The beginning of the new school year for your preschoolers is approaching and you wonder how to give them the very best first impression while skillfully outlining the boundaries. Commence the new academic year by designing and carrying out simple and fun activities aimed at helping children enjoy their time with you in the first place. Whatever you do – from establishing the classroom rules, assigning classroom responsibilities to labeling items within the classroom – needs to be done in a game-like format to enhance students’ motivation to engage in the instruction. Bear in mind that even though the main purpose of the introductory activities is entertainment and enjoyment, you can still tailor the exercises in a way that they serve and benefit you as a teacher. It is of instrumental importance to build student’s interest in the subject but also to inform them where you draw the lines and boundaries and what are the consequences when these boundaries are crossed.
Familiarity is key to working with early age students and therefore you need to be consistent in your daily routines. It takes some time for students to learn where to put their belongings, where to sit, how to walk around the classroom, how to line up, and how they can get help if they need it. In addition, things you need to explain from the very beginning include: “the teacher will speak only English; try to listen and follow along and don’t worry if you do not understand right away; you will learn very quickly”.
Collaboratively label objects and areas of the classroom to help students get familiar with the surroundings (as well as learn new or reinforce an already learnt set of words). Hide the labels of the objects (or their name tags) and let the kids find them by giving them clues (for example, “One of the labels is under a chair“) and thus practicing prepositions of place, for example. Once they find all the labels, sit together and let every kid match a label to the actual object and stick it to the right places and say “This is/These are…”. This activity would help students learn new or practice familiar vocabulary but it would also help you make sure they understand what you mean when giving instructions – “please, line up in front of the door”, “put your bag in the locker/cabinet”, etc. To minimize confusion and/or arguments it’s best to label the sitting/lining positions of the students along with their chairs. For older kids, you may “label” their positions and chairs using images of things while writing down the arrangement for the day by using the names of the objects so that the kids need to match their label with the name and thus identify their position for the day.
Next, you need to talk about and establish the classroom agreements. When it comes to very young learners of English as a second language, it is crucial that you make sure they understand every part of what you are saying. Keep the agreements simple and to the point. Start with the essential 3 or 5 and add with time – I can listen, I can sit quietly, I can wait for my turn.
It is important to start involving your students in everything you do from the very beginning. In this way, not only that they will take ownership of their activities but you will also ease your work by having someone lend you a hand. For example, when setting up the materials for the Class Helpers, there is no need for you to prepare everything in advance. Let your students see the process of creation, get involved and get the chance to work collaboratively in helping you prepare the things that they will be using for their own knowledge acquisition.
Observe students and try to pick the most commonly used words/phrases in their native language. Among Japanese kindergarten students, “Mitte!” (Look!) is used in many occasions. Therefore, your task is to help them memorize the expression by integrating and using it in as many as possible daily interactions/impressions and occasions – classroom agreements, story time, games, etc. This is the “survival phrases” poster I have designed for our Ladybugs’ class and it features, like I mentioned, the most commonly used word “Mitte!” in English “Look!”. Then, we play games such as “I Spy with my little eye” and read the Brown Bear, Brown Bear book to get students practice the expression.