Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

How to Survive your First Day of Teaching College ESL


College ESL is my favorite level to teach because most of the students have already established a firm grasp on the language. The first day of teaching college ESL is important because it sets the tone for the rest of the semester. Check out this short guide to surviving your first day of teaching college ESL and start the semester off on the right foot.

First day of teaching ESL

Introduce Yourself

The students are nervous, and you’re probably a little nervous too. Don’t be. Introduce yourself and tell the class a little about your family, hobbies and interests. Be aware of your body language, speaking slowly and crisply. Write your name on the board and list some contact information like your email address.

Set the Ground Rules

Depending on how lenient you are, set the rules for the semester appropriately and expect the students to bend the rules as much as you let them. Some important rules to consider on day one: Cellphones in class, penalty for absence, penalty for tardiness, late homework submission.

Let the Students Do all the Talking

After introducing yourself and setting the rules, put the spotlight on your students and encourage them to do the rest of the talking for the day. My go-to activity for the first day of teaching ESL is an introduction activity where every student gets to talk about themselves. It’s a great way to break the ice and it’ll help them feel more comfortable speaking in front of the class.

Great Speaking Activity for the First Day of Teaching College ESL

Make a list on the board with some personal information (English name, Chinese name, major, hometown, birthday, etc.). Then list a few interesting questions or statements for the students to answer (One thing that makes you unique, What did you do during the recent holiday?, What do you expect to learn in this class?, What makes you angry?, etc.).

First day of teaching ESL

Introduction ESL activity example.

Tell the students to write their answers on a piece of paper. When the class is finished, collect the papers and mix them up. One at a time, call the name of each student and encourage them to come to the front of class. Hand the student their paper and allow them to tell the class about themselves using the information they wrote down.

This activity will not only help the students to conquer any fear they may have of speaking, but it’ll give you a gauge on the English level of each of your students from day one. Depending on how many students you have, this activity can easily last the entire first day of class.

For your more advanced students, don’t be afraid to keep them in front of the class to ask one or two more questions. They’ll probably be excited to show off their competence, and it’ll help you with time management if this introduction activity is moving quicker than expected.

First day of teaching ESL

Manage Your Time

It’s important to have some extra activities up your sleeve if your lesson ends short of the class time. This is especially true on the first day of class because you’re setting the tone for the entire semester. A couple of games that work well for the first day of class:

2 Truths, 1 Lie – Students list two truths and one lie about themselves. Volunteers come to the front of class, list their statements, and the class guesses which statement is a big fat lie. It’s a great activity for the first day of class because it allows the students to get to know one another in a lighthearted way.

Complete the Sentence – List the beginning of a few sentences that are likely to provoke discussion (I have never…, I like people who…, Studying English is…, etc.). Give the students 5 minutes to write their answers, then encourage students to share their opinions with the class.

Need more ideas for games? Check out this list of 27 Proven ESL Games for Large Classes.


Good luck on your first day of teaching college ESL! Keep the class student-focused and you’ll walk out of the classroom feeling confident, in-control, and excited to teach for the rest of the semester. Contact me if you have any questions and feel free to leave a comment below.

[EDIT: Feb 25, 2014 @15:03 – The title, as well as a few keywords within this post, were changed from “…Teaching ESL” to “…Teaching College ESL.”]

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. My first day in Korea I had students guess things about me and ask questions to me, like where was I from. It was pretty interesting to see what students thought and I got some very interesting and funny answers.


  3. Come on Kevin, admit it. It’s the fact that when you teach college ESL, you are teaching mostly girls who are just a bit younger than you and interesting because you are a 老外… Buhahahaha.

  4. Are you a Chinese retard Peter? Typical stupid comment! just admit it, Chinese girl students are 200% better than male wimps! Chinese girls? Not nearly as attractive as Thai girls, ask your English teacher! FAact!

  5. I really loved and its very useful thanx

  6. Thank you for your share!

  7. This was a really useful post, thanks. It was just what I was looking for !

Let me know what you think


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: