CELTA TP Potholes - Don't start a lesson like this

Teaching practice potholes
CELTA - Mistakes trainees make when starting a lesson
One of the difficulties trainees and novice teachers often face is how to start a lesson in an engaging way. This video looks at why this is important, what to avoid and how to start all of your lessons brilliantly!

Learning to teach is a great experience, but when you start down that teaching road, there are a few BIG potholes that it’s easy to fall into – problems that I’ve seen hundreds of trainees have – so in this little series, I’m looking at some of them and how you can avoid them.

I’m Jo Gakonga from ELT-Training.com. I’ve got over 30 years experience in the classroom – I’m really old- I’ve been training teachers on CELTA courses for over 20 of those and one of the things I often see is that trainees fall into the hole of not starting a lesson well. If you want to know why this is important, what to avoid and lots of ideas to help, keep watching.

Why is it important?
Let’s start with this. Think about when you meet someone you know on the street – what do you do? Smile, maybe shake their hand, greet them, talk about mundane things like the weather for a few minutes. Anthropologists call this ‘phatic communion’ – you don’t need to know about the rain, but it’s the equivalent of scratching each other – making some human contact. The same is true in a class, I think. First impressions are important, and the start of the lesson often sets the tone for the rest of it – especially when the lessons are short as they are in teaching practice. If you engage the learners from the start, they stand a much better chance of listening to you and being awake, alert and receptive to what you have to offer. It’ll make YOU feel more confident, too.

What beginnings should you avoid?

Nerves. You need to connect with your learners, so look at them, make eye contact, smile, put your best foot forward. Imagine you’re meeting up with your friends – people you like and feel comfortable with. Shoulders back and down. Breathe.

Kill the joy. If you go into a class and tell them – ‘today we’re going to learn the present perfect’, you’re not likely to be greeted by smiles and enthusiasm. It can be great as a learner to know the aim the teacher has, but I’d say it’s better to get them interested first.

Straight into exercises. This is similar to the last one. If you start a lesson with ‘Turn to page 56 in your book’, the learners are all looking down into the material and you’ve lost them right at the beginning. I’d definitely suggest that you don’t do this.

Warmer exercises that are completely unconnected to the rest of the lesson. It’s great to start off with something engaging and I’m going to give you lots of ideas, but you want a warmer that’s connected to the theme of the lesson – keep that in mind!

What’s better?

A much better way to start a class is with something that will interest the learners and get them talking. Paired discussion tasks are great because they get people engaged and they also take the focus off you. If you’re feeling a bit nervous, it’s a chance for you to look at your lesson plan, take a deep breath and smile! But what are they going to talk about, you ask?

A picture – images are great for discussion and they’re easy to find on Pixabay, Unsplash, Morguefile, Canva etc. Would you like to go here? Which is the nicer place to live? What do you think this person is like? Write down 10 words from this picture.

A question or two - Questions are also a good starting point for a lesson. Make them interesting.. what do you think about wearing a mask in shops? How about in parks? Are pets good for you? Which is the best place in the world to live?

A competitive task - Competition can be a really great way of livening up an atmosphere. Keep it light and fun and have learners work in pairs or groups - How many names of fruit and vegetables can you write down in three minutes? Write down a nationality beginning with every letter of the alphabet.

A personalised story - The lesson shouldn’t all be about you, but learners often like to know something about their teacher. You could tell them something about yourself - maybe describe a family member and show them a picture - and then ask them to do the same and describe a member of their family.

Something surprising - one of my trainees once brought some autumn leaves into class. She gave one out to each learner and told them to look at it and then tell each other how they felt about autumn. The simple presence of these leaves – they were pretty, but not that extraordinary – made this lesson really start with interest. Anything that you don’t usually find in a classroom can have a very powerful effect – try it.

A word of warning

Just before we finish, let me leave you with a word of warning. If you have a fantastic warmer activity, it’s easy for it to stretch out into your lesson. Don’t let it take too long. Think of the AIM of this stage of the lesson – to get the learners warmed up, relaxed, engaged. 5 minutes of a 45 minute lesson is enough for this. Keep your eye on the time.

OK. I hope that this has given you some food for thought and will help you to navigate around this particular TP pothole. See you again for more tips soon – and for more help with all aspects of your teaching, check out my website.
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