The First Day: Getting to Know Your Student’s Goals and Building a Lesson Plan

FirstDayCalendarBy Alex Howard, ELL Tutor

Earlier this week, I had the chance to meet my new student, and I began thinking about how important that first session is. Here are a few notes and ideas about what to do on the first day.

Take some time to organize your aims for your first meeting. You’ll want to discover as much about your student as possible, so it helps to have ideas written out beforehand. To get your student talking, have a few questions handy. Begin with simple, open-ended questions, and conversation starters:

  • Tell me about your family.
  • Why did you decide to come to the United States?
  • Tell me about your job.

Arrive a little early in order to stake out a place to meet with your student. If you’re meeting with one of the program administrators, use this opportunity to discuss the student’s ability, goals, and background in advance.

Introductions & Ice breakers
Introduce yourself. Describe a little bit of your background, but don’t go overboard—your goal is to let your student do most of the talking. As you speak, keep an eye on your student. If you see her eyes glaze over or you lose eye contact, it’s a sure sign that you’ve lost her.

Have an activity prepared that will generate conversation. A popular choice is “Two Truths and a Lie.” Write two sentences about yourself that are true, and one that is not. Have your student ask questions about each sentence and try to discover which sentence is a lie. Then tell your student to write three sentences of her own, and you have to detect the untruth.

During this time, try to make an assessment of the student’s ability. Do you notice any particular problems in speaking or comprehension? Perhaps you notice that their vocabulary is good, but grammar and word order cause confusion. Are there pronunciation quirks you notice?

Goals & Expectations
Establish the student’s goals. This can be difficult, but guide your student by asking her questions. Does the student want to look for a new job? Pass the GED? Does she want to help her children with their homework? The trick is to set measurable goals that can serve as accomplishments along the way. Aiming for a certain number of pages in a textbook is a good short- to medium-term goal.

Explain what you expect from your student, and discover what your student expects from you. Some students might just want weekly one-on-one conversational practice, while their teachers may be gung-ho about writing and reading. Describe the basic outline of your future lessons. Setting expectations now can help avoid problems in the future.

The first lesson can be nerve-wracking—first impressions count, and for many students learning English is important for their job and future. Use these tips to make the process easier. Aim to get to know your student. Discover what her goals are, and discern what it’ll take to help her achieve those goals. But make sure to relax—you’re the expert.

What first-meeting tips do you have to share?

Alex Howard is a teacher, writer, and editor living Nashville, TN. An avid traveler and competent teacher, he once spent two and a half years in China, teaching English and stumbling through his Mandarin phrasebook. As an NALC volunteer, he continues to pursue his love for teaching.

2 Responses to “The First Day: Getting to Know Your Student’s Goals and Building a Lesson Plan”
  1. Andrew Weiler says:

    Couldn’t agree more that the most important thing is to find out what the learner wants. One thing I have seen is that many times they are not clear themselves about what they came or maybe they are not willing to divulge. So a critical thing is to be yourself, so they will get to know you as a person. Be caring, warm understanding but above all understand that they have come because they don’t believe in themselves.
    So it is necessary to provide experiences they can learn from. Start small. Even a baby step is a step! Don’t demean them though by doing for them what they can already do. So be attentive and keep giving them tasks that stretch them a little.
    Above all enjoy! If you do, they will and then there will be no holding them back!

    • alex says:

      Great point about being yourself, Andrew. New teachers and tutors often get caught up in acting out their idealized version of an educator, but this might not be what a student needs–often, they simply need someone to listen attentively.

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