Your first lesson with a class can be daunting. For new teachers, the first lesson can bring on feelings of apprehension and even fear. Even experienced teachers face challenges; new students might not respond well to your teaching style or the material you provide on the day.
The truth is that the first lesson is rarely going to be perfect, no matter how much you plan. Despite this, there are some things you can do to have an enjoyable first class for both you and your students as well as set the tone for future lessons. Teaching is about progress; starting from the first meeting and building from there. Here are a few things to consider when preparing for your first lesson.
Identify your students
This doesn’t mean learning your students’ names and interests, although this will certainly help. Identify your students’ strengths and weaknesses in the first lesson. You need to identify which students are confident and which are not, which students are happy to engage in the activities you set, and which are reluctant to participate. It might be best to not plan any big activities for your first lesson. You might want to start your classes off with a bang, but remember that your students will probably be nervous and trying to see what you are all about, so you need to do the same.
Instead, choose a few simple activities that target different language forms or language functions. Activities that are simple and easy to follow will be good for new students just beginning their English language learning. Experienced students will know what to do right away and you might want to encourage these students to help the other students in the class.
Speaking of Language Functions ESL Lesson Handouts’ lesson plans and worksheets can be filtered and sorted by Language Functions (e.g. Asking and answering questions, Describing people, places, or things) and Language Forms (e.g. Adjectives, Future forms, Passive voice, Past forms), so it’s easy to find the perfect teaching material. Check out the Lesson Plan Library.
Observe how each student reacts to the activities in the lesson to identify how each student learns. Take what you learn about them and plan future lessons with this in mind.
Don’t focus all your efforts on target language
You don’t have much time to make a good first impression in the first lesson, so don’t focus on students meeting any target language. When you plan your lesson, look ahead to future classes to see what the language functions and forms are and plan your first lesson as an introduction to that. For example, first lessons in many courses and textbooks are about introductions, regardless of level. Instead of focusing on the specific vocabulary, encourage students to get to know each other.
You might consider not having students stand up to introduce themselves; we all dreaded doing that when we were at school. Instead, have students introduce each other or even you. By doing this, students practice the target language necessary for introductions, they learn about each other, and introductions are out of the way without anyone feeling ‘put on the spot’ giving you more time for other parts of your lesson.
Set expectations right away
Teaching an ongoing class is, of course, a work in progress. There are things that students won’t understand the first or second time; however, it is crucial that you demonstrate to your students what kind of teacher you are and what you expect from them so that potential problems can be identified and addressed quickly. How you conduct yourself in the first lesson is how many of your students will think of you, even several lessons later.
Be sure to give your students reasons to respect you as the knowledgeable teacher. This does not mean issuing commands and being intimidating, far from it; you are in a classroom not a barracks. You need to be empathetic and build trust so your students feel comfortable, open up, and shine. At the same time, you need to be firm so your students understand that your time with them is for their benefit.
The often dreaded first lesson is something that all teachers must go through. Be as prepared as you can as this lesson is going to be the measure for future lessons.