20 lesson starters...

To begin at the beginning

There can be little doubt that the opening few minutes of any lesson make a big difference to the quality of learning that will subsequently take place. Opening moments are vital to establish an atmosphere that you consider appropriate for your class, but can equally help students engage actively with particular content from the point they walk in.  Below are some suggestions that might come in useful.  If you have others, please add them to the comments box at the bottom of the page.

1. Before students come into the class, hand out an article for them to read as soon as they sit down.  This could be of any length - providing material for a short discussion, or perhaps even the basis for a whole lesson.

2.  Project or write a short quotation on the board.  Ask students to copy it into their books and annotate in as much detail as they can.  The quotation might be prose or poetry, from a literary or non-literary text. 

3. Write/project the names of any two characters on the board.  How many points of similarity or difference can students come up with?

4. Post it:  Ask students to write down the name of a character, a scene or a chapter, a line of text, a particular symbol or an important event on a post-it note.  They stick their post-it on the forehead of the person next to them.  Students must move around and ask others questions in order to find out what is written on their note.

5.  Ask a question about anything related to the text/s being studied. Students must write down their answer and when the class is settled, share their answers with people sitting next to them. OR:

  • Invite students to ask questions of the text/s they are studying.  They can put these questions to students coming into the class. OR
    • Ask students to write down three questions they would like to ask either a character or the author.  You could turn this into a short hot-seating exercise.

6.  Ask students if the character x were: 

  • a place
  • an item of clothing
  • an item of food
  • a type of car
  • an animal
  • a colour

...then what would the character be?

7.  Use Kahoot to ask students questions about the material covered in the previous lesson.  What did they learn?  How much can they remember?  What needs to be recapped?

8.  A key quotation:  write down a key quotation from anywhere in the text.  Ask students to write a short paragraph explaining why the quotation is important.  What does it reveal?  What does it suggest?  How important is language and style to its impact?

9.  Key prop/s:  write down a list of objects on the board (preferably ones that do not figure in the text your are studying).  e.g. a flower, a stick, a fan,  a book, a necklace, a basket, a globe, a toy boat, a telephone, a knife, a suitcase, a length of rope, a clock, a wine glass, a bell...  Ask students to choose one prop and tell its story through the novel, poem or play.  How might it be used either literally or as a symbol - to delineate character, support particular moments of action, punctuate dialogue etc.

10.  Choose your thesis:  write on the board 4-5 statements that provide interpretations e.g. of the poem, a character or the importance of a particular chapter.  Ask students to rank order the statements in terms of which they agree with the most down to the least.  Spend some time discussing the reasons for their choices.

11.  Get creative:  write a few words and/or phrases from the poem or prose text you are about to read.  Ask students to make use of those words in a short piece of writing.  Finish, edit, share.

12.  Use a ball!:  ask any question and throw a tennis ball to the student you would like to answer.  That student then asks a question and throws the ball to someone else.  Repeat!

13.  Hands up:  have a series of questions that require a true or false answer.  If students think the answer is true, they must put their hands on their head.  If false, they must put their hands behind their back.  If they get the answer wrong they must sit down;  if right, they remain standing.  There should ultimately be someone left standing at the end - the winner!

14.  Odd one out:  write down the name of 3-4 characters, settings or chapters.  Which is the odd one out and why?

15.  Just a minute:  students must talk for one minute about the topic covered in the previous lesson.  If they pause, repeat themselves or say something dubious, another student may interrupt.  The person talking at the point the minute comes to an end gets a sweet!

16.  Random characters  write up the names of 5 (ideally very disparate) characters from a range of texts.  In what ways can students find points of connection or comparison?  They might think in terms of their personality, their role, the ways in which they are presented and the thematic ideas represented or explored through them.

17.  Prose into poetry (and vice versa).  Write up a few lines of poetry or the first couple of sentences of a prose text.  Ask students to re-write the lines by turning them into the opposite genre.

18.  Alphabet adjectives:  students write down the letters of the alphabet on one side of their page.  They must try to find an adjective beginning with each letter that could be used to describe a particular character.  Allow 5 minutes only.

19.  Paintings:  find a painting that has no obvious or immediate connection with the text you are studying.  Ask students to describe ways in which the image could nevertheless be said to connect.

20.  Let's draw:  ask students to turn something they feel they learned from last lesson into a drawing or sketch.  Share and discuss. 

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