4. What’s the best way to start lessons?

Nothing beats a great start

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Silent reading settles them; quiz-show games hook them.

Thirty boisterous teenagers bowl through the classroom door for your second ever lesson, some bantering, some sidling, others snarling.  Brandon is refusing to take his coat off; Haydon is still scoffing his Twix and glugging his Coke; two pupils you don’t even recognise are chasing each other round the room; one of them is shouting that he’s in your class from now on. How did it go so wrong so quickly?!

Now here’s a strange fact: by this time next year, you will have taught over 700 lessons.  You’ll quickly realise that how well they start is a pretty good guide to how well they go. So how can you begin them in the best possible way?

Consider your aim. Is it to settle or to startle? Calm and curiosity are both important ingredients of appetising lessons.

Personally, I’ve found a two-pronged attack works best: settle them first, hook them after. If they’re not calm they can’t learn. Especially after lunch, teenagers’ afternoon energy is fuelled by a toxic cocktail of fizzy drinks and sugary snacks. But if they’re not interested they’ll disrupt your lesson.

In English, silent reading has a powerful calming effect. The whole class is focused, for ten minutes, on a book of their choice that they bring in. It requires no preparation. They learn to love it. You get much-needed space to do the register, check homework, log in, set up your slides, or write the objective on the whiteboard. It also stretches their concentration span. Modelling reading in front of them works like magic: if you don’t do this, they’ll get unsettled; If you do, as if by magic, they settle well. Book presentations, where every lesson one pupils shares why they’d recommend their book, are a good follow-up.

For a fun recap, quiz-show games spark lessons into life. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Countdown, the Weakest Link and Blockbuster combine music and visuals, competition and spectacle, beat-the-clock time pressure and audience interaction, testing knowledge and earning prizes.

In short, calm them down, then hook them in. 

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