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ESL Methodology - How to make good introductions

 
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 212
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 4:11 am    Post subject: ESL Methodology - How to make good introductions Reply with quote

This board has been a bit sleepy lately so I figured i'd post some methodology. This is just some tips on creating better intros for your lessons. Hopefully some new teachers might find it useful if not at least entertaining.

What is an Introduction to a Lesson?

All good lessons for the most part should have a greater topic that your target language fits under. The Introduction is a way introducing your topic and possible target language in an interesting and engaging way. In general, introductions are only a few minutes long and don't necessarily have to include a lot of student output.





Why are Good Introductions Important?

Introductions serve to engage the class right from the beginning. You want your students to get involved and be interested in what they are about to learn. Most teachers that complain about their students being lazy or apathetic or unmotivated or unresponsive probably are not engaging their students enough and probably don't have really solid Intros. If you can get your students engaged in the first few minutes of the lesson you're likely to carry that energy throughout your lesson. This will improve output from the students, your overall pace, attendance, motivation...etc Solid introductions are easy to pull off if you have the courage to step out of your own comfort zone a little bit. They only take a few minutes to do and if you pull them off effectively you'll see dramatic positive changes in your classroom.

Here are some general tips


1. Please don't begin any lesson by telling the students what you are going to be talking about.
This is such an amateurish way of teaching. Don't walk into a class and say "today class we are going to be talking about ________" (travel, sports, music, crime...etc)
Your intro should illustrate what the lesson is about without you having to describe anything. For example if you are doing a lesson that deals with 'Crime' as the topic you could... Walk in and nonchalantly begin to steal random things from your students, immediately role play with them that they are inmates in a jail, pretend to stick up the class like it's a robbery (don't do this until you know them and never do this in Russia:), tell a brief story about a crime, have random crime pictures up on the wall...etc. Just DON"T WALK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND SAY THE LESSON IS ABOUT CRIME!



2.In general don't do intros most of the time that deal with your Target Language
Why? Simply because learning grammar is boring and it's hard for people to really be interested in it. Nothing puts people to sleep faster than you trying to engage them by telling them that they're going to be learning about mixed conditionals for the next 90 minutes.I actually believe that the CIA uses grammatically based intros as a form of interrogation these days. True story. There might be times where it is appropriate or works, but you'll get better results 95 percent of the time if you stick towards your topic and not your target language.


3 Don't be too worried about stepping out of the box and your comfort level. Should you start screaming or yelling or dancing around like a maniac during the first couple lessons of a new class to get them engaged? No You Should Not, you'll just look like a Crazy Person. However once the class knows you a bit, experiment and have more fun with them. Boring teachers shockingly have boring classes. Boring teachers miraculously have students that don't show up or who are apathetic during the lesson. Most boring teachers on some level know that they are boring. Most boring teachers also know what they have to do to be engaging but they don't do it. Why? Because 'they aren't comfortable' I hate this excuse and it is an excuse and I hear it 100 times a year. Yes there are some things that you might feel awkward doing or put you outside of your comfort level, but it's for the better of your class and your students. Stop complaining. Live a little. Try to get at least a faint pulse back in your classroom because it's slowly dying. Also, with more practice executing intros will get easier and easier. You just have to try and you will see results. If you TOTALLY bomb and make a fool out of yourself your students will say 'Well at least he's trying' and will probably participate more to help you out.


4. Be engaging but don't overdo it
The opposite of boring teachers are attention seekers. The intro ISN'T about you and it should only be a few minutes long. I've seen teachers do intros that lasted 15 minutes or more. This isn't a comedy hour so leave the 45 minute Jim Carey shenanigans at home. Engage your class, get them interested, but make sure to transfer that energy towards the students and SS-SS output. If you are too engaging you end up simply becoming an entertainer and it backfires. Students then don't want to speak or participate, they'd much rather just watch you. Remember, if you're intro is longer than 5 minutes you need to shorten it.


5.Be wary of your effect on the class
I'm 5-9 on a good day and about 155 pounds. That means I can be very physical with my students (which I am) and no one has a problem with it. I can mock threaten them, run around the classroom and have overall a lot of fun and everyone enjoys it. This isn't possible if you're say 6-5 and 240 pounds. If you try some of the things specifically that I do or the way that I do them, you're going to terrify your class and no one wants that. This can also be related to your students. Age, gender, cultural backgrounds all change what you can and can't get away with.


