Katie Mann
November 7, 2017

Six Must-Dos for the First 10 Minutes of your First Class

When I was studying for my teaching certificate, I came across Harry and Rosemary Wong’s book “The First Days of School.” It wonderfully outlines the importance of setting up a routine, classroom management, and all-around positive classroom atmosphere. (If you haven’t already read it, I would highly recommend it!) For those of you, dear readers, who have a classroom and are implementing theatre; congratulations! You most likely have already developed a wonderful space, standard, and attitude in your classroom. For those of you who, like 4th Wall Theatre, are providing an extracurricular activity where you will put on a play in only 6-12 weeks, then please, read on. Similar to the first days of school, our truncated timeline elevates the importance of the first ten minutes or so. (No pressure, right…)

1. Everyone gets a spot

I have often noticed that groups of students are like liquid; they take the shape of their container. Meaning, if we are having class in a gymnasium, they are soon running around enjoying the space. If class is in a cramped classroom with no chairs, they tend to sit on the floor. For a mobile theatre company, we try to make it obvious where the students should go. Usually it is on the floor, in a circle. To “encourage” the students to do this I usually have the assistants already seated. The more students arrive, the more it is obvious where their “home” should be. It can also be helpful to pre-place spot markers or, as we call them, “pancakes.” Then you can just instruct students to find a spot and sit down!

2. Introduction Circle

The first day of class can be nerve wracking! Some students are dying to let me know that they’ve been in shows before, numerous shows, and are ready and talented. Others are hoping they can simply sit in silence next to their friend and not be noticed. The Introduction Circle is The Great Equalizer: everyone gets the opportunity to speak, for about the same length of time. We usually ask for their name and their “favorite ____.” In the first few sessions I’ll give a choice like favorite season (four choices), hamburger or hot dogs (two choices), etc. Once we get to know each other it can broaden up to their favorite noodle, favorite character, etc.

The introduction circle is also a sneaky opportunity for me, as a teacher, to learn my students modality. Do they prefer speaking? Using the tablet? Are they a one-or-two-word kind of speaker? It is a beneficial practice for everyone. For more information on how we do our intro circle process, try out one of our curriculum plans.

3. Announce the Plan

I am a firm believer that 99% of the population likes to know what the plan is in advance. I have found this to be particularly true with my 4th Wall students, especially those with autism. This step only takes one sentence, but I have found class goes exponentially smoother if I begin by saying something like, “Hi everyone! This is a six week theatre course. We’re going to be putting on a play at the end. How fun! Today we will do one acting game, one dancing game, and one singing game. Let’s get started!” Simple. Easy. HUGE benefits.

4. Share the Rules

I love rules! Not only does it set expectations for behavior, but it allows corrections later to be much more concrete. Instead of saying “Stop sitting so close to Sara.” I can say, “Oh dear, you’re breaking our rule of being respectful. Move away from Sara, please.” For 4th Wall we use be safe, be brave, and be respectful. It helps! For more on our rules, check out our ebook.

5. Do a (Seated!) Game

By this point, the ten minutes are almost up. The room is comfortable, a plan has been made and expectations have been set. It is time to have some fun! We have numerous games we like to play sitting down (see them here). But why not get up already? Well, some students need more time to process and we’ve found that, unless they are jumping off the walls, the smaller the baby steps the more successful our students are.

6. Transition Well

Now the ten minutes are well past gone, but I thought I’d sneak in a great last little piece of advice: transition well! If you are doing a seated game, you may want to move on to a gross motor up-and-about one. If the room is wild, bring it back down with some quiet singing. Transition thoughtfully based on the energy level in the room. Some things that help our students to transition are: 

  1. The two minute warning “We’ll keep playing Freeze Dance for two minutes, and then we will start rehearsing our show!”
  2. Knowing what the next two activities are going to be. “Everyone stand up for freeze dance. After that, we’ll sing!” We often use PECS (sometimes we even make them ourselves) to aid with the two activity preparation. Using picture aids, we’ll post or show students what we’re doing NOW and what we’re doing NEXT.

Once you’re set up for success and you’ve used your first ten minutes to establish the tone of the class, you’re ready for theatre FUN!

This is the second part of a two-parter blog series. See the first part here.

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