How to do Good, Engaging Introdcutions

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  • Chris Westergaard
    7 April, 2012 at 19:06
    • Total posts: 19

    Intros, Intros, Intros –

    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. 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. 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 a classroom and tell the what the lesson is going to be about

    *It’s fine to go over goals of the lesson and why the material is important but do that after your introduction

    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 probably participate more out of sympathy.

    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 class and 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. This also applies to the number of students and the type of students (dressing up as a clown probably won’t work with business English students)

    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


    Check out my blog for more methodology

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