6 Teaching Tips for Starting Your Class on the Right Foot

Ah, the first day of class—that healthy mix of excitement, nerves, and anticipation for what’s to come. As teachers, it’s our job to set the stage for the class and make the first run a success so that our students are energized and excited about the next ten weeks. But how do we make that happen? Here are some teaching tips and strategies for a successful first session to get your class on the right foot:

Set the stage: It’s always a good idea to arrive early to your classroom, particularly on the first day. Make sure you’re familiar with your classroom and its technology, as well as the layout of the building. Do you know where the closest bathrooms and water fountains are located? Your students will want to know, too. Check to be sure that your classroom is clearly marked so that students know they’re in the right place. It’s also helpful to write a (level-appropriate) welcome message on the board, such as Bienvenidos a la clase de Español III. You’ll also want to write your name and contact information, so that students will have an easy reference for what to call you and how to get in touch if they have questions after class.

Inside the classroom, consider the layout of chairs and desks, and rearrange as necessary to ensure that students can easily collaborate in pairs and small groups. If you have a large classroom and a small group of students, you can create a semicircle of chairs so that students don’t wind up on opposite ends of the room from each other. To add to the welcoming environment, consider playing some background music as the students arrive. Pandora and Spotify are great resources for foreign language tunes, or you can create a playlist from your own music library ahead of time.

Engage early: Inevitably, one or two students will arrive really early on the first day. Remember, first impressions count! Make sure you’re there to greet students with a smile and don’t wait until the start of class to engage with them. Ask their names, introduce yourself, and have a couple of questions ready (in English, for beginners) to get the conversation going even before class starts. What inspired them to sign up for the class? Have they traveled to a country where the target language is spoken? Remember that students are likely at least a little nervous about their first class, so some friendly conversation with you will help them to relax and work out some of those first-day jitters.

Survey the crowd: Another way to engage with students as they arrive is to give them a getting to know you written survey to complete (in English) before class begins. This is a chance for your students to share details with you that they might not be comfortable talking about in front of their classmates. Let them know ahead of time that this information will be confidential. The surveys also give you insider information about your students’ motivations, preferences, and worries, which can help you to customize the class to their needs. Here are some sample survey questions that I use with my classes, which you can modify according to your target language:

Describe your experience with Spanish, including any classes.

  • Have you traveled to any Spanish-speaking countries?*
  • What inspired you to sign up for this class?*
  • What are you most excited about in this class?*
  • What, if anything, makes you nervous about this class?*
  • If you have any preferred types of activities, please list them below (partner interviews, games, songs, video clips, etc).*
  • Anything else you’d like me to know?*

Review logistics and establish ground rules: Once class begins, you’ll need dedicate some time to reviewing the logistics of the course, including textbooks, homework, and basic class structure. While this information is important for students, I like to get this out of the way during the first ten minutes of class so that we can move on to more engaging activities. It’s also helpful (and time saving) to have the essential information printed on a handout so that students can easily reference it at a later time. Most importantly, you can use this time to establish some ground rules for the class. Here are three that I’ve used in the past:

Ask questions. Make sure your students know that any question is fair game. For beginners, give them the vocabulary to ask questions in the target language. Remind them that you’re there to answer questions, and that they can also ask each other for help during partner and group activities.

Be brave. Acknowledge that language learning can be intimidating, and that a lot of people come to class with anxiety about saying the wrong thing or not knowing the answer. Ask your students to trust themselves and speak up anyway! Remind them that everyone feels nervous or makes a mistake at some point, and that the class is a safe space where the goal is communication, not perfection.

Have fun! Remind students that class is intended to be engaging and enjoyable for them. Yes, they will be studying and learning a lot, but that it’s designed to be fun for everyone involved. Encourage them to give you feedback on the activities that they enjoy so that you can incorporate more of them throughout the course.

Encourage community: The first class is an ideal opportunity for your students to get to know you and each other, so build some icebreaker activities into your agenda. I like to allow students to introduce themselves to the class and say a few things about themselves, like where they’re from and what inspired them to sign up for the course. Another fun activity is getting to know you BINGO, in which everyone has a BINGO card filled with level-appropriate phrases like Likes to run in the park or Does yoga frequently. Students then mix together in a large group, introducing themselves and looking for classmates who do those things. You can also participate in the BINGO game so that students have a chance to learn more about you during the activity.

** Mix it up and finish strong: **When planning your first class, make sure that you incorporate the same variety of activities that students will typically see throughout the course. Try to include partner and group activities, as well as different opportunities for students to speak, listen, read, and write. You also want your last activity of the day to leave students excited and ready for the next class. Try finishing with an energizing game or a song that reviews the content of that day’s lesson. During the last five minutes, give the students a sneak preview of what you’ll be doing in the next class, so that they have something to anticipate and to motivate them to continue studying throughout the week. Always leave them wanting more!

Have you tried any of these strategies on your first day of class? What other tips can you recommend? Let us know in the comments below.

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