The laptop opens, you’re wearing a frown/30 students in boredom shall drown/Not minutes of joy, not minutes of laughter/Zero engagement, for the hereafter.
That doesn’t sound ideal does it? What happened to “start as you mean to go on”? Surely we want our lessons to be fun, engaging and interesting and for students to look forward to them?
Of course, being on a laptop staring through a camera can make this hard to achieve – but it’s not impossible.
What the research tells us
Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at the research into why positive greetings matter.
A recent study tested whether positive greetings at the door (PGD) had an impact on academic engagement and frequency of disruptive behaviour. Teachers were selected by the principal of a school to implement a PGD strategy.
The two tested areas of impact were recorded before and after the strategy had been implemented.
The results revealed that “the PGD strategy produced significant improvements in academic engaged time and reductions in disruptive behaviour” compared with the non-PDG group.
The study followed up by testing teacher perceptions about this strategy, and teachers agreed it was “feasible, reasonable and acceptable”.
This makes sense, right? If you feel as though you are welcome and you belong, of course you will have more positive behaviours. You may even have a desire to contribute positively to the environment in which you are welcomed.
Of course, that study was based in the physical classroom – crazy handshakes, dance routines and high fives are all impossible over a screen.
However, the fundamentals are the same – start in the right way and the lesson will proceed far better than if you do not.
So here are five ways I have found to get my lessons up and running with primary learners.
1. Positive welcomes
As soon as a student joins the class, say something positive to them and make them feel welcomed. This can be situational; you can comment that you really like their headband or T-shirt.
Or you can put a positive feedback spin on it and make a comment about work they have done like “Welcome, Jessica! I was just thinking about the fantastic drawing you did for art last week”.
Or you can mix it up each week and use some fun alliteration, like: “It’s Awesome Annie! Great to see you! Brilliant Ben, welcome to the lesson.”
Whatever appropriate positive ways you can think of, give them a go.
2. Filters and platform add-ons
A good example of this is when you teach using teams, you can get an add-on called “snap camera”. This lets you use Snapchat filters, so your picture will grow big ears, or sunglasses will appear, or you can even turn into a dragon.
This is a great way to start classes in a positive, light, fun and welcoming manner. Just make sure you know how to turn it off again...
So — this lawyer on a Zoom had to let a judge know he wasn’t a cat after accidentally switching to a cat filter...pic.twitter.com/MzjI6irEDJ— Rex Chapman🏇🏼 (@RexChapman) February 9, 2021
3. Have your own weekly welcome video playing
This does not need to be long, I have, in the past, just made a short video of me out at the shops or doing my day to day life things.
Students are generally interested to see their teacher in a different context – there are bonus points if you can say something funny.
Remember, the video should let the students know you have been looking forward to class.
4. Lesson starter games
Starting lessons with a game is well known as a good way to make students feel positively engaged.
This can be done online very easily; you can have a mini competition based on a jumble of letters, like who can make the most words. Another option is to create a short learning game on sites like Kahoot and Classtools.
5. Lesson starter songs
OK, this might be reserved for the younger years but, in the past, I have used my ukulele and created a class song. The students can work together to help make the lyrics and we sing it at the start of a lesson.
Now we start, with a big fat grin/Boredom is over, it’s in the bin/Students and teachers, want to be here/Making this, a good school year.
Gregory Adam is a primary teacher at Nord Anglia Chinese International School in Shanghai. He released his first book last year: Teaching EFL, ESL & EAL. A Practitioner’s Guide