This is a new series of posts looking at ways of kicking off a lesson. I’ve always preferred getting going as soon as the first pupil arrives. It gives value to the start of the lesson rather than allowing a couple of minutes of down-time from which I’ve then got to drum up some pace. I think waiting for everyone to arrive before I begin gives permission to pupils to take their time arriving and it hands over the control of when the lesson starts to them. Queues on the corridor don’t make for a calm environment – it might mean that pupils walk in to a quiet classroom, but the hustle and bustle on the corridor (especially if it appears not to have been built to accommodate a few hundred children moving in two directions) is something I prefer to avoid. From a pupil’s perspective, there is more reason to arrive on time if you feel like you are missing something than if you know that when you get there, you just join the back of a queue and there won’t be anything to do for a while.
So what can we do once we’re in? If I start the “meat” of the lesson with just a handful of pupils, I can set up a situation where the majority won’t know what to do or how to do it. Well, in this series of posts I’ll go through a number of activities I use which are a worthwhile use of pupils’ time, but which stand independently of the main part of the lesson. They warm pupils up linguistically, blowing away the cobwebs of the mother tongue and allow us to get cracking. By the time the activity is done, everyone is there, the time has been used well, we’re ready to start and a small, but useful contribution has already been made to their overall progress.
Many of these are word games, but not all. And the ‘tiny twists’? These are little tweaks we can make to the activity which allow them to go from a whole-class activity into a pairwork game in order to increase how much comes out of the ‘average mouth’ in the room. The first couple of times I do the activity I just do it as a whole-class task, and on another occasion I do it first as a whole-class thing (more quickly this time), then put them into pairs. The tiny twists can also be small, almost cosmetic changes to how the activity looks which allow us to do it regularly without it feeling like the same thing all the time. After all, the whole purpose is to get their enthusiasm going a bit, not to make them feel they’ve been here before. Some of these activities are to get them thinking, others to get them talking, others, both. A key factor is that they can be done with little or no preparation. Some require a one-off printing and cutting session, but from then on you have the materials and you can pull them out of the drawer as and when required. Sometimes I use them completely impromptu if a class comes in clearly miffed at something that has just happened in another lesson and I need to raise the mood a bit first in order to get a decent lesson out of them, or if it’s a windy day and they come in as high as the kites they could fly and I need to focus them. If you’re trying any of these for the first time, I suggest you take one activity and use it all week with different classes and ages. It gets slicker that way and you spot where the difficult bits that need more careful explanation are to be found. If every class does the same activity at least a couple of times in a week, they get better at it, too. So, here we go:
You can do this on a whiteboard, but I prefer to use a visualiser so that I face the class throughout. If you don’t use a visualiser and you can’t remember where they stored away the OHPs (they’d be great for this), where I talk about sheets of A4, think “whiteboard”.
In the top left-hand corner of the A4 sheet write a word and in the bottom right-hand corner, another word. They can be any words, maybe words which have already been said in conversation as the first few pupils have come in, a word of the week, words from the current topic, words they find difficult to spell, synonyms, antonyms, homophones or just two pupils’ names. The idea is that the class has to get from the first word to the last word by suggesting words which will connect them crossword-fashion across the page. Here’s the example I gave one of my English classes:
and these were the instructions I showed them after I’d explained it to them, (remember, this is a class learning English – a French or Spanish class would have these instructions in those languages!):
A point worth noting is that the level of language in the written instructions is higher than the level I use to explain the activity verbally, and it is pitched at the top of what I think they can cope with. Because they have understood my spoken instructions, it’s easier for them to understand my more difficult written instructions without freaking out.
In the activity itself, it’s hands-up to speak, and I write down the words they suggest if they fit.
What language will we need? (These need to be prepared in advance, ready to project/put on the wall at the moment they need them, and repeated as a whole class, preferably with a mime, at that point)
- What do you suggest?
- How do you spell …?
- Where do you want me to start? / Do you want me to start here? / Do you want me to start from the first –r or the second –r?
- Which letter should I start with?
- That’s a good/nice/difficult/useful word!
For the class:
- I suggest…
- What about…?
- The alphabet
- No, not “a”, I meant “e” (for when they get the letters wrong but I write down exactly what they say and they need to correct me).
- You have to start from the “n” of “green”
- The words can be related to each other in some way (more difficult) or unrelated, you choose.
- Set a kitchen-timer to ring after 1 ½ minutes.
- Establish a minimum number of words needed to connect the first and last words
- Establish a minimum number of letters per word
- Each letter has to be one letter longer than the previous word
- All the words have to come from the same part of speech (i.e., only adjectives, or only nouns, etc.)
- When playing in pairs, pupil 1 competes against pupil 2 – first one to finish wins.
If pupils have rough books for this sort of activity, it’s worth collecting them in in order so that it’s a job of 10 seconds to give them out. It ruins the pace if you (or a volunteer pupil) has to wander backwards and forwards across the room giving out the right book to the right person. Personally for this, I prefer scraps of rough paper which can be recycled at the end.
Total running time from start to finish: no more than 5 minutes, absolute maximum.