The first week of term is the Phoney War: you know a storm is coming, but it hasn’t yet hit.  If you’re new to teaching, new to your school, or have a new class, it’s a leap into the unknown.  One can prepare for the unknown like Apollo 1’s astronauts:

Fuller story here

But as my professional tutor, David Cobb, put it, “You never get a second chance at a first impression”, so a more methodical approach may be in order.  You have the unusual luxury of some time – and so many possible ways to prepare.  You may decorate the room beautifully to create a nice environment, then find as the lesson starts you’re not sure how you want the first five minutes to actually run.

Whatever tone you want to set, this checklist is designed to help you prioritise your preparation for the first lesson.  Some possible responses and a video below show one way of answering these questions.

Checklist questions

  • How can I learn more about a new group before the lesson?
  • How will I get students into the room?
  • Where will students sit? How will students know where to sit?
  • What will I ask students to do when they enter the room? How will I ask it?
  • What will I do to get students’ attention?
  • What will I say to introduce myself?
  • What will I have students do during the lesson?
  • How will I finish?

Pause point (when to use the checklist): Work through the questions as you plan – or check against them once the plan is complete.

Checklist answers

How we answer these questions is a matter of choice, depending on the tone we hope to set for the year.  Here is one set of examples:

How can I prepare myself for a new class?

Talk to students’ head of year, or the previous year’s class teacher and get the low-down on each student: what are their strengths and their ambitions, where might they struggle.  (They may also be able to offer useful advice on parents: learning whose parent is a governor and whose parent has never heard a positive word from the school before can be very useful).  If you have time, pictures and a class list, learning students’ names before meeting them makes a powerful impression of interest and awareness.

How will I get students into the room?

Stand at the door, welcome students in one by one, keeping half an eye on the room inside and half on the entering students.

Where will students sit? How will students know where to sit?

Choosing students seats at the start of the year sends an important message about your overall control; doing so before the lesson starts, rather than as students enter, sends an important message about your organisation.  I lay out my lollipop sticks on each seat, rather than projecting a seating plan onto the whiteboard, which may not be so easy to decode.

What should I ask students to do initially?

Write their name, subject and my name on the book.

What will I do to get students’ attention?

“Could I have all pens down and eyes on me in three, two, one.  Thank you, good morning.”

What will I say to introduce myself?

Less is more.  It’s tempting to share a short life history, but it’s not necessarily helpful.  A brief: “My name is Mr Fletcher-Wood and I’m excited to be teaching you history this year” followed by an introduction to the subject is a good start.  There will be plenty of time to share life stories later.

What will I have students do during the lesson?

Doing some actual learning makes it clear why students are there from the outset.  This can be combined with a personal touch and a chance to learn more about students: asking them to write an introduction to themselves (a life history, for history lessons) or to summarise what they learned last year and their interest in the subject can be very useful sources of information.

Giving students straightforward tasks on which to focus, rather than planning on spending the lesson teaching from the front, allows time to catch your breath and remind yourself what you want to happen next, and to deal with any issues or challenges.

How will I finish?

Hopefully in the same calm, orderly way you began: “Thank you very much, books here on your way out, chairs under, off you go.”

How else could this be used?

Similar questions arise, with slightly lower stakes, with form changes and even the beginning of new units.

What does this look like?

Since writing this checklist, I have been lucky enough to film the changing entrance routines employed by one new teacher.  The video below cuts between the Autumn and Spring terms to show how he has developed his routines and the effect this has.

Read more about how Sam’s approach has changed here.

Further reading

Mentally simulating what you want to happen can be a good way to see if you’ve planned sufficiently: read more here.

For more checklists for new and experienced teachers, try Ticked Off.

For further ideas on starting lessons well, read more here and here.

Read ten tips for new teachers (and three for new history teachers) here.