In my experience, teachers I've talked to generally have two primary lines of thought on how to run the first day - either jump in with writing and work headfirst to immediately immerse them and thereby set the tone for the course, OR play icebreakers and ease into the new semester, working up to the harder stuff gradually.

I try to strike a balance on the first day of my 10th grade English classes. I play guitar, but you could probably do the same with a keyboard. If you don't play an instrument, play the songs from CD or MP3 - I just play them myself because it engages the kids on a different level to see their teacher whip out a guitar.

  • I hold up my guitar and ask the kids what they see.
  • After the giggling and stock answers, I say, "OK - look closer. What do you see?"
  • Usual answers: metal, wood, strings, frets, plastic, a hole, etc.
  • Distribute paper with lyrics from two different songs (I use Sad Song and D'Yer Wanna Be a Spaceman by Oasis - you can use any two songs, but I think it's important that they are songs the kids probably haven't heard before, to eliminate bias - I'm in the States, and most teenagers haven't even heard of Oasis here).
  • Before I play the first song, I tell the kids to think about the feelings the song invokes, and to be able to point to specific examples, either in the music or the text, to support their assertions.
  • I play, and we brainstorm. I list their responses on the board, and in doing so, try to get a response from every student in the class, making sure they point to specific text or give specific examples from the song. Ask them to elaborate on their answers - why do those lines evoke a certain feeling?
  • Play the second song, and do the same thing.
  • Once both songs are deconstructed, we compare and contrast. This is always fun because there are bound to be differences of opinion. Again, probe and explore kids' answers.
  • After that discussion, I hold up a book, and once again ask the kids what they see.
  • By this point, they're on to me - "pages, glue, ink, words, letters, pictures"
  • I tell them that they're right, it really is just pages, glue, and ink. By themselves, not worth much, and even when put together as a novel, they mean different things to different people, much like the disagreements we just had over the tones of these two songs. What's important are two things: the ideas within, and the interpretations people have of them. A guitar is just wood, metal, etc., but when used to promote an idea or a feeling, people connect to it and become passionate about it. Same thing with literature, and that's a large part of what our course will focus on - your analysis and interpretation of literature - what YOU take from it, and how YOU support your opinions with examples of those ideas from the text.

Why I Do It

It's a fun way of getting kids thinking critically about a text, which is, as I said, what much of the course focuses on. In this 20-30 minute period of time, they have performed an informal literary analysis while burning off a little steam by being able to talk (shout) out their responses. I've also gotten them to buy into the class because they see that I'm not a lecture-based teacher, and that I will try new or unusual teaching methods. Past students have also told me they respect me for doing this lesson because they know it's hard to get up and sing in front of 25 complete strangers.

You don't have to play guitar to get that same result. All you have to do is something the kids haven't seen before. They're going to see anywhere between four and eight other teachers that first day of school; do something to make yourself stand out. It can be fun and educationally relevant.