Needs analysis before the first class is great way to help prepare a course that will match student needs from day one. It is also sometimes good to set a needs analysis questionnaire as homework, in order to leave class time for other things and to see what they think about the rest of the course after experiencing one lesson.
However, nothing matches doing needs analysis within a lesson, even if needs analysis is also done outside class.
Reasons for wanting to do it in class include:
- Being able to get students’ own ideas for what they most need (without putting ideas in their heads), then suggesting other ideas, so you don’t miss out on less obvious needs like “turn taking”.
- Being able to follow-up on what students say (as they could say the first thing that comes to mind, could say what they have always said without thinking about what has changed, and/or don’t have realistic ideas of what they need).
- Other students being able to understand the needs of their classmates (and so understanding when things they don’t personally need are covered in the course).
- Students being able to get advice on how to achieve their aims with self-study tips, English media recommendations, etc.
There is also no reason not to do this in class, as many needs analysis topics and questions are exactly what you would naturally ask each other when you meet for the first time in such a situation, and are similar to what you would ask if you met at a conference, while travelling, etc.
Such topics include (past, present, and future):
- Job and studies.
- English studies at school, in language schools, self-study, etc.
- Use of English in their job, other studies, travel, etc.
You can then move onto less common topics outside class like:
- Strong and weak points.
- How the student could improve on their weak point(s).
Although it is not obviously part of needs analysis, I’d also talk about free time activities such as travel, as that can influence what topics will interest your students while they study English with you.
In a one-to-one class, the teacher can simply ask questions about those topics, trying to use questions students might hear outside class like “What do you do?” and “Have you ever… ?”. The teacher should start with easy questions to understand and to answer and make notes on the important information.
In a group class, you could give students interview forms with the topics above as section headings. Students first ask their own choice of questions on those topics, then use suggested questions, and finally use suggestions for things to add to their answers to give the interviewer any missing info, e.g. intonation/ tone of voice for the weak points topic.
If you want to move smoothly from that (one-to-one or group) needs analysis to the content of the rest of that first class, possibilities include:
- Seeing if students can remember the common small talk questions that they were asked, then discuss good answers in real life.
- Role-playing one situation that they said they really need to use English for, with someone else playing the person who they need to communicate with.
- Brainstorming useful language for functions and/or ways of communicating that most students said they need, e.g. a review of language for answer enquiries.
As mentioned above, it might also be worth giving students another needs analysis form to do for homework, e.g. one where they rank things like kinds of business communication by how much class time they want to spend on them.