First lessons can be great fun! Most pupils still look neat and tidy and possibly even eager to learn; they are at the very beginning of the honeymoon period and you still have a chance of making a great first impression on them. You are all rested after a long break and the marking has not yet piled up on your desk so you feel a little less stressed than usual.
However, if you have left all of your planning to this final weekend of the holidays and still feel a little groggy from all the sun and sangria meaning you now don’t know where to start, you can use the following reflection to give you some inspiration for that first lesson back. This is how I am going to start my year with Year 9.
Begin the lesson as an angry teacher. Be unreasonable, demand silence and bark orders at the poor, unsuspecting children. Displayed on the board behind you is the above slide, which should give them the clue that this is an act. The idea is to provoke a strong reaction from them about unreasonable behaviour. Get them to discuss the effect of this behaviour on learning. Pupils should end this first task understanding that classroom expectations are not unreasonable, nor are they there to spoil fun; they are there to create order, harmony and an excellent working environment.
I love getting dramatic! However, I know lots of teachers who would absolutely cringe at the thought of starting the term in this way. As an alternative, you could have a scenario on paper about an angry, unreasonable teacher for them to analyse. Whichever way you choose to deliver this initial meeting, they should see that negative behaviour has a negative effect on learning and this should be teased out in the conversation that follows.
Throughout the lesson, classroom procedures and expectations will be made explicit. For example, at the end of the above task I will explain that, although I was shouting certain orders at them and this was unacceptable, some of those orders will be true of every lesson. I will reinforce my entry routine: line up outside and await my instruction to enter; all pupils are expected to collect their files and go to their allocated seat etc… This lesson is all about setting the scene for the year ahead and the following learning outcomes are shared:
- What? To explore the expectations of our classroom
- How? By getting to know each other and the classroom rules. You will need to be observant during the tasks to spot the classroom expectations
- Why? To have a great start to what is going to be a fantastic year
Pupils must demonstrate that they have understood my expectations by the end of the lesson and this is made clear. Throughout every task, I will continue to explain my expectations and have them demonstrate to me what this looks like in practice. For example, this term we are exploring our identity and what makes us tick as human beings. Our investigation question is “who am I?” Pupils will be learning how to express personal thoughts through writing. As I explain this new information to them, I will also explain that I expect all pupils to put 100% effort into their work.
During the explanation of the learning outcomes, explain that pupils should be observant and the outcome is to know my expectations. Pupils should be prepared to recall my expectations later in the lesson.
To set the scene for my particular unit, I will share some information about what makes Mrs Ashes. I am not saying divulge your inner most secrets and make best friends with your class but pupils love to see a human element to teachers. The following image shows that I love to exercise, eat pizza, go out to dinner with friends etc…I am demonstrating to them that I expect everyone to take part in the sharing process, I make this explicit to them and I am modelling this myself.
Search for Meaning
Now set them the challenge to write down as many things as they can think of about themselves. A good way to do this is using the think, pair and share method. Pupils have a moment to write their personal ideas down; they are then given time to share their ideas with a partner before sharing with the class. When pupils share with the class I demonstrate another expectation as I ask for no hands up and choose pupils to answer. I do not want anyone opting out as I want my classroom to be full of active participants.
Next, I ask pupils if they can make my name rhyme with any of my loves. Of course they can create: “My name is Lisa and I like Pizza.” I purposefully put the pizza in for that effect. I explain that they must call me Mrs Ashes as this is a sign of respect for all of the hard work I put into them but for the purpose of this task I am using my first name (another expectation thrown in there). I then get them to work together to create their own rhymes for their own names. Once again, ask pupils to try their best, take part, be non judgemental and helpful towards each other as they work in order to continue reinforcing the classroom expectations.
Once I am happy that pupils have something to go on that will be memorable for me, we play the memory challenge game. This helps me to learn pupils names quickly and also helps me to reinforce rules such as respecting others, taking part and being non judgemental. Pupils stand up and recite their rhymes – or none rhymes if they have a crazy unrhymable name. They can also add an action if they are a particularly lively class. I then go back around and attempt to remember as many names as possible by recalling their rhymes and or actions.
Finally, bring pupils back to the original learning outcome of exploring classroom expectations. Expectations have been made clear throughout the lesson and now it is time to see what they have discovered. Set the pupils a small amount of time to recall (on paper) as many expectations as they can. Stop pupils and see who has remembered the most. Pupils enjoy the competition element of this final task and they also demonstrate that they have been observant and can tell you what you expect of them in the classroom.
Pupils should have a clear understanding of your expectations by the time they leave this lesson. Continue to review these expectations in every lesson and be consistent with them.
I used to get pupils to create a classroom contract but I find that allowing them to live through the expectations is far more fun and has a similar outcome. I hope this reflection gives you some ideas for your own first lessons back.
Have a fantastic first week back and a fantastic year!
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