Make the first day count!

CAM00262Getting ready for week two of  our term and to make this course as

successful as possible, I was reflecting on how the first week went and how to move forward with my four groups. It’s taken me many years of experience, completing the Cambridge Delta and lots of PD to come to the firm belief that one of the key factors to achieve a successful course with my students is to analyse their needs thoroughly at the beginning of the course.

For many years, ‘analysing my students’ needs’ meant no more than handing out a form with a few standard questions which I felt fulfilled the purpose. With time, I learned that more than just knowing what they wanted to learn, I needed to try and learn about my students as people rather than just asking them to tick a few boxes. In the past year, this has had a tremendous impact on my students’ learning but also on my relationship with them.

One of the first things I stopped doing was distribute a form to analyse their needs. To me, that type of form works well for feedback but not as a diagnostic tool. Students come to class as curious about their teacher as they are about each other. For that reason, I try to make the encounter as personal as possible which establishes the classroom as a comfortable and friendly environment. We usually introduce ourselves and I encourage them to ask as many questions as possible. This is done orally to enable me to assess their speaking. I usually scribble away codes and signs which only I can decipher, but which will form a large chunk of the data I’ll be using to decide what to teach and how to teach it. Many students have come to me and commented that they really enjoyed this type of introduction as they were nervous on their first day. Some might argue that this could be  torture for introvert students, and while this is a fair point, when students take turn, the more introvert ones get time to prepare what they will say and also receive help in the form of questions and prompts. Lots of smiles can also go a long way in building their confidence!

Once this is done, I usually have a mingling , pair or group task prepared. Pitched at the students’ level, the task usually necessitates they collect information for a piece or writing they’ll need to produce in the last 30 minutes of the class. The writing is usually about another student which ensures they focus during the task. Added to that, I ensure the students know I will be collecting their writing at the end of the class.

By the end of this first lesson, I walk away with notes on my students’ speaking and a piece of writing which make up a far more thorough needs analysis than any form could have produced. Moreover, I walk away having established a connection with 18 adults who came to class, keen, nervous, apprehensive, excited, ready, and with their own expectations which I may have missed if I’d dived straight into teaching what the syllabus lists as their needs. The exchange that happens during the initial two hours of every course is what sparks the light that shapes our mutual experience together.

In today’s growing ELT industry, clinging to what makes us educators rather than operators of a system, is what gives me the renewed drive I need every term to keep enjoying what I do and sharing a special learning experience time and time again.

About Hada Litim

@HadaLitim EFL teaching | Teacher Training | CELTA Tutor | Affective language learning | Mentoring | Tefl Equity Advocate | European nomad in the Middle East | Gourmet
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8 Responses to Make the first day count!

  1. Jakki says:

    So nice to have my teaching strategies affirmed, as I did something similar with my class on Day One. I used a running dictation about myself as a model for students writing, so it would encourage a greater range of tense usage in the writing. I think I could improve on my day one with your strategy of writing about another. I like the idea of using a set of codes when listening to student discussions so would be really interested to know more about them; any useful sites or papers you used to develop them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hada Litim says:

      Hi Jakki, thanks for your comment.
      I love the running dictation idea about the teacher.
      My notes are based on the standard info I try and get out of them on that first day like reasons for learning, interests, background, etc. but also notes on their speaking skills focussing on pronunciation, fluency and accuracy.


  2. CanerAkova says:

    Spot on. The first day is a nervous one, even without the needs analysis so I like a short personal chat with the learners, too. Thus, you do not only get to know their needs but also you learn about their cultural backgrounds, which is greatly beneficial for your future.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hada Litim says:

      Thanks for your comment CanerAkova,
      Yes, it’s amazing the difference it makes when you try to see your students as the people they are rather than just students who want to learn English. When you teach 24 hours a week with 4 different groups, you need to find a way to personalise each course, and what better way to do that than to take into account the students’ input in the direction you take.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. careymicaela says:

    Thank you for sharing all of these wonderful ideas!! It’s impressive how you incorporated so many skills into one session. A very efficient but personable way of doing needs analysis.


    • Hada Litim says:

      Thank you so much for your comment and support. I’m curious to know how you start your courses..please do share ))


      • careymicaela says:

        My teaching situation is a bit different so I start off my courses in a different way. Let me explain. I run an after-school English program with a friend. We teach young learners ages 4-18 and I have the younger ones. Most of our students start with us at 4 or 5 years old and progress through the levels until they finish at 18. One of the best things about the program is that we have the same students year after year so we’re very much aware of their needs without having to do much analysis at the beginning of each course. I dedicate the first few days of class mostly to revision and classroom management routines.
        As I mentioned before, I teach the little ones but there is a break in the progression in which the students have class with the other teacher at ages 10 and 11 and then come back to me at age 12. At this level I do some needs analysis because I haven’t had them for two years (and some may be new to me). This year I used a questionnaire mainly to gather information about their interests and internet habits but also to have a glimpse at their reading/writing skills. In order to get them speaking and break the ice, I wrote three words on the board from my life (the name of my cats, my favorite sport and the month I was born). Students had to ask me ‘Wh’ questions in order to figure out what the words meant. I then had them write three words about themselves and do the activity in pairs while I monitored (heavily). After reading your post, I think I’m going to also have them write about what they learned about their partner. It seems like a logical extension to the activity and will give me a better idea of what their writing is like. Thanks for the idea! 🙂


  4. Pingback: Teaching Tweens | Ready, Steady, Go!

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