ELT e-book review: 50 Activities for the First Day of School by Walton Burns

September is here again and that means for many of the language teachers out there that you have either just met your new classes or you are soon to meet them. First lessons can be tough - beyond the level of the class and the number of students, you may not know much about them before you walk through the door. Things may be made even tougher in the class if the students don't know each other either!

And that's why the first lesson is a big deal - as teachers we need to set the right tone for the year, create a welcoming atmosphere, learn the names and make everyone else learn the names, and conduct some sort of needs analysis or diagnostic test.

I therefore was more than happy to review the following book:


50 Activities for the First Day of School is an e-book by Walton Burns published by Alphabet Publishing also sold in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon. It does exactly what it states on the cover, outlining fifty first day activities. There are some well-known ideas here like 'Find Someone Who...' and '2 Truths and a Lie' but there are also some ideas I hadn't come across before such as '4-3-2 Intro' in which students have to talk about themselves first for four minutes, then three, and then two including the same information each time, and 'Time Capsule' in which the teacher collects snippets of the students' language, stores them in a box and then brings it back near the end of the course for comparisons with what the students think then.

The activities are divided into three parts:

  • Getting to Know Them - a section with plenty of ideas for learning names, finding out about your students and getting them talking to each other
  • Assessing and Evaluating - this section focuses on diagnostic tasks to find out what our students do and don't know and what they can and can't do in English
  • Setting the Tone - these activities are centred around agreeing rules, establishing routines and highlighting study skills to be built on throughout the year
Indeed, many of the activities set the tone for how the lessons will run with a strong student-centred focus and tips for bringing in strategies for encouraging self and peer correction from the first lesson. Most of the activities require little to no preparation as well and there are enough options to cover different levels of learner from beginner to advanced.

I started new classes last week and I decided to give a few of the ideas in the book a try out.

My first new class this term was a beginner (A1) group of 12-13 year-olds. Knowing their language would be limited, I decided to use 'Name Chain' to start things off. After getting everyone to say their names a couple of times each, I got the students in a circle and asked one to introduce himself. the next student then had to say 'this is... and I'm...' The chain built up till the last person had to recall everyone's name. We then mixed the circle and began again. This was a great way to ensure even in a class of fourteen people, we all knew each other's names within 15 minutes.

Later in the day, I met a group of 14-15 year-old intermediate (B2) level learners. I tried two activities with them. First, we did 'Tell me about me,' a task in which the class first had to say what they knew about me already. After a little prompting, they started to volunteer things like "we know you're married because you're wearing a ring" and "you own a Samsung Note phone". They then said what they thought they knew (e.g. "You're Canadian" and "You can't speak Arabic") and I then confirmed or corrected their ideas. We then repeated the task with the students in the group and we really learned a lot about each other.

Later in the class, we engaged in 'Goal Setting' as the students thought about what they wanted to learn/improve and what skills they would need to reach those goals. They then compared and discussed with me listening carefully to get a picture of my new students' self-perceived needs. It also gave use the groundwork to start thinking about learning plans and autonomous activities for the term ahead.

Overall, I would recommend this book. The activities are presented clearly and concisely and they are adaptable. They do not simply focus on learning names and finding out about hobbies and interests either They also encourage teachers and students alike to think about what they need from the course and help set the right tone for a successful year. Not every idea is a new one but credit is given for the ideas adapted from others are their are enough new tasks and variations on classic ones to make the book worthwhile.

50 Activities for the First Day of Class is available now in e-book, Kindle and paerback formats.

Official publisher website - http://www.alphabetpublishing.xyz/book/first-day-of-school/
Amazon Store page - https://www.amazon.com/50-Activities-First-Day-School/dp/0997762810/

A free copy of the e-book version was supplied by the author for review purposes.