How to Teach Your First English Class

The first English class on my English teaching journey

Whether you are just starting out teaching English or if you are already an English teaching veteran, teaching your first English class to new students will be something that you have to do numerous times in your English teaching career. This is particularly true in TEFL and TESL where the relatively high turnover of students means that you will often have new students and teach new classes, and even if it is not your first ever English class although the nerves may be jangling a bit the processes are still the same.

So how can you assure that teaching your first English class is as stress-free and successful as possible?

1)      Preparation

Make sure you know the time and location of your class and the names of the students you are going to be teaching. There is nothing worse than being unfamiliar with an area, rushing to find your class and arriving late after your students. This can apply to both online and face-to-face English teaching. Ideally you want to arrive to class first not only because this shows professionalism and you can make sure you are in the right place, but also because it allows you to speak to each individual student as they come in to class. Even a ‘Hello, how are you? What’s your name?’ can give you an initial idea of your student’s English ability and allows you to learn their name. To help achieve this it’s a good idea to do a dry run and visit the class location before the first class and then on the day itself make sure you take an attendance list of the student’s names with you. This may sound basic but again it allows you to see who is in your class and helps you to learn the student’s names, which is key in building rapport in any relationship.
2)      Break the ice and build rapport
When you start teaching a new English class you have to get to know your students. You will usually be working with them for some time and it is important to put them at ease and make them feel comfortable so that they are not afraid to ask you questions and get the most out of your English teaching throughout the course of their lessons. Remember that in some cases your students may not even know the names of their classmates, so it is important that you all spend some time getting to know each other. A good way to achieve this is to write your name on the board before the start of class and when everyone has arrived introduce yourself. If you have already asked the students their names individually when they came in to class (as suggested above) you can then repeat this process starting with the student you identified with the highest English level. This breaks the ice and will help the other students feel more comfortable in giving the same answer. Depending on the students' English level you can then go on to tell them a little more about yourself by writing a few things on the board such as where you are from and how old you are and have the students ask questions or make guesses about you, which is a great rapport building process. At this stage you can ask the students the same questions back and write them on the board for the students to refer to. Then, depending upon the size of the class you can split the students off into groups and have them repeat this process amongst themselves in order to get them to know each other and/or to give you an opportunity to make an informal assessment of their English ability.

3)      Informally assess the students' English level
If you are assigned a class with multiple students it is likely that you will have students with different English levels, some will be better at written evaluations and others better at oral evaluations so it really depends on if or how they have been originally assessed before being assigned to your class. Likewise, when a student books lessons with you or is asked to identify their own English level they may say they are intermediate when they are in fact beginner. Students are notoriously bad at identifying their English level because some will be overly confident whereas others will be modest, so it is important in whichever scenario that you do an initial, informal assessment to get an idea of your students' level in your first English class with them. This can be achieved quite simply by being attentive and listening to them as they respond to you and interact with each other. The group exercise where your students ask questions to get to know each other is perfect for this because it allows you to monitor their activity and identify areas for improvement or see where they already excel. It also gives your students an opportunity to talk freely and use all tenses and can help you determine the group dynamics of the class. If you wish you can join in with the conversations and offer some informal corrections, but you’re often better served keeping this to a minimum in the first class in order  to foster a relaxed atmosphere and allow yourself time to get a true idea of your students' abilities and what they want to achieve.
4)      Conduct a needs analysis
All English students will be taking English classes for a reason and it is up to you as the English teacher or English tutor to identify this and help find their development areas that will enable them to work towards their goals and what they want to achieve. Initially, the best way to do this is to conduct a needs analysis to learn more about your students and their aims. A needs analysis can exist in a variety of forms depending on the type of English lessons you are teaching and a quick search on Google will bring up all manner of examples. Generally, the base of a good needs analysis will derived by asking the following questions:
·         When do you use English? (E.g. at home, at work, never)
·         What do you do in English now? (E.g. watch TV, write e-mails)
·         What do you need English for?
·         Where does your English need to improve?
·         Are you doing anything to improve your English at the moment?
·         Have you studied English before? If yes, to what level?
·         What are your short and long-term aims for learning English?
·         What do you like about studying English?
·         What don’t you want to do in this class and why?
·         What can you do to help you learn English outside of class?
Obviously the answers you receive to these questions will depend upon your students' level and objectives, but their responses will give you a great idea of where your students are with their English and what they are looking to achieve, whilst also demonstrating that you are an organised, attentive teacher who intends to tailor the lessons to their needs. This is another great way of beginning to build a good relationship with your students and we’ll talk in more detail about needs analysis in another post.
5)      End the lesson with a discussion
After the students have had a chance to look at the needs analysis it is a great idea to end your first lesson with a new English class with a group discussion about it. This allows your students to exchange their ideas on what they want from their English lessons in order to set mutually beneficial expectations for the class going forward and to make sure that they themselves are compatible to the class, which avoids potential disagreements or pitfalls further down the line. It also gives you the opportunity as the teacher to refer back to the needs analysis questions to highlight any relevant resources to your students and bring up the topic of homework via the question ‘What can you do to help learn English outside of class?’ Some students may not want to do homework but irrespective of that, this is a good time to set a writing task suitable for your group and their objectives, which when combined with this your knowledge of them from their first English class will allow you to begin building a picture of each individual student’s oral, written and listening capabilities whilst developing your relationship with them.

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