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The 1st week is around the corner

With the new academic year just around the corner for many public schools (almost everything in Canada, including university, begin classes the Tuesday after Labour Day each year), the anticipation of a new classes, new students and in some cases new programs, is building among the teacher community.  Is it met with anxiety or excitement?  For me, there’s a little of both. How will our changes to the program from last year work better for students this year?  How will new instructors mesh with the existing crew? How will I really react to my brief vacation ending?  Along with readin suggestions from other great blogs, I’ve put together some thoughts on how to make the first week set a positive tone for the upcoming term.

Incorporating students’ real experiences and backgrounds into activities

Photo by Cat Ionescu

…is an important way to bring students out of their shells and help everyone to learn more about each other from the get-go. For example, let’s say you’re starting off the year talking about family issues, like the strictness (or not) of parents. Instead of giving a text about some random family’s story and having students read it, answer questions and then give their opinions of it afterwards, have students generate the text by writing about their parents (eg. give a guideline, like one example that supports that your parents are or aren’t strict).  I’m sure a lot of us already use warmers to initiate interest in the topic by relating it to their own situations, and that’s great, but I’m really emphasizing that the material used in the lesson itself be generated by students about themselves in the first week.  When one student knows more personally about another, it can help to foster concern and sharing, provided the classroom environment feels safe.

Having said this, exposing your personal side as a teacher, be it family information, preferences or as Brad Patterson puts it about sharing social values, needs to be “a very subtle game, and playing it any other way than subtle can jeopardize trust, though, playing it right gains quite a bit of trust and respect.” From the early days of my teaching and training, I’ve never felt that sharing much personal information about myself was appropriate.  For respect in the classroom, there needs to be a balance between total distance and intimate engagement.  Where’s the line?  It’s a hard one to distinguish.

If you want to start off with a little more anonymity, but still would like to get a feeling about your class, you could try making text-vote polls using Polleverywhere.  You make the questions (do some personal ones so everyone can get to know the general sense of the class better), project them on to the screen with a generated text number and students reply with their mobile devices.  Easy and free.

Scavenger hunts

U of T Scavenger Hunt example

…can help build bonds among students who don’t yet have a rapport and also help familiarise them with their surroundings.  With the university campus as my context.  I particularly like the idea of giving students a list of places to find that will be helpful for them during the year (e.g. libraries, other classrooms, other campus buildings, landmark places on campus, etc.).  To prepare, make four lists with different places on each (and either a photo or a clue about where it is).  Divide students in to four different groups. Give one member from each group their corresponding list and a blank map of the campus.  Students need to find the places around campus with their group.  Each time a listed place is found, students take a photo of it as proof and mark its location on the map.  When completed, they return to the classroom (until all groups return, students collaborate together in pairs in a writing task that asks them to describe how to get from the classroom to two of the destinations.  Unfinished writing tasks can be for homework).  Once all groups have returned, students are mixed up and work together to introduce and identify all their places onto the same map.  Finally, with a blank map projected onto the board, students in turns show their places on the map to the class.  A final map can be uploaded to the course website.

Tripline is a course-plotting web tool that you can upload photos too.  Could be a great addition to this challenge by having students plot their path.

Keep a reasonable level of photocopying.

It’s easy to go overboard in the first week.  Try a couple of these ideas.

So have a fantastic first week of class everyone (for those of you just going back) whether it’s at the primary, secondary or tertiary level!  In addition to teaching at University of Toronto, I too will go back to school in coming weeks as I’m starting the Masters program (Educational Technology and TESOL) through distance at the University of Manchester! I’ll have a new menu section for it coming soon!

By the way, if you haven’t already, please take a look at this post and enter the contest to win one of my favourite teacher’s books by September 2nd!

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Brad Patterson

Thanks for the mention, Tyson. Baby steps would be my piece of advice on testing the line of private/public. It really depends on the group of SS in front of us.

BTW, I’m digging the new site. Clean and yet snazzy too. Off 2 see what this contest is about 😉

Cecilia Lemos

Liked the idea of using polls on the first day, to get a general feel to the class… I might try that next semester.

I have had a harder time at drawing the line between too distant and too intimate on the getting to know each other on the first day. I think I found some balance now. It’s important that you give them a glimpse of you as an individual, to personalize you – and to make it fair for you to ask them to share some of their persona as well.

I find it much easier for me to plan my classes, better understand the students and keep them engaged when I know more about them as people, not just as students.

Loved the post!

María Gómez

I usually give SS a couple of “neutral” bits of info about me but most of the times I find they want to know more and search for my facebook profile. I still don’t know what to make of that.
Thankyou so much for the ideas for the first week, 14 years later I still get really anxious. Good luck all.

[…] Seburn’s post ‘The 1st week around the corner’ reminds us that ‘’the material used in the lesson itself be generated by students about […]


I think we all get anxious Maria. Regarding facebook I also don’t friend Ss, only have few who have left highschool and are studying now. They can always contact us via inbox, but Ss will always try to add as friends, but I try to solve this in a subtle way.

@seburnt: Will adapt ur Scav Hunt idea 4 my teen beginns: ‘draw’ a map of schl + write simple sentcs. Thx 4 shrg!

Good morning all! 1st day to meet new students and do the scavenger hunt I mentioned here: =)

Great , great!!!RT @seburnt: Some 1st week ideas and activities: > I’m getting excited. =)

Ideas for the first day AND reflections – @seburnt ‘s post for the Blog Carnival gives you both:

Ann Foreman

Hi Tyson,

Just posted a link to this on the TeachingEnglish facebook page if you’d like to check for comments.

Please feel free to post there whenever you have anything you’d like to share.



[…] The 1st week is around the corner | 4C Source: […]

@danikabarker Some of mine: ; Others from blog carnival:


As far as photocopying goes, technology has helped out a lot. You can upload materials to the intranet and students can access them anywhere via their smart phones.

Another thing I do is make enough copies for ONE class and then collect them in and use them for the next. If students want the material, they can get it off the intranet or I can put it on their USB.

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