Three things for a first class

three things flickr steve wall

by Steve Wall on flickr

I’d like to share a post I wrote recently for the British Council Teaching English blog site. It may be a bit late for some of you, or maybe not really relevant at this time of year, but hopefully some of you are gearing up to meeting new students over the next couple of weeks.

Three things for a first class 

For a few years now I’ve been experimenting with sharing lesson summaries with my classes and here I’d like to share a summary from a typical first class. This was an intermediate class of adult students at a private language school in Cádiz.  I’ve changed the names, but nothing else!

Going into a first class, from a selfish, teacher-centred point of view, I have three main objectives (apart from gauging the level and confidence of the students).

  1.  to learn and feel comfortable with the students’ names, and make sure that all the students know each other’s names too – I think this is really important if the group is going to gel and work well together, being able to call someone by their name really helps break the ice (I always feel so much shyer when I’m not sure of someone’s name)
  2.  to find out about the students’ language learning background, personal aims and expectations
  3.  to find out about the students’ day-to-day use of technology, what apps and tools they use and feel comfortable with, in order to be able to create some kind of online hub for each class where we can share information and to be able to direct students to resources that can help them continue to study and learn beyond the classroom


Here’s an extract from the summary I shared with my students after out first class (in three stages):

Lesson 1 14/09


We learnt each other’s names and talked about them a bit. We talked about names that run in the family (= are used a lot in the same family) and patron saints and great grandparents (both paternal and maternal). We talked about the origin of surnames and parents and families, and noticed quite a strong link between Cádiz and the North of Spain (and France in Julianne’s case), and of fathers moving south, falling in love and staying 😉

At the end of the discussion we looked at the pronunciation of the vowels in uncle, cousin and aunt (can you remember them?)

This stage took about twenty minutes. I started talking about my own name, the problems I have with people mispronouncing my first name, how it can be both a boy and a girl’s name, how my surname is really common in Wales and how there were three Ceri Joneses in my class in secondary school. I asked one of the students to talk about their name, if they liked it or not, whether it was  a family name (traditionally names run in families in Spain with daughters, mothers and grandmothers – and sons, father and grandfathers – sharing the same name across generations).  I asked them where their surname came from, if it was common locally and then the conversation took off with all the students volunteering their personal information, asking similar questions, telling tales about their parents and grandparents – as you can see from the summary above.  By the end of the activity, we were all very comfortable with each other’s names and the students were communicating and initiating conversation comfortably and confidently.

In the summary I highlighted in bold the key language that emerged from the conversation and prompted some revision of the pronunciation we’d focused on.


You interviewed each other about your past (and present) English learning experiences. I learnt that Julianne is interested in taking the First Certificate exam (Julianne, I’ll send you some links to useful websites later this week), that Javi is moving to Philadelphia at the end of September, that both María and Carlos are enrolled at EOI schools, that María uses youtube and podcasts to practise English, that Nacho has just finished his university studies and has been on holiday all summer, well, not totally on holiday – he was also a student at the summer courses in the morning with Javi and María.

We talked about the difference between primary and secondary schools (and looked at how to pronounce those two words – remember?). We also looked at the difference between job-hunting and head-hunting, and how sometimes being unemployed is good because it gives you a chance to study or travel.

In this stage we moved away from whole class discussion to pairwork which was very fluid after the initial ice-breaking stage talking about names. The students worked well and happily in pairs and reported back on their partners’ answers quickly and efficiently. The feedback session evolved into another whole group discussion where we dealt with the language points highlighted in the summary.


You found out about each other’s day-to-day use of technology like mobile phones, tablets, email, the internet, ipods/mp3 players and digital cameras. I learnt about some new apps, and Juan explained how he uses Skype with his son in Córdoba. We all use email on a regular basis and we shared email addresses. We also looked at the pronunciation of the alphabet (can you remember how to say H, J, G, I?) and how to spell out email addresses. (can you remember how to say _, @ and . ?)

In this third and final stage, we first brainstormed devices the students used on a daily basis and then the students worked in groups to find out what, how, where and when.  Juan, the oldest student in the class, was the least tech-comfy, but it was great when he got to talk about how he used Skype with his son – some of the younger students had never used Skype. They all went away feeling they’d learnt something new (how to spell out email addresses) and I had the tools I needed for the first step in creating our online learning community. (Here’s a link to our class blog where we shared the lesson summaries and interesting links from inside and outside the class)

This lesson summary comes from a class I taught four years ago, but I find these three focuses are still very useful in shaping almost all my first classes.

You can see the original post here. 

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3 Responses to Three things for a first class

  1. swisssirja says:

    Oh dear Ceri,
    I wish you were my teacher!!!!!


  2. Pingback: New year resolutions are so not cool … here are mine! | pains and gains of a teacher woman

  3. Pingback: First Encounter | Unplugged Observed

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