6. Be Confident in what you are doing and sell it
Yes, it always feels awkward to get up there and do something that would probably get you fired or institutionalized in any other job. I know, trust me. I've taught thousands and thousands of lessons. Still though, be confident in what your doing and sell it. If you half ass your intros it's going to be clear to your students that you are not into what you are doing and it's going to effect them. Guys their only a few minutes long, put the effort in.


7. Always Get the students involved
A common intro for any topic is to tell a brief story. Guess what, too many times the teacher speaks too fast or the story is too long and the students have no idea what just happened. Or you have a teacher deciding where to go on a holiday but he/she just ends up talking to himself/herself. Try and get your students involved from the beginning. The longer they don't speak at all in the lesson the harder it will be for them to speak later on. Also a bit of interaction serves as a great natural CCQ so you know that they know what's going on. All of this is really easy. Just ask some basic questions or elicit what you're doing every now and again. So instead of showing two pictures of two different holiday destinations and YOU speaking about them, ASK THEM. Ask them what this is a picture of and where it is and why it would be enjoyable. If it's a story you're telling, stop every now and then and students can fill in some basic words.. T: 'So I was walking down the _________" Students: "Street!" anything like this will work, just get them involved.


8.Mix things up
There are a lot of different kinds of intros or ways to introduce a topic. These can be dressing up,bringing in props or realia,telling a story, posting pictures around the classroom, roleplaying, writing a statement on the board...etc Don't just do the same kind of thing each class.


9. Set your intros up in advance

Watch your pace! You don't want to start lesson and have a 3 minute lag while you set up your introduction. A lot of times I won't be in the classroom and the first thing I do is my intro as soon as I walk in.This can be really effective. You'll probably need a bit of set up time, so if you want a good effect, just put up a sign or tell the students to wait for a minute outside while you set things up.



And Finally...

Just make the effort to come up with a good introduction for each of your lessons. If you genuinely make a consistent and direct attempt to engage your class in the beginning of the lesson you will see improved performance in a host of different areas. They're also a lot of fun, so why not?


Hope that helps

Read more on my blog TEFLpragueandabroad.blogspot.com

Chris Westergaard
The Language House TEFL


Last edited by Chris Westergaard on Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:54 am; edited 1 time in total
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johncoan



Joined: 02 Jul 2010
Posts: 28

PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:30 pm    Post subject: Re: ESL Methodology - How to make good introductions Reply with quote

Chris Westergaard wrote:



1. For Christ Sake please don't begin any lesson by telling the students what you are going to be talking about.
This is such an amateurish way of teaching. Don't walk into a class and say "today class we are going to be talking about ________" (travel, sports, music, crime...etc)
If you honestly believe that this is engaging, please do us all a favor and quit teaching immediately- and maybe even kill yourself. Your intro should illustrate what the lesson is about without you having to describe anything. For example if you are doing a lesson that deals with 'Crime' as the topic you could... Walk in and nonchalantly begin to steal random things from your students, immediately role play with them that they are inmates in a jail, pretend to stick up the class like it's a robbery (don't do this until you know them and never do this in Russia:), tell a brief story about a crime, have random crime pictures up on the wall...etc. Just DON"T WALK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND SAY THE LESSON IS ABOUT CRIME!


Why not?
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9603
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Wed Apr 04, 2012 10:01 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Depends on the students and their goals. If it's a general English class and the students tend to get bored, some livelier, more imaginative attention grabber could be quite useful.

If it's a university class, or a group of high-level ESP business students, drier openings can be just fine.

It's all about the specific types of groups you're working with - overgeneralisation is always a bit risky.
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 212
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 12:49 am    Post subject: Re: ESL Methodology - How to make good introductions Reply with quote

johncoan wrote:
Chris Westergaard wrote:



1. For Christ Sake please don't begin any lesson by telling the students what you are going to be talking about.
This is such an amateurish way of teaching. Don't walk into a class and say "today class we are going to be talking about ________" (travel, sports, music, crime...etc)
If you honestly believe that this is engaging, please do us all a favor and quit teaching immediately- and maybe even kill yourself. Your intro should illustrate what the lesson is about without you having to describe anything. For example if you are doing a lesson that deals with 'Crime' as the topic you could... Walk in and nonchalantly begin to steal random things from your students, immediately role play with them that they are inmates in a jail, pretend to stick up the class like it's a robbery (don't do this until you know them and never do this in Russia:), tell a brief story about a crime, have random crime pictures up on the wall...etc. Just DON"T WALK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND SAY THE LESSON IS ABOUT CRIME!


