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Public Elementary School NET: The First Day

Aug 5, 2020 | Public School TEFL | 0 comments

You don’t know the kids.  You don’t know their English level.  You don’t know your co-teachers. You don’t know the school culture.  What do you know?  What can you build a first lesson on?

A Strategy


With all of the planning that goes into coming to a new school (signing contracts, relocating, setting up utilities, gathering documents, health checks, CBCs, etc.), that first lesson plan can be something that sneaks up on a new teacher. A lot of private schools and learning groups will start out the year with an ice breaker for their first day.  While the general idea is good, remember that public school classes have been together for years.  The only thing new is you.  This might be one occasion where teacher talk can be encouraged. (blasphemy, I know!)

My goals for the first day are:
1. Break the Ice (encourage students to talk and share, not be silent and obedient)
2. Learn about their English level
3. Identify a few leaders
4. Build an environment of respect



Lesson Plan Structure for Elementary Learners


I. Before Class
II. Intro PPT (gauge student level)
III. Students Create Self-Intro Cards
Bonus: Student Compliment Cards

IV. After Class

I. Before Class

There are things to consider before the class even starts.

Imagine how the students will see you.  Will you walk in upright and energized, or will you be slouching?  Will you be dressed as good or better than the local teachers (within reason due to the August heat), or will you look like a tourist off the street?  Will you spend a moment greeting the local teacher and demonstrating respectful behavior, or will you put your things down and isolate yourself until the starting bell?

When the bell rings, observe their reaction.  In many classes, the class leader (班長 –  Bānzhǎng) will call the class to order.  In reality, this doesn’t always happen in classes taught by a NET.  They don’t skip it on purpose.  It’s usually because they don’t know if they should or not and want to avoid being embarrassed.  Adopting their student-led greeting style builds an atmosphere of respect and avoids the awkwardness of trying to call a large class to order.

For the first part of the class, again, consider the perspective of the students.  A strange foreigner has just entered their classroom.  They spoke to the teacher and the class leader, so they seem to know what they are doing.  But what does the teacher want me to do? (They will be asking that last question to themselves A LOT!)

So, what do you want them to do?  Ideally, in a room of totally unknown students, you want to build a good student-teacher bond and you want to gauge their comprehension. 


II. Intro PPT

I’ve developed a self-introduction PPT using the following outline.

1. Basic Introduction:  name, hometown, three things the hometown is known for, pictures of my home in America
2. Likes: what foods I like (local and international), my hobbies
3. Comprehension questions based on the above info (open ended or multiple choice depending on assumed level)

For very young elementary students, this type of slideshow can be simplified.
– “My name is _____”
– “I’m from ______”
– “I like ______”

III. Self-Intro Cards

Now that you’ve demonstrated a basic self-intro, students should be able to understand what the teacher wants out of the next step: self-intro cards.

These cards help students build/use/review language they need to speak about themselves.  They also give opportunities for the teacher to learn more about students and a tool for randomly selecting students and memorizing names.

Each student is given an index card along with some sample language to use.  For foods and hobbies, this is a good chance to break the ice with co-teachers as they or other students can translate for those who need a bit of help (and you can write the translations on the board and maybe even learn some Chinese if there’s enough repetition).

The photo area takes a bit of work, but is really helpful for learning names.  Kids can line up against the chalkboard in groups and write their student numbers above their heads.  These pics can be dropped into Powerpoint and have the background removed and be cropped precisely into the area provided on the card.  The numbers are printed as part of a template to ensure readability if the cards are used later to randomly select students.

Bonus: Compliment Cards

If the kids are really high-level and there is still time remaining, there is also a quick, low-prep writing exercise that they can do which will also help bring everyone together.  I’ve never actually done this before, but it would be very possible to simplify it.

IV. After Class

When the bell rings, it’s a great time to reinforce the greeting and farewell with the the class leader.

Before leaving class, take a quick moment to reflect.

Were the goals met?
1. Break the Ice
2. Learn about their English level
3. Identify a few leaders
4. Build an environment of respect

Keeping a small, durable journal is critical for maintaining some kind of continuity if you teach a full courseload but only see your students once a week.  It’s also helpful if their levels are different between classes and pacing gets thrown off.

If anything interesting happened, write it down.