Back to school: First day jitters for students and teachers

Learn it's cool! Joyful teacher showing thumbs up. Photo adult teacher near blackboard education concept
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While many of you may already be going into your 2nd or 3rd week of classes, we  wanted to share some ideas to get over those first day jitters that so many new instructors and students may be feeling.  For more ideas on get-to-know activities, please click on the link to read Cecilia’s blog posted previously: Get-to-know activities in the language classroom 


I don’t know about you, but I find the first days of class can be a little scary, yet exciting at the same time. Students probably wonder what the teacher will be like and how they will fit in with the other students. Thoughts such as, “Will everybody be at my level of English?” or “I hope I’m not at the bottom of the class!”  are likely common.

But what about us – the instructors? Preparing for the first day can bring feelings of trepidation and wonderment. As the instructor, I think of how the first 30 – 60 seconds will form their initial opinion of me which can affect the rest of the term. How can we as instructors make a good first impression? What can we do in the first class to make it engaging and memorable for our students? Here are some ideas and activities that can help establish a good classroom dynamic and give you an initial evaluation of your students’ English abilities, too.

 5 Ideas to ease first day jitters with your students:

  • Even if you’re feeling nervous, remember you are the one who will set the tone for the rest of the class – don’t forget to smile and make good eye contact.
  • Introduce yourself – bring in a little humour with a funny story about yourself if it seems appropriate.
  • Listen and give your full attention to each student as they speak. Even though our class is on the clock, we need to take pause and let the experience sink in. Let them know you are there for them.
  • Try to memorize their names as quickly as possible. Write their names down on index cards and take notes about their interests and what they share.  Use their names when talking with them as this will give a sense of familiarity for both your students and you.
  • With the whole class, make a set of classroom rules so that everyone can begin the term on the same page and know what is or isn’t acceptable in class.

 5 Activities to break-the-ice:

  • Student Introductions: Have students work in pairs to find out as much as they can about each other. Give them a minute per person. Then go around the room and have partners introduce each other to the rest of the class.
  • Two Truths and a Lie: This well-known ice breaker is a lot of fun. Students will each come up with 2 things that are true about themselves and 1 thing that isn’t true. The other students then must ask questions about the 3 things and try to determine which one is not true. It’s a good idea for you as the teacher to be the first one so that the students have an idea of how the game works.
  • My favourite: The beauty of this ice-breaker is it can be used with any level and you can choose any topic for the “favourite.” For example, each student will think of their favourite thing (i.e. for a lower level English it could be favourite animal, favourite person, etc. For an EAP class it could be your favourite course). See the link for an explanation.
  • Keyword Introduction: If you are teaching ESL for specific purposes at a higher level, you could provide 7 keywords or phrases – each student will then give a one-minute self-introduction using all the words or phrases.
  • The Name Chain: A fun way to learn each others names and maybe a little bit about each person. Start on one side of the room and have the first student tell the class their name and one thing that they like that begins with the same letter as their name. Then the next student will introduce the first student and introduce himself in the same way. You can continue around the room with each subsequent student sharing all of the previous students’ names and adding their own. Finish with you, the teacher, reciting everyone’s name.

For more ice breaker ideas, check out the earlier post by Cecilia Aponte-de-Hanna, Get-to-know activities in the ESL classroom


We’d love to hear how your first day of class went. What are some ideas or activities you used to break the ice and make everyone feel at ease? What do you do to relieve your own nervousness?

POST COMMENT 2

2 thoughts on “Back to school: First day jitters for students and teachers”

  1. Hi Beth, I definitely get first-day jitters both as a student and as an educator. One activity that might not be too much of a get-to-know you activity, but it’s definitely a nice warm up is the Word Play activity.

    I am very much a word nerd, so I love this game. I write a 4-letter word on the board and tell students that they can only change 1 letter to make it a new word and you can’t repeat a word that’s already been shared.

    I don’t necessarily put students on the spot, but instead leave markers at the board and tell them that when they have an idea, come up and make the change. One day, we spent quite a few minutes at the board.

    I love this game because it’s easy to prepare (just think of 1 word), and I find that it starts a conversation about new words that might not have been in their vocabulary before. In a recent class, we came to the word BAKE and the students started talking about it. We ended up creating a really fun tongue twister: Yesterday, I went to the bakery and asked the baker to bake me some bread.

    1. Hi Tamsin,
      Thanks for sharing the word play activity. Great idea! I could see using it at the end of class also if there are a few minutes to spare before class is over. It’s fun and engaging – you could even make it a competition between teams.

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