Articles for Teachers: Introductions

TESOL Programs  -
ATC - Advanced College of Languages and Training Canada
© Ali Shenassa.  Permission is granted to individual teachers to make copies of the article below for classroom teaching.

How can you make engaging introductions for your ESL lessons?
By Ali Shenassa

In the same way that the quality of the first few minutes of a movie is an essential factor in the way viewers will perceive the rest of that movie, in the classroom a good intro can sustain interest throughout your lesson while a poor one will undermine the rest of your efforts. Even if you have planned interesting activities, your lesson might never take off if your introduction is flat. Let's say you've chosen a suitable topic and have planned well-developed activities for your students. But how do you create a successful introduction? Here are 7 tips:

1. The most important factor is your own enthusiasm.

Think of yourself as a light bulb. If you exude energy, your students will become energized. If you seem bored or aren't truly present, you become a hollow shell that deflates your students' excitement and natural curiosity. Think of your brain like the control panel of a computer. Go into your control panel and turn the knob of energy all the way up!

2. Give each student the opportunity to participate from the beginning of your lesson.

Brainstorming about the topic on the board is a great way to elicit information from students and ensure they're invested in the lesson. Start by asking the group as a whole to contribute ideas, but make sure you also call on individual students so everyone's had a chance to take part in the process.

3. Use visuals.

Images have a strong impact on the human brain and are powerful stimuli. Pictures, postcards, board drawings, video clips, and other visuals which are connected to your topic are all effective ways to create an exciting introduction that will color the rest of your lesson.

4. Personalize the topic. 

Show your students how the topic of your lesson is relevant to their lives. Motivate your students by connecting your topic to their dreams, fears, careers, hobbies, and personal views. For example, if you are teaching a reading lesson on "Ghosts," one way to personalize the topic is to ask your students: " Do you believe in ghosts?" or "Has anyone in this classroom ever seen a ghost?" I've had some very interesting responses and discussions following these questions.

5. Tell your students a personal anecdote.

Another way to generate interest is to tell the class a personal story connected to your topic. For example, if your topic is a speaking lesson about favorite travel destinations, you could tell your students about your own travels and which of your travels excited you the most. But be careful not to get carried away by your own story. Keep it short. Remember that your students will learn much more by having the opportunity to use language than by watching you use language.

6. Ask your students to predict the topic.

This is a trick you can use to create a sense of curiosity and excitement before your lesson. Students naturally want to see if they're right in their prediction about the topic and focus on what's coming next. For example, before a reading lesson using poetry you could write some vocabulary from the poem on the board and ask students if they can guess what the title of the poem is.

7. Give your students the tools they need to do the task.

Make sure that your introduction has the "protein" your students crave. In the final stage of your introduction, use the momentum and excitement you've created in the earlier stages to lead your students to focus on the objective of your lesson. Use the board if appropriate to elicit information and review what they already know and build on that by introducing any new vocabulary and grammatical structures needed for the tasks of your activities.

Keep in mind that you don't have to follow all of the above suggestions in each lesson. That would make your introduction too long. Your introduction should be short and energizing, preparing you and your students for the main part of your lesson - the activities where students get the opportunity to use language and learn by doing. Feel free to experiment and come up with your own strategies to add to the above list. Soon you'll start looking forward to the beginning of your lessons and to generating that surge of excitment that can sustain your students' enthusiasm through your activities all the way to the conclusion of your lesson, which is yet another story...