper and they just identified themselves, but they need to hear that question. As you say it, write the whole phrase on the board with its translation. Add also, how to respond in the target language with its translation. However, don’t require that the student use the whole phrase when they respond. If they do, give them an AWESOME high-five, but if not, that’s perfectly okay.
After they answer your question, introduce the student to the class as if they didn’t hear them.
“Class, his name is Jason.”
And start asking your scaffolded, differentiated questions:
“Class, is his name Michael?”
“No. His name isn’t Michael. His name is Jason.”
“Class, is his name Michael or Jason?”
“That’s right. His name is Jason.”
Ask questions for a few minutes making sure not to ask questions in any predictable order. Then, based on the picture the student draw, make a statement about that student in the target language avoiding the expression “like.”
“Class, Jason plays baseball.”
Ask a question to Jason to confirm this, writing the new words on the board:
“Jason, do you play baseball?”
“That’s right. You play baseball.”
Now randomly ask scaffolded, differentiated questions to the class about Jason.
“Class, does Jason play basketball or baseball?”
“That’s right. Jason plays baseball.”
“Class, does Jason play football?”
“How ridiculous! Jason doesn’t play football. Jason plays baseball.”
Remember to go slowly and write all new words on the board.
Go back to Jason and ask him another question about his activity to go bit deeper.
“Jason, do you play baseball on a team?”
“What’s your team called?”
Now report that information to the class as if they didn’t hear it.
“Class, Jason plays baseball on a team. His team is the Flyers.”
Using that sentence, you can now ask scaffolded, differentiated questions about the new information.
“Class, does Jason play baseball on a team?”
“Yes. Jason plays baseball on a team.”
“Is the name of his team the Tigers or the Flyers?”
“That’s right. The name of Jason’s team is the Flyers.”
Go back to Jason to get one more piece of information about his activity.
“Jason, how long have you been playing baseball?”
And go back to the class reporting the new information and asking more questions.
Now Jason has been in the hot seat for a little bit, hopefully feeling pretty smart, pretty popular, and most of all appreciated and loved. All in all, this was about 10-15 minutes of class time.
Talk About Second Student.
Now you’ll pick another picture and follow the same procedure with the new student. If the first activity picture was something related to sports, then pick a non-sport activity. If it was a non-sport, pick a sport activity.
Compare and Contrast.
Once you’ve finished with this new student, spend about 5 minutes comparing and contrasting the two students:
“Class, does Jason read or play baseball?”
“That’s right. Jason plays baseball.”
“Does Sarah play baseball?”
“No, Sarah doesn’t play baseball. Sarah reads.”
Variations for levels 2 and higher.
For all other levels, I would start class the same way with the following modifications: as the levels increase, you won’t have to write as many words on the board and you’ll change the “theme” of the pictures that they draw.
For level 2, I ask them to draw a picture of what they’re afraid of. For level 3, I ask them to draw a picture of what makes them awesome or different, and for level 4, I ask them what they would do if… (I vary the if portion from year to year).
Remember you’ll need to create your example on poster board that represents you.
Wrapping up class.
You’re going to continue this process until you have about 5 minutes left of class. This will be the first time you will speak English all period.
Ask the students to describe how the first day of class was in only ONE, single word and to rate their comprehensibility level from 0-10 with 10 representing 100%.
Just prior to the bell or just after it rings, thank them for being awesome students in English. By the third day, you’ll be doing this in the target language, but on this day, we want the kids to really hear it and know that you mean it.
That was the first day. Wasn’t it awesome? Don’t you feel good about the year? Now get out there and greet your next class!
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