Begin as you mean to go on

Years ago, I abandoned the first-day ritual of reading through the syllabus. Instead, my students and I get to know each other by playing Human Bingo or Two Truths and a Lie or other icebreaker games. This has worked pretty well for the past few years, but I decided to shake things up a bit this year.

This article in Education Week by Sandy Merz inspired me to shift control of the seating chart to the students. Instead of assigning seats, I asked students to seat themselves alphabetically by first name. This accomplished several things within the first five minutes: first, students began the class--and the school year--by communicating with each other to solve a problem; second, they had to introduce themselves to their classmates; and finally, they seated themselves in a way that made it easy for me remember their names. In fact, I was able to call on all of my students by name before the end of the period in all of my classes. (The new attendance roster with photos helped a lot!) Students also seemed to be more engaged in the lesson as a result of this initiating activity: they appeared more relaxed and more willing to participate in Spanish than in previous years.

The rest of the class went more or less the way I have conducted first day lessons for the past few years. In my novice/intermediate-level classes, I introduced myself to my students with a visual presentation (in Spanish) about "Five things I want you to know about me." Then students wrote five things they wanted their classmates to know about them, shared them in groups, and then reported back to the class one thing they learned about their classmates. Most of them didn't use the quiero que sepas que... structure accurately, but my goal was for them to speak in Spanish at least once during the class period, which all of them did. One new activity was to write down their goals for the year (most common goal: "I want to speak more fluently" followed closely by "I want to earn at least a B" and "I want to learn more grammar rules"). We will revisit those goals tomorrow after learning about what proficiency really means and revise them to reflect meaningful (and feasible) language objectives.