Summary: Useful classroom language for ESL teachers for starting lessons
Coming into the room
The teacher coming into a room full of students
"Can someone take this CD player and plug it in? Thanks." [hold it up as if you are offering it to someone, and look towards the socket or hold the plug and mime plugging it into something]
"Can someone hold the door open for me?" [stop with the door supported on your back, then maybe make straining noises like you are trying to squeeze through]
"Hi everyone. Just let me put my things down here and we'll get started."
"Morning. Not many people here yet? / Where is everyone?" [gesture looking at empty seats and then as if searching for those people in the corners of the room]
"Is this the right room? Mrs Andersen's class?/ Top set English?/ English club?"
"Hello again. Mr Smithers is still sick"/ "Yes, (it's) me again!"
The students coming in
"Okay everyone, file in quietly and take a seat please" [use two arms to show the slowness and straight lines of the route into the room]
"Upper Intermediate 1? Yes, this is the right class. Come (on) in."
"Hi. Come in. Take a seat/ Sit anywhere you like/ Can you sit somewhere different from last week?/ "Can you sit near the front?"
"Please put your homework into the tray as you come in"/ "Homework in the tray, everyone"
"Please put your bags on your pegs/ in your desks/ on the back of your chairs/ on the stage/ in a pile by the door/ in your lockers" [mime putting or hanging the bag, then point at position]
"We're going to do pairwork, so you need to sit closer to each other" [gesture two hands pressing something together]
"Sit in your usual teams/ the same teams as last lesson"
"Boys on the right and girls on the left" [point at some boys, and then where they should be, etc]
"Sit on the floor/ on the mats/ on the rug/ in the story corner"
"Take a flashcard as you come in, they are for the first game"
"Line up in order of age/ height/ the date of your birthday/ in alphabetical order"
"Can the last person in close the door?"
"As you come in, ask the next person their name and say 'Come in please' and 'Thank you'" [gesture hand coming from your mouth towards the other person, and then back from them to you]
"Knock on the door and say 'Can I come in?'" [mime knocking with knuckles]
"Entrance drill! Today's question is 'What colour is your bag?'"
"Line up against the wall and then you can come in" [show the line where you want them to stand, and then mime squeezing up into that space]
"Okay everyone, stand up please. Jimmy, that means you too. Right. Good morning everyone/ Good morning class/ Good morning boys and girls/ Good morning children... Okay, just 'good morning' is right too, but I want you to say 'Good morning class. Good morning teacher.' like we practiced last week. Can you do that? Okay, one, two, three. Much better, but remember that the 'or' in 'morning' is a long sound, oooooooooor" [gesture something very long coming out of your mouth with your right hand] "Oooooor... Good. Moooooorning.... Okay, (that was) maybe a little too long, ha ha! Morning... Great. So, let's do the whole thing one more time from the start. Good morning class... Much much better. Okay, sit down please"
"(Good) morning/ afternoon/ evening"/ "Hello/ Hi"
"Happy New Year"
"My name is Mr/Mrs/Ms Kim. I'm your new English teacher/ I'm your English teacher this year/ this term/ today. (Can you ask me some questions, e.g. where I'm from and my free time?)"
"I'll just introduce myself first"
"I've got five lessons with you each week."
"I'm covering for your usual teacher (today/ this week). He/ she has a cold"
"I'm new to this school, so please be nice to me, ha ha!"
"Your last teacher told me you are the best class, so I hope that is true!"
"Can you all introduce yourselves to me?"
"Can you tell me and the rest of the class two or three things about the person sitting next to you?"
"Let's introduce ourselves, shall we?"
"This is my name at the top of the board, it's pronounced..."
Taking the register (= roll call)
"Who is absent today? / Who isn't here today?" [looking around class at/ for empty chairs whilst holding class list in hand or miming doing so]
"Oh, John's away. Does anyone know why? Is he ill?"/ "What's the matter with Stefano today? / What's wrong with Jim today?"/ "Where's Tony? He didn't look very well yesterday, so maybe he's sick./ In this weather, maybe he's gone to the beach." / "Does anyone know where Hyo Young is?/ Any idea why Hyo Young is absent?"
"So everyone is here except..."
"So, only two people away."
"Let's take the register."/ "Let's check to see who is here."
