This article offers a simple First Lesson for Beginners. It assumes that all instruction will be done in English and the class knows no English at all, i.e. the class are all complete beginners.
It is generally accepted that using English only in the classroom (known as full immersion) is one of the more effective ways of teaching, however some teachers find this difficult in a very first lesson when the students know little or no English.
But this shouldn’t be the case.
Even with no previous knowledge of English, students can be interacting in English by the end of the very first lesson. It is great for their confidence and can provide an excellent start to their journey learning English.
This lesson here is based around a few very basic phrases which all speakers of English will need to know so it is ideal whether you are teaching business people or small children or anybody else for that matter.
A new TEFL teacher taking this lesson will not go far wrong!
In most lesson plans you will find an introduction at the beginning where the teacher introduces what the lesson is all about. In the case of the very first lesson this is impossible so you just have to launch right in.
Speaking gently and quietly and as little as possible, get the class into the room and settled down. Use plenty of gestures here e.g. point to where you would like someone to sit or perhaps guide them gently to the right place.
The class are probably a little bewildered and maybe slightly unsure at this stage so above all be encouraging and full of smiles. Learning English should be a pleasure from the first word!
Begin the lesson by going up to the very first student in the front row and shaking their hand and saying, “Hello,” nice and clearly and with a smile. They will probably not respond so keep shaking in a friendly way and gesture to them (use your hands to point to them then yourself) to say, “Hello,” back. Keep saying, “Hello,” to them with a smile and a laugh until they respond.
When the first student has said, “Hello,” back to you give a little cheer and show that you’re pleased and that they’ve made the right answer. Then move on to the next student, shake their hand and say, “Hello,” and wait for their response. This should come a lot quicker. Then to the next student until you have gone around the entire class.
Now guide two students to face each other and get them to shake hands and say, “Hello,” to each other. Then guide the next pair to do the same and then the rest of the class. If you can at this stage, get everyone standing up and walking round the class shaking hands and saying, “Hello!”
By doing this you are following one the most basic principles of TEFL teaching. You introduce a language item, give plenty of examples where it is used, get the students to begin producing it and then give the students plenty of practice in using it. Here we are introducing a single word but the same principle applies even if it were some obscure point of advanced grammar.
When the class has had plenty of practice with, Hello, get them back to their seats and all sitting quietly ready for the next step.
With the class sitting and watching you, stand at the front and say clearly your name. Say it several times, gesturing to yourself as you do so.
Now go up to a different first student and gesture to yourself and say your name, then gesture to them and look enquiringly. It may take a few gestures to get it (and may help if you have the register handy with their names) but you will soon get the student to give their name.
Go round several students like this (not the whole class) practicing the gesture and the names. Make sure that the students understand that when you gesture to them, they need to respond with their name.
Then get the class up and into pairs and saying their name to each other.
When the class have understood about giving their names, bring back the first word you taught. Go to another student, give your own name and gesture for them to give you their name. When they do that, shake their hand and say, “Hello, [name].”
As before, practice this a few times with different students but then get students practicing it together amongst themselves while you go around the class helping out and encouraging.
Again, this uses a basic principle of teaching. You introduce a language item, practice it, then introduce a second language item and then go back and practice both together.
“My name is X”
The next step is to get the students back in their seats with you at the front. Stand and say clearly, “My name is [your name]”. Repeat it several times clearly and slowly.
By this time you may have identified someone in the class who perhaps either knows a little bit of English or maybe is picking up the language a little quicker or maybe is less shy at speaking. Go to them and gesture to yourself saying, “My name is [your name]”. Gesture to them to repeat (obviously substituting their name!).
Once the student has responded correctly, move on to the next. As with the “Hello” by the end of this activity you should have the whole class walking around telling each other their names.
Gestures & Style
It is obvious here that gestures are the key. Make them simple and bold and above all, keep calm, patient and friendly throughout. If a student doesn’t quite get what you are saying, it is not their fault. They are in a completely new environment and this is understandable.
If you notice that one of the students picks up the phrases quickly, then by all means use that student first as you progress. In this day and age it is unlikely that the students will have no knowledge of English whatsoever, so the reason many might not speak immediately is due to lack of confidence rather than inability.
For this reason use the more confident and knowledgeable students first so that the others can hear more and see what they are supposed to do.
The students are by now familiar with two basic phrases:
my name is …
Other basic phrases can be taught in exactly the same way but building on those above. For example, with a simple gesture one can turn, “My name is X” into, “Your name is Y” and then onto, “His/Her name is Z.”
Give the students plenty of practice to give them confidence in speaking. If they are good students and have mastered these phrases easily, by all means using the same techniques of gesture, repetition and practice then move on to further phrases they will find useful:
I am from London.
He is from America.
and so on.
However, bear in mind that in teaching English the main emphasis is on quality rather than quantity. It is much better to have your students spend 45 minutes practicing 2 or 3 phrases well rather than skimming over 10 or 15 phrases.
So this means presenting, practicing and then practicing some more which is the foundation of TEFL teaching.
This is quite a lot of content for the first lesson so there needs to be plenty of practice. It is not a matter of going straight through to the end, but of:
- presenting new content to the class
- practicing new content with the class
- allowing the class to practice new content with each other
Then move on to another piece of content but always make sure to go back and repeat and revise previous content as you do so. For example, half way through the lesson suddenly turn to a student and shake their hands and say, “Hello” and wait for them to respond.
Above all, keep calm, speak slowly and never try to rush things through. Let the students practice and then practice some more so that they are supremely confident with these few phrases. Smile a lot as well; this is fun and if you can get your students to enjoy English they will learn so much more!
Teaching Beginners – ideas and strategies for teaching beginners
Train to Teach English – an online course to teach you how to teach