First Lesson Activities – An ELTchat summary

A PLN for ELT Professionals

First Lesson Activities – An ELTchat summary

This summary was contributed by Genevieve White on her blog and is reproduced here with her kind permission.

First lessons are equally significant for teachers and learners, as it is here where the initial steps towards establishing a supportive group dynamic are made. So what can teachers do to ensure that their first lessons engage learners, and at the same time create a positive and productive learning environment? This was the topic up for discussion on Wednesday the 19th of September at 9.00pm GMT.

Icebreakers etc!

This chat was expertly moderated by Marisa_C, and the participants were: @vickihollett, @shaznosel, @SophiaMav, @klizbarker, @MarjorieRosenbe, @ShetlandEsol, @affreshair, @hmbaba, @eltknowledge, @cfozcavan, @SueAnnan, @chiasuan, @sandymillin, @steve4eld

“We have to show enthusiasm and jump right in” (@vickihollett)

This statement met with agreement from @Marisa_C and @shaznosel. But what of the old adage of not cracking a smile till Christmas? @Klizbarker and @vikihollet did not agree with this at all, maintaining that it was important for the teacher to let his/her personality shine through, and that maintaining  a stern grimace would be “very hard and very peculiar” @vickihollett. “Strong, but not mean” is surely preferable, said @klizbarker

Take time to learn names

It was agreed that any time spent learning names is a worthwhile investment. @Marisa_C suggested the activity “Guess my name – and why?” as a good and simple first few minutes activity. Meanwhile, @vickihollett has a great idea for classes with mixed Asian and European learners: Asian learners write their names on the board, and other Asian learners in the class work out characters: guaranteed to fascinate European learners.

Getting to Know You Activities

Participants were happy to suggest their favourite activities, and agreed together that these activities perform several functions: to break the ice, diagnose, conduct an informal needs analysis, to establish rules and to motivate.

  • @Marisa_C suggested the “tribes” activities from Jill Hadfield’s Classroom Dynamics, in which learners decide on a symbol, name, badge, motto song or rap for their group. Participants who had tried this out in class testified to its success in creating a bond between learners. @Marisa_C also suggested “three truths and a lie” as a good way of learners getting to know each other.
  • @SueAnnan likes to write information about herself on the board: learners have to guess the questions which elicit the answers. @MarjorieRosenbe creates a personal mind map and gets learners to ask questions about it. Learners then draw their own mind maps and do the same with a partner. In @Shaznozel’s “my world” she draws a circle with five bits of personal information in it, and then learners guess their significance, before going on to do the same for themselves – this is good for  eliciting wh – questions. A variation of this is @eltknowledge’s star; where the teacher draws things that define her at the end of each point – learners discuss their significance and then go on to do the same for themselves.
  • @SueAnnan mentioned a speed dating activity which a colleague uses in first lessons. However, @ShetlandEsol had been on the receiving end of such an activity as a learner, and had not enjoyed it all. It can be interesting for teachers to experience “icebreakers” when they are themselves in learner mode!
  • @hmbaba gets learners to set up edmodo accounts and post their favourite picture or clip from youtube, while @SophiaMav gets learners to create animoto videos about their summer holidays to present in class.
  • @MarjorieRosenbe asked learners at a one week training course to bring baby photos and guess who was who. This led on to an activity in which learners created information sheets about who was who.

Establishing Ground Rules

This is an important feature of any first lesson, as learners need to be aware of what is expected of them. However, this does not need to be done in a stern, inflexible way: a spoonful of sugar can help this medicine go down a treat, and the #eltchatters had loads of good ideas on this front:

  • @cfoxcavan uses a learning agreement in the first lesson. @Marisa­_C suggested making a poster of agreed rules or writing up a classroom contract. This works particularly well with younger students, and can utilise co operative learning techniques.
  •  @ShetlandEsol chooses her most important ground rule and turns it into a running dictation activity.
  •  @SueAnnan highlighted the importance of the local environment, by referring to beach safety rules she incorporates into her first lessons. @shaznozel thought it was a good idea to bring local issues into the classroom, as learners might feel more confident discussing local issues.

Learner Training

The first lesson is the perfect time to encourage good learning habits, and #eltchatters  have no shortage of ideas on how to go about this! @hmbaba suggested brainstorming learners’ problems with learning English, and then facilitating a discussion on tips and learning strategies. @shaznozel suggested asking learners to share their email or facebook addresses so that they can continue to work collaboratively outside of class. @ShetlandEsol also asks learners to work together to list different ways in which they can learn English outside their lessons.

Writing in the First Lesson
Up until this point, the chat had focused mainly on speaking activities. However, it can be very useful to get learners writing in the first class. This gives the teacher something to take away and can be a useful diagnostic tool for planning future lessons.

@sandymillin asks higher level learners to do “buzz writing” by answering the questions “How have you learned in the past? What do you need English for? What kind of lessons do you like?” The texts the learners produce are usually about 150 words in length, so Sandy has plenty of useful information about her new learners’ lives and their linguistic needs.

Keeping things fresh.
First lessons with a new class are fun, aren’t they? As @shaznosel observes “every now and then when time permits, it’s great to throw in an activity that breaks the routine, not the ice!” It’s worth bearing this is mind, as we return to our teaching routines.

Thanks to everyone who participated in this most informative #eltchat. I’m sure we all came away with new first lesson tricks to store up our sleeves – or even just to keep for a those rainy days when teachers and learners need a little energy boost!


Further Reading:

Jill Hadfield 1992 Classroom Dynamics: OUP (great ideas for “bonding” activities)

Meddings and Thornbury. 2009 Teaching Unplugged – Dogme in English Language Teaching, Delta Publishing (some good Dogme first lesson activities)

Marisa Constantinides, Storming Out or Norming In: (Some great first day tips here.)



photo credit: <a href=””>Neal.</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>cc</a>

One Response

  1. […] has talked about first lessons before…  to read Genevieve White’s summary of “First Lesson Activities” click the […]

Comments are closed.