"Remember to answer 'I'm here'"
"Is everybody here?"/ "Is anyone away?"/ "No one absent today?"
"So, Su Young isn't back yet. Does anyone know when she'll be back/ what has happened to her/ if she's dropped out of the class?"
"There are a few empty chairs. Who is missing?"
"Not many people here today. Is there a bug going round?"
"Oh yes, Juanes said he was going to miss this lesson, didn't he? Can any remember where he said he was going?"
"Let's see if everyone is here"
"Listen while I call your names"
"Shout out 'present'/ 'here' if you are here"
"No? Is he/ she absent today?"
"Let's all count to see if everyone is here - girls first, then boys." [mime counting on fingers]
"Who's the class monitor this week? Rocky? Rocky, can you count how many people are here please?"
"How are we all today?"/ "How are you (today)?" / "How are things?" / "How's life?"
"Did you have any trouble getting here? I heard there were problems on the Central Line"
"You all look freezing. Is it still snowing outside?/ How's the weather outside now?"
"(Did you have a) busy day at work?"
"I see we have a few new faces. Can you briefly introduce yourselves to the class?"
"Long time no see, Julietta. How was your holiday?/ Does anyone have any questions for Julietta about her holiday?"
"(Did you have a) good weekend? Did anyone do anything different/ interesting/ exciting?/ John, you said you were going to.... How was it?"
"Did you enjoy your holiday?"
"Did anyone notice my haircut/ tan/ sunburn/ broken arm/ new suit? Any questions (about my evening/ weekend)?" [point at noticeable thing]
"Vlad, you wanted to ask me a question. Can you ask it now?/ Can you ask that question to everyone in the class?"
"You (all) look tired/ hot/ cold"
"Is it hot/ cold/ humid/ snowing/ raining outside (at the moment)?" [mime rain or snow falling from sky, fanning yourself, or shivering]
"Are you (all) feeling better today?"
"(Have you )had a haircut?" [mime scissors with index and middle finger cutting hair]
"(We are all) dressed up smart today, aren't we? (Is there) any special reason?"
"I was sorry to hear about..."
"Did you hear about...?"
"Are you looking forward to...?"
"I can hear quite a lot of sniffing/ sniffling. Is there a cold going round/ does everyone have a cold?"
Waiting to start
"I'm waiting for you to be quiet/ to settle down/ We won't start until everyone is quiet." [cross arms and look impatient, maybe tapping foot]
"Please stop talking and be quiet" / "(Can everyone please) settle down so we can start." [arms out with palms down, moving slowly up and down]
"(Everyone be) quiet please!" [index finger in front of lips, or zip across lips with thumb and index finger]
"Okay, I'm glad you're excited, but let's calm down a little, shall we?"
"Yes, okay, we'll play the Stations game, but you have to sit down quiet and then doing the normal greetings first."
"I'm still hearing some noise at the back"/ "What's going on back there?" [stretch your neck and/ or stand on toes and look in that direction]
"We have the same thing every week. What am I waiting for?... For you to be quiet, that's right."
"They'll be plenty of time for speaking/ games once the class has started."
"... or would you prefer to start by checking your homework instead?"
Getting started/ getting down to business
"So, let's get started, shall we?" [maybe clapping hands together once]
"I could talk about that all day, but I think we should study some English, shouldn't we?"
"Are you ready (to start/ to learn English)?"
"English time! (No more Korean!)" [point at poster or those words written on the board if you have them]
"Is everybody ready to start?"
"I hope you are all ready for your English lesson."
"I think we can start now."
"Let's begin!"/ "Let's start!"/ "Let's rock and roll!"
"Now that everybody is here..."
"I was going to start the class by..., but it's too hot/ you all look too tired/ there aren't enough people/ the equipment isn't working. So, let's move straight onto..."
"I don't think we need a warm up game today, do we?"
"Can anyone remember what we did last week/ in the last lesson/ this morning?
"I told you to prepare something for the beginning of this lesson, didn't I? It looks like some people have completely forgotten about it. Oh well, your loss. The people who did do it will find the next part really easy"
"Whose turn is it to choose the starting game/ song/ the language point for the ball game?"
Unusual starting tactics
"Catch!" [really throwing something or miming it]
"Is no one going to ask me what I'm doing?"
