My First Lesson: A Detailed, Step-by-Step Overview of My First Lesson with New Classes [Updated for 2021]

Anticipating and micro-scripting expected classroom interactions can be a really powerful strategy, helping to ensure a consistent and finely-tuned message. Whilst I wouldn’t do this for most lessons, enjoying instead free flowing and responsive dialogue, I do think this can be especially effective for the first lesson of a new academic year.

This post outlines, step-by-step, what my first lesson will look like for any class, with the exception of A Level. There may be minor differences across year groups, but this is a pretty standard format, although of course it may be adapted and adopted in whatever way might be most helpful for the specific class. In fact, the below might best be considered a template, as opposed to a formula, that is then changed, updated, amended to suit the specific students and classes I’ll be teaching. Throughout this post, I’ll also try to explain the thought process behind each segment and how I would frame various routines to students.

For me, the focus of the first lesson should be about welcoming the class and establishing and rehearsing our routines. That’s it. No ice-breakers or games. So, let’s begin…

No. 1: Welcome at the door

For the first lesson, but not typically beyond it, I meet each student at the door as they enter the class. I want some moment of individual interaction with each student, even if brief. This might be as simple as saying ‘Hello, I’m X, welcome to English. Find your name and take a seat’ or ‘Good to see you, find your name and start what’s on the board’.

I do this for two reasons:

1. As it’s the first lesson I think it’s good to have that moment of individual attention as I welcome them to the class. This is nothing more complex than wanting to immediately establish a relationship with my students, expressing a willingness to address them as individuals.

2. More strategically, it helps to offer something specific to be working on before the lesson can more properly begin.

They’ll know their seat because I would have previously written their name on a piece of paper and placed it on their desk. They’ll be met with the following, also waiting on their desk…

No. 2: Complete the Welcome sheet

On their desk they’ll find the following document, which I call a welcome sheet.

This is what they’ll fill in as everyone filters into the classroom. The rationale behind this is that it provides me with some initial information about my students, again acknowledging and addressing them as individuals from the very start. The inclusion of books that I read over summer sets the expectation from the beginning that this is a classroom where reading matters. I might also print on the back of the sheet an extract from one of the texts, with questions to think about as we wait.

Once I’ve provided time for each student to complete this, we’ll begin with the bulk of the lesson, which will be to introduce and rehearse our routines and expectations, as below. These are routines that are mostly preoccupied with how we might want to discuss the texts that we’ll encounter over the course.

No. 3: 3…2…1

We begin with a slide titled ‘3…2…1…’:

I begin with this because, as we’ll see, it underpins many of the other routines I’ll discuss with my students. I explain to them that there are lots of times when I might ask them to speak to each other or discuss something. If I want us to stop talking and move onto another activity or simply share our ideas, I’ll start counting down from 3. Like this, *3…2…1… I do it in this way, I say, because I don’t expect them to stop talking immediately but rather to naturally finish their conversation and then refocus so that everyone is ready to go when I get to 1.

I then let them know that because this is really important, I want to practice and I know we’ll get it right. So, I ask them to chat with each other about anything, I wait a minute, then I start the count down and *wait* for their attention. The waiting, here, is crucial. I don’t want to reiterate or say anything. Just wait until we’re ready to move on. I’ll then try this a couple more times during the lesson.

No. 4: Talk to your partner

Now that we’ve practised ‘3…2…1…’, I’ll introduce them to ‘talk to your partner’.

I’ll explain how this routine works (I ask a question, give them time to think, ask them to discuss their thoughts with their partner, before then beginning class discussion) and why it is so useful.

I tell them that I really value how they respond to the ideas we discuss and that I value their insight, but that I don’t want to force them to respond straight away, especially to a tricky question. So, this allows them space to think on their own and discuss with each other before we need to share what we’re thinking. I do say, though, that sometimes I might just ask them to discuss with their partner straight away. I make it clear that we’re going to be grappling with lots of interesting and complex material over the course and this is really, really gratifying but it helps to have lots of opportunity to test our ideas out and work out what we think. Lots of discussions with the person sat next to you, I say, is exactly that opportunity to test out what you think.

At this point, I explicitly rehearse the routine. I ask them a relevant subject question from last year that I’m confident they’ll have a lot of thoughts about and know well, and we go through the routine. When we shift from ‘pair’ to ‘share’, I use the already established ‘3…2…1…’

No. 5: Class Discussion

Next up, is class discussion, which is effectively what I describe as questioning routines. This is not an incidental change though. As I go on to explain to my students, discussing different literary texts, our ideas about them, and our reactions is a fundamental part of what it means to study English. And so throughout our time together we’ll spend a huge amount of time reading books, discussing them, and writing about them. We want our discussions to be rich, interesting and genuinely valuable. As I say to them, I’ll learn from these discussions every bit as much as they will.