Why not?


Mostly that it's a boring way to do it. It doesn't take any creativity and it's probably not going to be nearly as engaging as coming up with something else.
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 212
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

spiral78 wrote:
Depends on the students and their goals. If it's a general English class and the students tend to get bored, some livelier, more imaginative attention grabber could be quite useful.

If it's a university class, or a group of high-level ESP business students, drier openings can be just fine.

It's all about the specific types of groups you're working with - overgeneralisation is always a bit risky.



True but even with business classes or something else, you can find another way of introducing it. You're right different classes need different things, but I always think to myself, what's the most interesting thing that I can do and work from there.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9706
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 4:16 am    Post subject: Re: ESL Methodology - How to make good introductions Reply with quote

Chris Westergaard wrote:
johncoan wrote:
Chris Westergaard wrote:



1. For Christ Sake please don't begin any lesson by telling the students what you are going to be talking about.
This is such an amateurish way of teaching. Don't walk into a class and say "today class we are going to be talking about ________" (travel, sports, music, crime...etc)
If you honestly believe that this is engaging, please do us all a favor and quit teaching immediately- and maybe even kill yourself. Your intro should illustrate what the lesson is about without you having to describe anything. For example if you are doing a lesson that deals with 'Crime' as the topic you could... Walk in and nonchalantly begin to steal random things from your students, immediately role play with them that they are inmates in a jail, pretend to stick up the class like it's a robbery (don't do this until you know them and never do this in Russia:), tell a brief story about a crime, have random crime pictures up on the wall...etc. Just DON"T WALK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND SAY THE LESSON IS ABOUT CRIME!


Why not?


Mostly that it's a boring way to do it. It doesn't take any creativity and it's probably not going to be nearly as engaging as coming up with something else.


That's quite harsh.

While it is true that a little creativity goes a long way, there is something to be said for letting students know in advance what the lesson will entail, without the TEFLtastics. Some teachers even write up a list of all the lesson aims in the board before the class begins, and refer to it during the lesson as a means of keeping the learners on track. Learners can often find this reassuring - they know what is going on at all stages. More basically, they know that at least there is a plan. Boring? Depends. But lots of learners appreciate knowing the point of a lesson in advance as opposed to a set-piece which can often be simply engaging for the teacher only.

Of course, there is an approach that runs directly counter to this. Often lessons can involve learners figuring out for themselves what a lesson aim is, quite late into the lesson in fact. For example, after reading a text and doing all associated comprehension activities, it can be interesting to ask the learners what grammar/lexis they think could be focused on in it. Guided discovery and all that.

I'm not sure that it is an either/or affair. As was said earlier, mixing things can be more productive.
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Kofola



Joined: 20 Feb 2009
Posts: 148
Location: Slovakia

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 8:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The view from the other side of the desk can be really interesting. I recently attended a one-day course on how to use some software in Slovak.

I was really apprehensive because although my Slovak isn't bad, I wasn't sure I would be able to cope with a topic that I would find difficult in English, never mind Slovak. I also thought I might have difficulty following the instructions, since I've no idea what drop-down menus etc might be in Slovak. Plus it was a whole day course and I knew I would get tired and I was worried I wouldn't be able to take it all in.

The trainer began the course by going over exactly what we would be doing in very dull and boring detail. It was great. I immediately relaxed and thought OK that topic is really important so I'll have to really focus my energies at the point, that is less important, so maybe I can re-energise at that point etc. It allowed me to order things in my head, think about the vocabulary areas I might need etc

The course really made me think about how some of my less confident students might feel at the beginning of the lesson, what I can do to help them make it easier to process things, and how important the introduction can be in helping students orientate themselves. I would much rather have dull and boring than entertaining if dull and boring is more effective and entertaining leaves me confused and stressed.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 9603
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:06 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think Sasha has made good points regarding mixing things up, and Kofola's point about offering some level of predictability is also important.

I'd like to comment on two more issues that come into play in designing a lesson: style and lesson/course goals.

