Anatomy of a Level 1 Lesson

Anatomy of a Level 1 Lesson

“First Day”

By Rick Kappra | City College of San Francisco | 2017


Information Gap Activity for Beginning Level Students

This is the first part of a series of posts for the Alta blog where I’ll take you through a Level 1 lesson from beginning to end and show how Teacherless Activities can be integrated into a lesson and used with traditional teacher-fronted methods.

Integrating Teacherless Activities in Level 1*

The progression that I aim for in a lesson is:

Language presentation >> Controlled practice >> Freer practice

This model moves from traditional teacher-fronted instruction to Teacherless learning.

Getting Started

Before I start planning my lesson, I always ask myself what communicative task I want my students to be able to do by the end of it.  Then I think about the steps I need to take and what they need to know to get to that point.  It seems obvious to me now, but it wasn’t so clear when I first started teaching.  I’d often try to get them to do a communicative task without really giving them the tools they needed to do it, and I often failed.

One of the reasons I love teaching level 1 is because since my students know so little, it is very easy to predict what language they need to complete a task. They need it all! I love planning that journey for them and seeing them take off at the end.  The semester is filled with one success after another, often taking place daily!

Preparing for the First Day of Class

The first lesson I want to lay out is what I do on the first day of class.

After over 30 years of teaching, I still have first-day anxiety, but the first day of Level 1 seems especially stressful to me, even though I’ve done it so many times.

It is very stressful to walk into a room and see a class full of brand new students, most of whom I have never seen before, many who are brand new to the school and possibly new to the country.  Their affective filter is high and I’m usually pretty nervous as well.  They may be experiencing culture shock and could be dealing with trauma or other resettlement issues.  My first goal is to ease the tension in the room and help them begin to get to know one another, while letting them know that my classroom is a safe and welcoming space.  Beyond that, I want them to be able to ask and answer the following questions:

“What’s your name?”     “Where are you from?”       “How do you spell that?”

Once I’ve done a short introduction to the class, and quickly gone over my simple first day handout with rules, learning outcomes, etc., I start the lesson.

  1. Introduce/review the alphabet

Most students in my level 1 class are familiar with the Roman alphabet.  A few are not.  Some may know the letters, but get confused with the names.  Some students may have pronunciation problems with certain sounds like v/b or p/b.  I start off with the alphabet to get an idea where they are and how much practice they may need with the letters.

Each letter of the alphabet is written on a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 cardstock.  I show a letter and ask “What letter is this?”  I listen for confusion or pronunciation problems, making mental notes for later.  I model the correct pronunciation of the name of the letter and students repeat after me – a few times if necessary.

  1. What letter is this?

Turning the class over to the students.  I give each student one of the cards with a letter on it.  I write “What letter is this?” on the board.  I instruct students to walk around, ask “What letter is this?” change cards, and find a new partner, modeling the activity several times.

  1. Line up

If I have 26 or more students, they line up from A to Z.  Then I ask each student to say his or her letter, again listening for pronunciation problems or confusion.

  1. Dictation

Using the information I’ve gathered by monitoring students in the previous activities, I choose 10 letters to dictate.

I introduce the word “dictation”.  I dictate letters that were confusing earlier and/or others that are usually problematic:  p/b, b/v, e/i/a, s/x, c/z, t/d, m/n, etc.

Students check with a partner, then they call the letters back to me and we check together.  Students are now working with each other and not dependent solely on the teacher.

  1. Pair Dictation

Pair dictation moves students towards more controlled communicative practice.

Each student has 10 letters that they dictate to each other.  I model carefully and walk around to assist those who are confused by the activity.

It looks like this:

                        Partner A                                          Partner B


  1. h                                              1.  ________________

  2. x                                              2.  ________________

  3. g                                              3.  ________________


  1. ________________                           11.      z

  2. ________________                           12.      k

  3. ________________                           13.      p

When they finish they check with a partner and we check together as a class, I clarify pronunciation of letters as needed.

  1. Mingle

Now students are ready for a mingle, or freer practice.

I introduce the questions giving examples for each one so that everyone understands the meaning.  Students repeat chorally to review the pronunciation of each question.

What’s your name?

Where are you from?

How do you spell that?

I give students a mingle handout and instruct them to walk around and ask 10 classmates for their name and country.  I model with my own name and country.  Sometimes, I’ll model using a student in the class.  Students ask for spelling of each others’ names and countries.  At the end everyone feels more comfortable, including the teacher!

Would you like to try this lesson with your beginning students? Click here to download your own handout: Anatomy of a Level 1 Lesson – Handout

*This lesson focuses on Level 1 because it is a challenging level that many new teachers end up teaching, but the ideas in this post can be used in higher levels just as well, just with higher-level content.


How about you? How do you prepare for your first day of class? Leave your comments below.

Rick has been teaching English as a Second language since 1983, beginning as a volunteer working with refugees in Philadelphia. He has taught in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Korea. Currently he is an ESL instructor at City College of San Francisco, where he is also the Civic Center Campus ESL Coordinator. His goal as an instructor is to create more opportunities for students to engage with one another in fun, meaningful exchanges. Finding that most ESL textbooks did not provide enough opportunities for interaction led him to co-author Out & About with Amy Hemmert. Rick and Amy also co-authored Out & About Teacherless Activities  (Photocopiable Teacher Resource Book) – one of ALTA’s best-selling resources for beginning ESL classes.


Read More
  1. Linda O'Roke Reply

    Great ideas and reminders. Thanks!

  2. Barbara Knox Reply

    Excited to try this in Level 1 next semester! Thanks for sharing, Rick. Looking forward to seeing your presentation at Tech Camp!!

  3. Liz Bigler Reply

    Another way to practice alphabet is to use a chart (simple alphabet chart, used in elem school…) I point to each letter and have the students say it. The ones who don’t know can hear it from the others. At first, we go in order…then, I will point to letters randomly (eventually focusing on the tricky ones, and explaining, if necessary, the different formations between V and B, for example, or C and Z. Then, we go around the room and each person says the next one in the sequence…if they get lost, I point to the right one on the chart. Then, we go around the room and I point to a random letter for each person’s “turn.”

    We repeat this every day or every few days to review and strengthen their knowledge.

    Another exercise is to give each person a card like the ones you describe. (If you have more than 26 students, it’s okay…everyone will have a chance eventually. If you have fewer than 26, then each student might have more than one. Give them out in random order. Whoever has “A” starts by holding it up high and saying “A!” then B holds it up and says “B!” and so on. Once you get through the alphabet, each person gives their card to someone else (making sure the students who didn’t have one the first time, if any, get one this time. Then, repeat. Ask them to try to do it faster and louder this time. It’s a lot of fun.

    Once they get good at the alphabet, you can have them hold on to “their card” and then say words, and whoever has the letter that makes the beginning sound, hold it up. If you say, “Balloon,” then the person with B holds it up. You can do it with ending sounds too, eventually.

    Thanks for sharing your ideas, Rick!

  4. William C Reply

    This is exactly what I was looking for! Thanks for sharing Rick!

Leave a Reply


Facebook Messenger for Wordpress