How do your lessons start? Do you go over the homework you set and give feedback on what the learners have done? Do you start an informal chat about the weekend then go on to ‘more serious’ work? Do you introduce or give out some new material for the class to work on? Do you elicit what students know about some new topic or language you’re going to work on?
All of those look like plausible ways of starting a lesson, and they will depend on your teaching style and approach. But I find them too predictable, with the potential for setting a low-profile, unadventurous mood for the rest of the lesson. A potential for boredom! Now, I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing I hate is getting bored. I might do some of those things at the beginning of a lesson, but before I want the class expectant, in suspense. I want learners to feel that something unexpected might take place. I want SURPRISE!
There’s nothing like surprise to get your class alert, turned on, interested, motivated. I need to establish a mood that’s loaded with anticipation, with positive energy. I find if I get the learners thus motivated the rest of the lesson will flow seamlessly. So how do I achieve surprise at the start of the lesson? Here’s some examples of things I’ve done or am planning to do:
My favorite is visualisation. For example, I’ll use a short film like this one:
As the learners get into the classroom I announce, ‘I’m going to play a short video, first sound only; you’re invited to close your eyes, let your imagination fly and figure out what’s going on’. After ‘listening’ to the video, I prompt them to write down what their mind’s eye saw. Next we compare what we imagined and then we play the complete video and check how those imagined landscapes compare with the actual moving images.
I also love to use still images; for example a word cloud like this one, generated from a newspaper headline:
I’ll project it and ask the class to try and predict the story behind it. After comparing their different efforts I’ll tell them the real story, which in this case is a glorious example of poetic justice (here)! Yes, telling a joke or short story is always an excellent motivator –a line that never fails to create suspense is ‘I’d like to tell you a story’.
I also love to surprise by introducing changes, for example asking learners to come outside to the corridor and do a starter activity there; or changing the way we sit in the classroom. Likewise, I often bring and display some unusual realia (once I brought a coupe of coffee beans) or invite someone to the lesson (check my previous post Guess who’s coming to the classroom today!).
These days I’m playing with other possibilities, like hiding an object and giving the learners some cryptic directions to try and find it (thanks go to my dear colleague Angela for this idea), sharing a personal secret with one learner and challenging the class to find out who knows and what it is (without asking direct questions, of course!) and finally provocation (one of my students says I’m a provocateur!); like… what about getting into the classroom wearing a clown nose?
There are loads of other ways of creating surprise, of course, and I invite you to come in with your ideas in the comments below. Cheers!