Its almost back-to-school time, and that means it’s time to look at some fun ways to start the year. I’ve had some less-than-stellar first days, like the time I had morning bus duty and was late to class (my first teaching day ever), or the time I knocked my coffee off my table and, in trying to save it, broke my cute Eiffel Tower pencil holder (year 2). I’m known to drop stuff, fall, or generally be clumsy, so when I dress up for the first day of school, something funny is bound to happen. Luckily, I’ve got a good sense of humor about it, because I’ve had my share of embarrassing moments. I’ve had plenty of mess-ups, but thankfully, the first day went great most of the time. Here are a few ways I like to ease back into the school year.
After a long summer of not speaking French, students need to get warmed up before they are ready to speak French everyday. You can do a written review, and I usually do have a handy notes packet of the most important concepts from the year before complete with some exercises, but what they really need is to use the language as much as possible in your class from day 1. If these students are new to you, you’ll definitely need to do some ice-breakers, but even if they are students returning to you, they might not know one another. I think they are a great tool to use for any class. Building a good class environment means encouraging the students to speak to one another and be comfortable using the language, so you’ll want to offer a lot of non-threatening activities for the first week.
Here’s how I’ve started my first class for years :
I meet my students in the hallway and give them a card that corresponds to their seat.
They go in and find the matching card taped on the corner of a desk. Here’s an example of the cards I use. They are also great for grouping in pairs, threes, fours, or more! I use terms like French monuments, cities, and French-speaking countries to effortlessly bring in some culture.
Get the grouping cards HERE!
I call roll.
(Boring, but you have to, right?)
I introduce myself with a short PowerPoint show.
It’s usually about what I like to do, my family, my cats, and something silly about myself so I seem less scary. I am not one of those teachers who doesn’t smile until Christmas! I am really strict and really nice at the same time. Yes, it can happen. I think humor and having fun with kids makes them want to behave for you IF your rules and expectations are clear and consistent from the first day.
I tell kids what supplies they need.
Again, boring, but…necessary. Besides, it takes 5 minutes.
I briefly present my rules and point them out on my bulletin board.
I say briefly, because kids hear the rules all day in every class. Even if they are on their best behavior, it’s really hard to listen to the same message all day long. If you present the same thing as every other teacher, they’ll have a hard time staying engaged. Rather than waste time and get ignored, I mention them quickly and do a longer classroom expectations activity on day 2 where I have groups in each class act out the correct and incorrect behaviors for each rule. The skits are usually really funny and the kids are engaged and having fun. Advanced classes can even do them in French!
Find printable classroom rules in French HERE.
I do a quick assessment of what they know about French culture.
I give them 2-3 minutes and ask them to write everything they know about France, French culture, and any French-speaking countries they know of. For French 2 and above, I have them list every French-speaking country they can remember, every monument in Paris they can recall, or every French food they know. Then, I have them volunteer answers and we write them on the board. You’ll quickly see who is brave and who is shy! Before taking volunteers, this is a great time to discuss classroom respect, because you will see that some students know nothing about French culture or world geography, and their classmates won’t be shy with their judgements if you haven’t started the activity with a clear expectation to treat one another with respect. One year, when I asked them to name three French-speaking countries, I was pretty shocked to see that Quebec, London, and Africa all made the list. So… I learned that I needed to teach what a country was before asking that on a test!
Now it’s time for group work.
I love group work for a lot of reasons. It reduces teacher-talk time. I’m a talker, so if I don’t watch out, my teacher-student talking ratio is really bad! I have to plan a lot of activities to get them talking, because if not, I tend to talk way too much. Also, for a foreign language class, talking is a must! Plus, it is just more fun for everyone. 🙂
Depending on the class dynamic, I may give each student one question and have them read their questions aloud in numerical order, or I might group them in groups of three, four, or five and give each group a complete set of questions to go through together.
I use the English version for beginners and the French version for intermediate and advanced classes. Each set has 32 cards, and I select the correct difficulty based on the student level.
As a follow-up homework assignment, I pass out a questionnaire with the same questions for students to answer at home. It is a great way to get to know students, and it puts a fun spin on the normal information sheet we love to use.