The one thing my PGCE never prepared me for was what to do in the first lesson of the year. I’ve now had 3-4 attempts and each time have tried to do it differently. As for September, I am still undecided. My only certainty is that I want to use as much TL in that first lesson as possible with all groups.
Admin first approach
The pros of this approach is that everyone starts from the same point and all the necessary stuff is done. Rules are established and students are very compliant in this lesson, often regardless of ability. My main issue with this is that sometimes there is not enough time for a language based activity or fun. This means that students are left waiting until the next lesson for the real learning to start. A lot of subjects also take this approach and it can get a bit monotonous after having done it 5 times before they reach your lesson.
Lesson learnt: if showing the kids what to put on the front of their book never write an example name like “Lionel Messi” as some year 10s don’t know who he is…as a result I taught Lionel Messi for a year, and she did alright in Spanish.
Information gleaning approach
Often following shortly on the heels of the “admin first” approach, the teacher may set the students a series of questions to answer in the back of their books such as:
- What aspects of language learning have you been good at/struggled with in the past?
- Which skills (speaking, listening, reading, writing) do you feel you are good at, and why?
- If your previous teacher were here, what would they say about your performance in their lessons?
This can often be quite useful as long as students are silent when doing it. The information needs to come from them unaffected by their peers. If you refer to the information gleaned in subsequent lessons then this shows the students you value them.
Lesson learnt: really effective if kids are silent but also if they are lazy then they will probably not finish this. That in itself is information enough.
Engage then admin.
In my second year of teaching I tried this approach of having a normal lesson first with a number of good fun activities to start the year. It really worked with a couple of year 7 groups and year 8 groups as it allowed them to have a sense of achievement and the emphasis was on learning rather than admin. We then completed the admin in the second lesson. A short summary of rules were given and I made sure students kept to them. There was a focus on speaking and listening as students had no paper to write down anything.
This may not work with all groups but I am tempted to try it again this year.
Lesson learnt: Short summary of rules is crucial and mini-whiteboards need to be available.
Things for new teachers to consider before the first lesson:
Consider the student. Some students will already have written your subject off. Consider painting the big picture briefly at some point. How is this subject useful? Draw on experiences you or others have had. I could line up 20 teachers in my school who openly have expressed regret at not learning a language. How can you convince them that learning languages is: fun, relevant and useful? They need a feeling of “can do” and success in the early weeks.
Seating arrangements. You can do this entirely in the TL and then point out to the students a few minutes later that they’ve survived despite the fact you haven’t spoken any English yet. This works with excitable year 7s and top sets. I may try it with a bottom set this year. As for how to sit/group your students, that is best left to another post.
Have every resource ready and accessible. Be prepared and look calm. Most groups will likely be quite compliant in this lesson. Do not be fooled, most students will push your boundaries over the next few weeks.
Smile. I personally don’t buy the “don’t smile til Christmas” approach if you take it literally however the sentiment of being firm and fair is one that I would definitely support.
Do not go easy on them and do not lower your standards at all. It may sound harsh but will pay dividends long term. I learnt this the hard way in my first year.