Other than breaking the ice, first lessons are very often used to talk with the students about the course rules, requirements and expectations both students and we might have regarding the classes. If your courses are only beginning now (like mine!) these three ideas might help you talk about rules and expectations in a more rewarding and language-rich way than simply distributing a handout.
This year I am teaching a number of exam preparation courses as well as a class to weekend uni students which has pretty strict rules that need to be observed in order to pass the class. To be fair, I have never really paid much attention to the way course rules or expectations I have from students are communicated. I felt it was sufficient to simply explain facts and figures, dates and percentages and be on our merry way to icebreakers and getting to know each other. As much fun as that was, things always came up later during the course, some were minor and easily fixed whereas others led to more serious discussions and reestablishing of rules or managing unclear expectations. I decided to tackle the first class differently this year and try to turn the “formal part” of the lesson into an activity that would involve the students, give them a voice, and be more memorable and language-rich than just reading bullet points from a handout.
#1 Importance Metre
This activity is suitable for groups/individual courses where the stakes are high but students are bound to go through ups and downs and start doubting their ability to do well. Exam courses very often take students on such rollercoasters which is why it is quite vital to manage their expectations from the beginning and allow students to plan how they are going to work throughout the rest of the year.
- Prepare a to-do list you find important for the students to follow if they want to succeed. Make it up to 5 items, keep it simple (e.g. come to class regularly, submit written assignments, bring your coursebook etc.)
- Put the list on the board in a random order
- Draw an Importance Metre on the board (a vertical line marked very important at the top, important in the middle, not important at the bottom)
- Ask students to place the items from your list on the Importance Metre. They might work alone or with a partner.
- When they are done, ask everybody to write their own idea on a slip of paper. It must be different from what you had already put on the board. Slips are put in a container and then every student draws one (ideally, not their own idea). They place it on the Metre. Depending on the class size, you might go for round two of their own ideas.
- Students compare their Importance Metres in pairs or small groups, explaining their choices.
- Elicit own ideas from the class. Ask where on the Metre they should be placed. Be ready to negotiate and try to maintain the vibe of “there are no wrong answers here.”
- Once all the ideas are on the board, tell the students which ones you feel the strongest about (might not actually be your initial ones) and ask whether they agree. If some students disagree, ask them to share alternative solutions and validate their answers.
The ultimate aim of this activity is to gauge what your students’ expectations about the course and their participation in it are. They might have valid and realistic ideas about how much effort they need to put in at home and in class but sometimes their vision might be a bit naive (I need to submit one essay per week!) or a bit impractical (It’s fine if I share the coursebook with a classmate).
Thanks to this activity I saw the light on matters regarding the distribution of workload when it comes to writing (something my students often tend to struggle with). While we all agreed it is an important skill to practice, my students helped me understand that in-class writing sessions might yield better results than setting them as homework and grammar gap fills work better as homework leaving more class time for writing or speaking. If you choose to do this activity it might take up the whole class but I consider it time well-spent and a sound start to the new term. Keep in mind that everything is renegotiable 😉
#2 The course, the teacher and I
The aim here is for the students to envision a course that they would find both enjoyable and productive as well as start holding themselves and the teacher accountable.
Before the lesson I prepared spidergrams like the ones below. I divided my students into small groups and asked them to fill each spidergram with their own ideas. Then we discussed them and agreed which ideas we will definitely turn into fast rules. this activity allowed for some brainstorming and negotiation and helped us all understand the months ahead of us better.
This idea will also work if you teach individual lessons. Ask your learner to complete the spidergrams and do the same. Then, compare your ideas and discuss them.
#3 Rules infographic
This idea works best for courses with a lot of strict rules and deadlines which often have to do with numbers. The class I have recently started teaching to uni students is exactly like that and they need to be informed about all that during the first meeting with the teacher. The information I had to impart included: the date of the term test, the minimum they need to pass it, the number of absences they are allowed in one semester, the time they are allowed to be late for class before I mark them as absent, and some more. Basically, every piece of info was expressed as a number. I decided to use it to my advantage in designing this task.
- Students work in pairs or small groups
- Each pair/group receive a figure (e.g. 3, which in this case means the number of absences allowed in one semester)
- They have 3-4 mins to discuss the significance of their figure
- Depending on the class size numbers might repeat, then groups with the same number get together to see whether they have deciphered it correctly. Otherwise, students get together with another pair/group to share their ideas about their assigned number.
- Students share the significance of their number with the whole class, the teacher confirms whether they are right or wrong. If they are wrong, other students might contribute ideas.
- When all the numbers have been explained, students work individually to choose 3 most important (in their opinion) pieces of info. They need to make a small infographic containing the number, the graphic symbol of what the number represents, and a short explanation in English. It works best if they keep it in their folder/notebook.
- Students take some time to compare their mini infographics with others around them.