"The first person to the front of the room gets a sweet/ doesn't have to do any homework tonight"
"One point to Sebastian for being quiet"
"Who wants a sweet?"
Stating your aims
"Now I'd like you to continue asking and answering questions about your weekend/ your hobbies, but using the structure on the board/ but as a game"
"I'd like to start the lesson by revising what we did last lesson/ seeing how much you remember from last week"
"I'd like to start the lesson with a pop quiz/ a warmer/ some revision/ some pairwork speaking"
"The aims of today's lesson are.../ are at the top of the board"
"Today, we are going to..."
"As I explained last week, today is the day for the final test/ presentations/ course feedback questionnaires"
"Today, we're going to do something a bit different/ unusual/ strange. This is to.../ Why we are doing it will become clear later on." /"This may seem a little unusual, but it's all part of the plan!"
"Today/ In this lesson/ This week we'll learn how to ... / we will study.../ we will practice ... (from last week)"
"The aim of this class is (to) ..."
"I know we don't usually start by checking the homework/ by doing a song, but we are going to move onto..."
"Where have you been?" [gesture tapping watch or look at clock]
"We started ten minutes ago. What have you been doing?"
"What time does the class start?... And what time is it now?"
"Sorry, we are in the middle of a listening exercise. Can you wait outside for two minutes until we finish?"
"Did you miss your bus?"/ "Are there still problems with the underground?"/ "Did you get stuck in traffic?"/ "Did you have problems getting a taxi (in the rain)?"
"Did you oversleep?"/ "(Is your) alarm clock broken (again)?"
"Don't let it happen again."
"It's okay, but come in quickly/ quietly so we can get on with class"
"Don't worry, but try to be on time next time"
"You missed the progress test, so you'll need to do that another time"
"You can do the part you missed for homework"
"Can someone explain what we are doing to Jose Maria?"
"Where were we?"/ "Right, let's get back to/ get on with..."
"Today is the test, remember. So, I want you to come in without speaking and take out just one pencil and one eraser. No books and no pieces of paper. Got it? How many books are you allowed?... No, Sabrina, not a hundred. Yes, okay, a thousand, very funny. Seriously. How many books?... Yup, zero, none, nowt. When you've got your pencil and eraser out of your bag, put your bags at the back of the classroom. Ready? Quietly, come in one at a time."
"Any questions before the test starts?"
"Today's the test, but we'll do something else for 10 or 15 minutes to give other people a chance to get here"
Things to think about/ Discussion questions for teachers
What stages above wouldn't you bother doing in your classes, e.g. initial chitchat in a large class, low level class or very young class?
What order do you usually do the stages that you do? Could you do them in a different order?
Which of the phrases in each of the stages you do use above is the right language level for your students? Is each one also suitable for their age, polite enough etc? If not, how could you change it?
Pick at least 5 sentences above that are totally unsuitable for your classes. Why are they unsuitable? What kinds of classes and situations might they be suitable for? What could you say instead in your classes?
How could you make each of those phrases easier to understand, e.g. what gestures could you use and what language could you add to your syllabus?
Once your students get used to that phrase, how can you make it more complicated in order to boost their level but still making sure they understand?
Is there any way of getting students to use the same phrases with each other?
Do you do any of the stages above in L1 rather than English? What do you think students' reactions to you switching to English would be? How could you make that transition easier?
Many of the sentences above have natural conversational grammar rather than traditional written grammar, e.g. "Alarm clock broken?", which a native speaker is probably more likely to say rather than "Is your alarm clock broken?" What do you think about using these kinds of sentences?
There are also some examples of more difficult and idiomatic words and phrases like "nowt" and "How are things?" that students would probably still understand from the context. How do you feel about using these in your classes?
If you use natural sentences at natural speed students will hopefully learn to guess the meaning from context, to accept not understanding every word, and to remember language in longer stretches rather than word by word. They might, however, never understand what the individual words are and might never be able to tie it in with the language on the syllabus. Which of these are more important for your students, do you think?
Some people like to start English class in exactly the same way as the other classes so that students take it seriously, and other teachers like to start it in a more relaxed and friendly way to set the atmosphere that they need for an interactive, communicative classroom. Which thing is more important to you? Is there any way of combining the two things?
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