The first day in the classroom as an assistant language teacher (ALT) can be nerve-racking — especially if you don’t know how to conduct a suitable lesson plan. Usually, in your initial class, you will be introducing yourself to the students. This is your chance to catch their attention. Get students interested in the new ALT and make them excited about learning from you in the class.
In Part 6 of A Little Training for ALTs, we provide six ways to help you make that first lesson pop! — and set the tone for future classes.
1. Use visual aids
A good way to grab your students attention is to introduce your culture. Talking about where you’re from is also a good way to open their minds to the world. You may find that most of your Japanese students really don’t know much other than the type of cliché Western culture they’ve seen in movies and television. So try to bring some flashcards for everything you plan to talk about. Make sure the pictures are at least A4 size so that they can be seen by everyone. Flashcards are better than bringing the actual item as it might get damaged or even broken.
2. Involve students
While your introduction is about you, that doesn’t mean it should only be about you. Involve your students as much as possible. It doesn’t matter how energetic you are as an ALT, if your introduction is focused only on you, students will get bored and tired of just listening to you. Ask them questions and encourage them to take part. Say, “I like oranges.” Then ask the students: “Do you like oranges?” Try to get the students to participate in your introduction.
It doesn’t matter how energetic you are as ALT, if your introduction is focused only on you, students will get bored and tire of listening.
3. Grab attention
Keep things engaging by telling students interesting things about yourself — get them saying, “Ooh!” Do you have 10 pet dogs? Tell them that! Did you try skydiving? Tell them! Can you eat a lot? Let them know something special about you. You can exaggerate a little if you’re not sure you have anything captivating to say — but keeping them curious in the new ALT during your introduction is key!
4. Pace yourself
Aim to make your introduction as long as possible. Shoot for 20 to 30 minutes of talk time. You won’t use all of it, but sometimes the Japanese teachers will want you to take the whole class with your introduction. Refer to note cards to remind you of what you need to say. It’s better to have too much to say and run out of time than to not have enough and blank out thinking of what more you can say about yourself.
It’s better to have too much to say and run out of time than to not have enough and blank out…
5. Answer questions
Make time for questions from the students. What better way to involve them than to have them ask the new ALT some questions? You can have a free-for-all where they raise their hands and ask you questions. If you have a quiet class, you can have them get into groups and have the groups ask you. However, do prepare for some awkward or personal questions like, “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “What is the worst part about Japan?” A humorous way to deter these types of questions is to make it a rule that if a student asks you a question, they have to answer the same question themselves.
6. Make each student an ALT
You can have the students give quick 15- to 20-second introductions of themselves. Ask them to say their name, what they like (or maybe what they don’t like) and then have them say: “Nice to meet you.” You can have them say anything you think is appropriate for their English level.
During the lessons, make sure to find the timing that works for you. Don’t be afraid to change your introduction from class to class, use hand gestures and body language or draw quick pictures on the blackboard. You will have to repeat your introduction for all of the classes at your school — so by the time you finish all of them, you will be a master! More than that — you will vanquish any feelings of nervousness you had and you can start your regular classes with confidence!
Gustavo Magana is an RCS HR manager who handles recruiting, hiring, maintaining work culture and supporting employee relationships.