Back to school: 5 tips to start the new school year successfully

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back to school

As your students get ready to come back to school and begin a new school year, it’s time to think about your first few classes and start preparing for a new intake of students. But what should you consider? What ESL teaching resources are available to you? And how can you make sure your students learn, engage and behave?

Here are our five top tips to help you prepare for the new school year and some free resources for you to download.

1. Set expectations 

Your first few classes with a new group of students are critical. It’s your chance to make a strong first impression and lay down some ground rules for expected behavior in the classroom. In your first or second class, you should encourage your students to participate in a group discussion about how they should act – and then put together a classroom contract. 

Guide the discussion using a series of questions. For example: 

  • What should you do when the teacher is talking?
  • Is it okay to make a mistake in English?
  • How should we treat other students?
  • Can you use mobile phones in class?

Have students answer in their own words and negotiate the rules/norms you feel are suitable. Write their answers on the board and then have students create a poster, which they should all sign.

Although you have helped them, they will feel more ownership over this “contract” because they suggested the answers. You can also ask them to add some rules for you – though it’s up to you if you agree with them or not!

Make sure to stay consistent and fair with the rules over the course of the year.

2. Build routines 

No matter how old your students are, it’s important to start building a classroom routine in the first few weeks of your course. Routines create a familiar, safe space; the ideal environment for learning. While younger children need a stricter routine, even teenagers can benefit from them. 

Putting students in the right frame of mind

By always beginning your class in the same way, you help put students in the right frame of mind. That way they’ll know both what to expect and what’s expected of them. You might ask students to line up outside the classroom, and greet them one by one as they enter. Not only does this give you a personal connection, but it also allows you to control where they sit and how they enter the room – calmly, and ready to learn. 

Reducing teacher talk time

A regular classroom routine reduces the need for extended teacher instructions. For example, once young learners know that they must sit cross-legged and quietly on the floor to get ready for storytime, you only need to tell them to “get ready for story time.” Likewise, if teenage students know the first class always begins with a five minute circle game, they will get ready for it automatically.

Managing energy levels

Routines can be used to manage energy levels in the classroom. Perhaps your students run in screaming after break time, or maybe they’re still half asleep. Whichever is the case for you, you can adapt your routine with different activities to energize them or calm them down at the start of the class and get things off to a good start.  

Creating a safe learning environment

What’s more, routines help students feel in control, confident, and happy. These emotions put the students in the right frame of mind for learning. 

Finally, the best thing about routines is that you can occasionally break them! Students also benefit from the occasional classroom shake up to make things feel new and exciting.

3. Challenge your students

New starts are also about fresh challenges – and it’s important that your students feel that they are learning something relevant and worthwhile. Be wary of starting things off too easily, and ensure you have enough fast-finisher activities up your sleeve. 

If students think things are too easy, they’ll soon switch off, get distracted and start causing problems. 

You can use the GSE Teacher Toolkit to research learning objectives, grammar and vocabulary at the appropriate level for your new group. 

4. Prepare a classroom survival kit

Before you dive head first into your lesson, it’s a good idea to have a classroom survival kit at the ready. These kits will help you supplement your class plan and change things up when your students need to expend energy.

What to include for young learners:

  • A pack of stickers 
  • Colored card
  • Dice
  • A simple board game 
  • A ball
  • A variety of fast finisher activities

What to include for teenagers: 

  • Graded reading materials – the Marvel Graded Readers are often popular among teenagers
  • Webquests 
  • Fast finisher activities
  • A ball 

Also don’t miss our Words-in-Action card game. It’s a great way to engage your learners and get them speaking in a fun, dynamic activity. Choose from various themed worksheets which are divided into a series of 20 flashcards. Each set has full teacher instructions and contains words and expressions illustrated by a picture. They are color-coded by nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. There is one set for B1 or lower and another set for B2 or higher level learners. 

Download B1 Download B2

You can also find a number of other helpful resources for your teenage classroom survival kit here

5. Build rapport

At the beginning of term, it’s especially important to help the students in your class get to know each other and form bonds. Teenagers, especially, can be shy, embarrassed and awkward around new people – and it only gets worse when you ask them to speak in another language!

In the first few classes, it’s a good idea to try team building activities and icebreakers, so your students start to feel more comfortable around each other. 

There are a number of top ideas you can try in our article Back to school: 5 team building activities to help break down boundaries

What are you looking forward to trying out in your classrooms this year? Do you have any questions or worries about your new classes?

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