Back to class – A great way to start a new semester!

by Neil Millington

Here in Japan, the summer break is coming to an end and teachers and students are getting ready for the new semester. It’s a time I really enjoy because I know I will have new sets of students to teach. I teach at a university, so these students are high school graduates who have studied hard to get a place in university. At my university, the students are generally enthused by their this environment, the prospect of taking English speaking classes, making new friends, and living their lives.

I usually teach two or three freshmen classes and I always look forward to these. However, the first class is usually quite stressful for all involved. For many students, it is probably the first time they have had a full class taught by me. They are in a new context and everything can become overwhelming. I remember my new classes at university and I spent most of the time wandering round and wondering what was going on!

For me, the teacher, it can also be rather hectic. I have planned my classes but I haven’t been in a classroom environment for a while, so I am not ‘in the groove’ of teaching yet. Also, even after years of teaching, I still get those butterflies when teaching a completely new class. I have usually prepared or edited my lesson plans and they might involve a new activity I have picked up over the break, or in some cases, a completely new lesson. I don’t get my class lists until a day or so before class which also adds to the uncertainty.

This blog is about one of my favorite ways to start a brand new class. Hopefully, it will help to energize any new class you happen to teach!

Get creative with that initial name call

I’m not a particularly big fan of doing name calls in class, but I do need to keep a record of attendance. I’ve seen different ways of doing this that are awesome, but my favorite is to use a kind of name card and to get the class to complete it collaboratively.

What do you need?

I have attached my version of a name card sheet. I have done this in Word, so please feel free to use and amend this to suit your class.

What is a name card?

Recently, I have handed out a name card that has a large space for students to write the name they would like to be called in class, a section for them to add some basic information about themselves, and a section for them to write to me. As I mentioned above, you can download my template below, but you could quite easily design your own to suit your learners. Here is how I use the name sheet.

Step 1

I hand the name sheet out at the start of the class. First, in the middle section, I ask them to write the name they would like to be called in class. This should be in big letters and it should be the name they want to be known by. Of course, nicknames are fine here.

Step 2

The second step is to get the students to complete the top part of the name sheet. This has space for basic information. For example, full name, birthday, hobbies etc. I usually ask them to complete this section with a partner. They should exchange papers with a partner and do this as a get to know you exercise. They don’t complete their own card. They should work together to do this.

Step 3

The bottom section has space for them to write to me. This is free for them to ask questions or tell me something about themselves. I usually save five minutes at the end of class for them to do this. I emphasize that they can write anything they want here and I promise to read and respond before the next class.

I really like the third section. I have had so many funny questions and learned so many quirky facts about my students through this. I think it has also helped me to quickly develop a rapport with many students. What do you think? Would it work for your students?


  • Maureen

    I am a speaking EFL teacher and have found reading passages useful for discussion and the lesson plan. Passages from a simply written biography ie, Princess Diana, or a simple book about the feelings a child experiences were useful.

    The selections on page are good but William Shakspeare I have found too frightening for even an advanced English student. What selections would you suggest?

    Maureen Armstrong

    • admin

      Hi Maureen,

      Thanks for your message. It really depends on your learners, their context, their level, and interests. We have lessons on Lego, Paddington Bear, Peter Rabbit, Minecraft, Disney Princesses and many more. For more biographical lessons there are readings on Mother Teresa, David Beckham, young Albert Einstein, Hayao Miyazaki, Louis Braille for example. Try using the search function or scroll through the Fun English section.

      I hope that helps!


  • Sajid

    I am preparing for ielts.Sir your website is very beneficial for ielys reading.Thanks

    • admin

      I am happy to hear that! Good luck with your studies!