ELT Traveller box

about teaching English to young learners, web tools and iPad teaching

The first 5 minutes of a lesson

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The first five minutes of my lessons are always a big question mark. I have always thought that the success of the lesson depends on those five minutes, from when I enter the classroom to when i say …”let’s start!…”

Even if I come to the lesson with a perfect, complete and rich plan there are many variables I should focus on in the first five minutes, here are two of the most important “nightmares” for me:
– the atmosphere: I can feel it from the way learners greet in return or simply look at each other. If it’s too nervous or confusing, I will definitely need to rearrange timing and activities.
– the attendance: the numbers of students in the class affects the way i will manage the plan. If many students are missing, then the next lesson will be a review lesson.
I usually have one to two minutes to take an on spot decision and no time to think about that, I developed the ability to focus on issues while calling the register. If the atmosphere is quite collaborative and relaxed, only a few students are missing and the rest of the class got the correct material, the lesson could start smoothly and i can stick to my plan. But, what are the options if this doesn’t happen?
There is an interesting chapter about this in Planning lessons and courses (Woodward, 2001). On one hand, I realized I am one of those teachers who needs to set clear boundaries, following the same procedure at the beginning of each lesson and keen to “create a time-efficient working atmosphere”. On the other hand, as I said before, I believe the atmosphere plays a key role in starting the lesson. I think a working habit could create a collaborative atmosphere itself, but it doesn’t always work. There are a couple of “atmospherics” in the book I would  like to try sometime. But the question is always the same: can it work with 30 young teenagers?
Woodward also talks about students starts and topic discussion, basically the learners have the responsibility to start the lesson with various activities e.g. discussing the topic of the previous lesson or they can discuss and decide together with the teacher the focus of the lesson. I honestly found it unreal, obviously they need clear guidance, but still, thinking about the Italian education system, it’s really difficult to do. I imagine there are many steps behind this procedure, about the way students perceive the relationship with teachers and educators in general. We should first help learners to slightly move from an idea of respecting the teacher’s role to respecting the role of learning.

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