Quote:
1. For Christ Sake please don't begin any lesson by telling the students what you are going to be talking about.
This is such an amateurish way of teaching. Don't walk into a class and say "today class we are going to be talking about ________" (travel, sports, music, crime...etc)
If you honestly believe that this is engaging, please do us all a favor and quit teaching immediately- and maybe even kill yourself. Your intro should illustrate what the lesson is about without you having to describe anything. For example if you are doing a lesson that deals with 'Crime' as the topic you could... Walk in and nonchalantly begin to steal random things from your students, immediately role play with them that they are inmates in a jail, pretend to stick up the class like it's a robbery (don't do this until you know them and never do this in Russia:), tell a brief story about a crime, have random crime pictures up on the wall...etc. Just DON"T WALK INTO THE CLASSROOM AND SAY THE LESSON IS ABOUT CRIME!



Quite honestly, this sounds very much like a practice teaching episode on a TEFL training course, or in another setting where a course consists of a discrete set of disconnected learning goals.

On style: not all of us effective teachers are drama queens in the classroom. Like many many teachers, I'm never going to get physical with my students - firstly because the government and business professionals I work with would be utterly put off by this, and secondly because it simply doesn't fit my own teaching style or personality. That's why to me it sounds like something one would be encouraged to try on a training couse, with some good purposes (get outside the box, do something memorable, impress the trainers, engage the practice teaching students - who may well be bored with well-meaning but nervous amateurs).

Engaging students can be done in a million different ways - it doesn't necessarily take drama, role play, or even need to be teacher-led. In fact, in many of my classes whether business or university, I ask the students to set the scene for the day's lesson. It may not be entertaining necessarily (though it sometimes is;-)), but it is most definitely engaging.

What one is engaging the students in, whether it's a topic, language item, or task (as Sasha notes), makes a considerable difference in how one opens a lesson.

On goals - by far most of the lessons I teach are part of a planned course. Even when I am working with businesspeople, we have a plan for lessons in advance, based on our needs analysis, which is updated regularly. Thus, each lesson ends with a review of what we've done - and a short discussion and agreement of what we are going to do in the next lesson. This helps to keep goals clear, the student(s) motivated, and gives them an opportunity to prepare in advance for a lesson (always VERY useful; and clearly when a student has prepared in advance, he/she is indeed engaged in a lesson, and in fact then has a personal stake in its success).

I'm afraid that applying what works in one situation (in this case, for teachers who are teaching discrete lessons largely unconnected to each other, to students who tend to get bored) to 'all' other situations simply really isn't valid.
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 1:30 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think we are getting a bit off track with the intentions of this. It's totally fine to go over the aims of the lesson and why it's important to learn certain things and what the lesson will be covering. I would say that this should happen probably when you introduce the target language or right after you do your intro.
What I'm talking about is right in the beginning of the lesson. How you grab them fast during that first minute or two. IF and IF you decide to do a cool intro that goes beyond just saying 'Hi class, today we are learning about travel while using the present perfect' You will get them more engaged and more interested 95 percent of time. This can be just having pictures up, or bringing in realia, or something low key and does not have to be anything crazy and I wrote that in the OP. Sure many lessons you might not have a good intro or something clever, but, cool, interesting, creative intros that deal with your topic will work more often and be more effective than just entering the class and stating what your lesson is about. Or at least that's what all of my experience has shown me. Being able to do really engaging intros is not the end all or be all of teaching. It's just an extra technique to have in your wheel house.


*John that wasn't an attack on you by any means or being harsh. It's just that too many times teachers skip this part of the process when coming up with something more engaging often gets better results.

Cheers,
Chris
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
Posts: 9706
Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Dear Chris

That all sounds quite reasonable and fair enough. But it is not quite the same thing as the "For Christ Sake" comments. Not sure I can go along with them in their entirety.


Sasha
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 212
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sashadroogie wrote:
Dear Chris

That all sounds quite reasonable and fair enough. But it is not quite the same thing as the "For Christ Sake" comments. Not sure I can go along with them in their entirety.


Sasha


True but take it all with a bit of humor, that's kind of the point with a lot of things that I write.
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Sashadroogie



Joined: 17 Apr 2007
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Location: Moskva, The Workers' Paradise

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

OK, fair enough. I'm just a little crotchety today because my favourite expensive vodka brand has gone up again. Will have to teach extra classes now to fund my purchases...hic!
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 7:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Just be sure to engage them with dramatic introdutions, and they'll likely give you some nice botles, Sasha!
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Chris Westergaard



Joined: 14 Mar 2006
Posts: 212
Location: Prague

PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2012 11:56 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

spiral78 wrote:
Just be sure to engage them with dramatic introdutions, and they'll likely give you some nice botles, Sasha!


Tidal waves of Vodka
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