Activities for the First Day of Class in English Composition - Tips for Teachers
Get off on the right foot
As a teacher, you have your semester planned, but how do you get started? You have lesson plans, assignments and essays sketched out, but what do you do with new students the very first day of class? At the college level, students often expect that the first day of class is about their getting the syllabus, meeting the instructor, and being let go early (and many instructors comply.) I remember days like that back in college, but I have never followed that practice in my own classes.
What makes sense in an English Composition class is for the students to do at least some writing the first day in order to introduce them to what they will be doing all semester. Having taught English Composition at the college level for over ten years, I have used some strategies that not only get the students in writing mode but also help them to feel comfortable in the class.
Unlike college instructors, high school teachers may not have the challenge of breaking the ice with new students. Generally, students in the high school English class know each other, some for many years. Still, there are activities that teachers can implement to facilitate a pleasant learning environment right from the beginning.
Writing is scary for a lot of students—and people in general. Whatever teachers can do on the first day to alleviate some of the nervousness will do a lot to set the tone for the entire semester. This article gives teachers--whether at the high school or college level--a potential lesson plan for the first day of class in English Composition.
Take care of "housekeeping" tasks
Get those necessary “housekeeping” tasks out of the way. Call names, check the roster, and go over the syllabus, briefly hitting the highlights, encouraging students to read the rest on their own. The purpose of this is just to give students a general idea of what the semester is going to entail. I always pass out note cards for students to write their personal information out for me: their legal name as well as what name they actually go by; phone number and email; hobbies and interests (just to get to know them a little better). The notecard also gives me a place to jot down notes to help me connect a name to a face rather quickly.
I like to give a mini-lecture on the importance of the course. I point out to the class that, although English Composition is a required course for students, it has value now and in their future careers. I tell them how being able to express themselves well on paper can also translate into better verbal expression. When I’m finished with my “preaching,” then we move on to some activities to get every student in the class involved.
Icebreaker and introductions get students involved
I don’t always ask for introductions the first day of class, but, when I have, it has gone over very well. Try a simple icebreaker by asking students to introduce themselves, plus give a little more information. Direct them to say their name and the first thing that comes to their minds about writing, for example. Even an “I hate writing” is bound to get some laughs and loosen up the class.
Add anything you want, such as their sharing something unusual about themselves. If it feels more comfortable, put them in small groups or even pairs. Give them a few minutes to talk and then ask them to introduce each other to the class.
Have students write the very first day
Since English Composition is a class focused on writing, set the tone early on with an in-class writing assignment. Have students write a short essay about their past experiences with writing and what they hope to get from this class. Tell them to write this in essay form, complete with title and paragraphs.
Having students write on the first day of class engages them and gets them to utilize critical thinking skills. Encouraging them to write about where they have been and what they want is also a way to make students feel as though the teacher cares. This assignment also gives the instructor a baseline writing sample of each student.
Give the class a certain amount of time in which to complete this assignment. Learning to manage time is important in taking tests throughout school and college. Career-based tests and licensing exams are also timed. Learning to perform with a deadline looming is a valuable skill students can take with them.
When all students are finished, take up the essay. I don't give a grade for this assignment, but I hold on to the papers to review later in the semester in order to assess students' progress.
Resource for English Composition Teachers
Freewrite if Extra Time
If you have extra time, instruct the students to do a freewriting exercise. I do this often, giving students random topics or no topic at all. Freewriting is a quick exercise that engages students in thinking and transferring their thoughts to paper. Instruct students to start writing until time is up without picking up their pens and stopping. Tell them to write about anything—what they did last summer, their families, or even how they are feeling now after the first day of class. Tell them when to start and stop them when time is up.
Time Schedule for First Day of Class
Housekeeping, Syllabus, etc
Importance of Writing lecture
End on a positive note
End the class on a positive note with your feedback on how well the class went and how you are looking forward to the semester. Ask for any questions or comments before you dismiss the class.
It is important to have a definite plan for the first day of class. Giving students the information they need along with actual writing practice on the very first day of class will give them confidence as they feel more sure about what is expected of them. Icebreakers and writing assignments go a long way in setting the stage for a successful semester in the English Composition course.
© 2012 Vicki L Hodges
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