08 Jul Tips for Starting Your Lessons Right and Getting Students Excited

“The mind is like a parachute; it only works when it’s open.”

Jane Austen’s famous Pride and Prejudice was originally entitled “First Impressions”. Despite the happy ending to this novel, in real life it’s often claimed that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

I’ve heard this piece of advice many times over the years, when starting a new school, when going for an interview, when meeting an important contact.

I remember being very depressed when one of my university tutors informed me that interviewers typically make their minds up about candidates in the first five minutes of the interview. This was announced in a session preparing my class for graduation and the round of interviews that would follow.

“Five minutes?” I asked, horrified. “What can I possibly have a chance to say in the first five minutes?”

It was at this point that I learned the value of a good “opener” combined with the importance of appearances.

It goes without saying that we would like our students to have an open mind when coming into class, ready and receptive to learn an experiment. Realistically, this won’t happen by itself and it is an atmosphere that we have to create.

That’s where the good opener comes in! The first five minutes of the class needs to say loud and clear to learners: “This is going to be an interesting class.” Whether it’s a recap game from something learned yesterday , a quick vocabulary quiz or listen and do this task , those first few minutes need to be dynamic and energising, engaging learners and making them receptive to learning.

A teacher open a class with: “Today we are going to do grammar.” No wonder that the learners slump in the chair and groan. The word grammar is not synonymous with fun, in any language! As teachers, we shouldn’t be there to teach them grammar; we should be there to teach them how to say something new (which just happens to be made up of grammar and vocabulary.)

If we give out a black and white hand-out at the start of the lesson, covered in small text with no visuals, learners are already associating the material with negatives. Colour visuals, a DVD clip or a CD introduce more positive thoughts and engage the learner.

I’ve learned since my university days that it is possible to change first impressions, but it takes time and a lot more effort to change an opinion, as even Mr Darcy, the hero of the novel, found. So better to get it right first time! The first five minutes of the lesson set the tone for the rest of it – make sure you spend time thinking about it.

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