However, I go on to say, in order for our discussions to be as valuable as possible and for us to learn as much as we can from each other we need to have a couple of rules. First, I explain, what they’ll see me doing is asking a question and then pausing. This pause is not an opportunity to shout out, but rather an opportunity to think. This is important because I want our discussions to be considered and thoughtful and this requires taking a couple of seconds to think about what they might want to say. Once they’ve had this thinking time I might ask one of them to share their initial thoughts just to get the conversation going. I do this not because I’m trying to catch them out but because I’m genuinely interested in what they think and any idea is a good one to begin a conversation. Of course, what I’ve just described to them is a cold call, but I don’t describe it as that to my students.

I also make it clear that everyone’s ideas and thoughts are valued and of importance and so no one should ever be scared to voice what they think. What they think matters and this is true of everyone.

This said, in English more free flowing discussion and debate is incredibly important and so I let them know sometimes I won’t need to pick, we can just enjoy the discussion, but that I’ll let them know what I think will work best during the course of the lesson. I find the class quickly acclimatises to what works best naturally and that I don’t always need to cue this, especially as we become more used to each other. This is also why I don’t label this section just as ‘questions’ because that implies, I think, a certain style of interaction that I don’t necessarily think will always apply.

No. 6: How Will Our Lessons Begin?

At this point, we talk about how our lessons begin, and I stress the vast majority, if not all, of our lessons will begin in exactly the same way. I explain this is because I want to maximise the amount of learning we can do in any single lesson because that’s why we’re all here, and that starting in this way will help us to do this.

I start by showing them the following slide:

I tell them that as they enter the classroom they can expect to see something such as the above on the board. This is a kind of literary puzzle that asks them to revisit or think about something we have previously discussed or that has been taught in a previously lesson.

In order to make the expectations clear, I explain exactly what I would like to see at the start of the lesson: they enter the classroom, take a seat, get their pens out, open their exercise book, turn to the back and complete the task. Again, if I intend to do another style of task then I’ll make this really explicit and explain what to do, if needed. I won’t rehearse this routine at this point, but will reboot and reiterate next lesson if needed.

Once I’ve explained the routine, I use the below slide to explain exactly why we do this and what benefit it has, as well as offering further information.

Using the wheat image, I explain our intention is for them to remember material in the long term because it is worthwhile and valuable, but also so that when they get to the exam they know their stuff inside out. The first time we revisit something, whether it’s a quotation or plot point or idea, a small path is created, like running through a wheat field. But, the second time, the path is more noticeable and easier to follow, and the third it is even more familiar, until it becomes second nature to walk down the well trodden and familiar path we’ve created. I point out revisiting material, even if we’ve already discussed it, will help to create such well-trodden pathways in our memory, so we can think about, remember, and use the information we have with ease. It takes effort, I say, but the feeling of control and confidence in the exam is worth it. This is an explanation I read in Jenny Webb’s excellent How to Teach English Literature and I’ve found it works really well.

I then reiterate this key message with this slide:

No. 6: Other Things

At this point, I very briefly signpost that there are other things I will need to explain (such as homework routine, how I deliver feedback, how we use OneNote), but that I don’t want to overburden them and we’ll cover these things as and when we need to, in a future lesson.

No. 7: Course Outline

Now that we’ve covered the core routines, I’ll introduce them to the course content itself, using the below example from Y10:

I’ll explain I’m going to do this briefly and that I’m not expecting them to take notes or remember this as I’m going to return to this information again and again as we proceed through the course, but that I did want to provide an overview of what we’re working towards.

If this is Y11 or Y13, we’ll go through what we’ve already covered and what is left to cover.

No. 8: Exercise Books

By this point, I suspect there won’t be much of the lesson left. The final thing to do is to organise exercise book, of particular importance because I have a very specific way I like to set them out. I begin with a slide that looks like this:

After briefly explaining how we use them, as on the slide, I then explain the treasury tag system (sheets tagged in and not glued in) as well as the index. I ask them to create an index at the front of the book, as in the picture, because I find this helps them to keep track of where material for certain texts or topics is included.

Here, in more detail, is what this indexing system looks like, with it being really useful to track and organise what we’re doing in our exercise books across different topics:

Our Next Lesson

In our next lesson, we’ll begin the course in whatever fashion works best for the material at hand, and onwards we’ll go with the course.

So, here it is: a template for my first lesson. I hope it’s useful.

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