10 tips for a great first impression with students (by Brad Patterson)

For a long time I thought the key to making a good first impression was being “nice”… if only it were that simple. Below you’ll find 10 ideas to help re-investigate how you introduce yourself, your course and your classroom environment. Please feel free to agree, disagree and share your valuable reactions in the comments.



Impression comes from Latin imprimere which meansto press onto or upon”. Who needs pressure when first making an acquaintance? With this in mind, there is no need for fireworks in that first class. My two cents: grow slowly on your students. Resist over-doing it, or sharing too much of yourself in the beginning. Keep them wondering.


As they come in you can greet them individually. Smile with your eyes, and if they smile at you, meet that expression equally. Again, my philosophy is to grow slowly on them so that means meeting them wherever they are and building from there.


Never would I have imagined I’d repeat that phrase, and yet it has its truth in certain circumstances. I am someone who prefers to dress down. Comfort over style… crocs, shorts and t-shirt in the summer.

However, how we appear is one of the most important things about a first impression, so we might as well start off on the right foot (or a common foot). Take care to dress to typical standards for your cultural setting and if you decide to wear something new, wear it around the house for a day or two so you feel comfortable in it on that first day.


Tons of international friends have visited my family in the US and they have always been blown away at how easily they communicate with my mom. Her enunciation, the words she chooses, the way she connects to see if that person is understanding… her PATIENCE. I’ve learned a lot from my mom, just as she did from her mother. A family of teachers, we are. Read your students’ expressions and know whether you need to turn the English knob more towards “easy” or more towards “they get it!”


A) Know your students’ culture. If you’re new in an environment, it might help to read a book exploring some of the intercultural differences.

b) Meet them on their level. EXAMPLE: if you’re teaching abroad, you could choose to provide a quote or two in the students’ native language. Using an anecdote from their culture demonstrates two things: 1) that you’re also on the language-learning path and 2) that you accept their culture and hence them. (If you’re a NNEST teaching in your homeland, please feel free to leave a tip about how you identify with your local students while still bringing a foreign language to the table.)


It’s very important to show our students we accept them and the previous 5 steps will help (and hopefully they’ll accept us too!). But that’s not enough to develop a successful classroom rapport; we need them to approve the learning environment and each other as well. So, you’ll want to prepare some fun, engaging activities, warmers, or ice-breakers for that first class.

Here is the wonderful crowd-sourced August blog carnival with TONS of great activities to choose from. A true gold-mine of resources!

Brad teaching in China


Students are curious about you and their classmates, but they also want to know where the class is headed. Explain this to them in a simple and brief manner. Hit on classroom experiences that you’ve historically seen as “winners” with previous classes. This may also be a good time to let them know what their role will be in the months ahead. Empowering them early on can really change the classroom dynamic.


How are chairs arranged? What do you have on the walls? Could it be more welcoming, more student-centered, more open?

9) LEAVE THEM HANGING with a … to be continued …

Whether it’s Charles Dickens’s weekly installments of “A Tale of Two Cities”, Modern Hollywood films or TV shows, the wily writer will leave their audience wanting more by finishing with a “cliffhanger”.

When you draw that first class to a close, leave them with something that will make the next class something they really don’t want to miss. Possibly introduce an activity for which the final result or conclusion will have to wait until the following meeting.


The best way to make a great first impression is by being a confident and successful teacher. The ideas and community available on the net are amazing for professional development, and Teaching Village is a very, very fine example so I wholeheartedly recommend you subscribe and follow Barbara’s PLN starter list if you’re on twitter.

Note: This article by Brad Patterson originally appeared on Teaching Village, and is licensed under a Creative Commons, Attribution-Non Commercial, No Derivatives 3.0 License. If you wish to share it you must re-publish it “as is”, and retain any credits, acknowledgements, and hyperlinks within it.

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32 Responses

  1. Barbara says:

    I love your ideas, Brad! I’ve found myself becoming a “kinder and gentler” teacher over the years as well. I guess I don’t feel as nervous about moving slowing, or allowing space for connections to develop. I like it!

    Thanks also for the Starter PLN plug–always appreciated 🙂

  2. Tyson Seburn says:

    Have you ever heard of “smizing” (https://youtu.be/yZhRz6DZSrM)? =) Thank you to my love of reality TV–new words abound! Very workable suggestions for new teachers, Brad.=)

    • Tips from Tyra… actually my version of smiling with the eyes is just a bit warmer, but whatever floats your boat (or the students’ boat). Cheers, Ty !

    • mattledding says:

      Ty, I dug a little deeper into the world of smizing, and there is definitely a very, very, very funny class to be carved out of it.

      I don’t know if it would be a good first ever class though…

  3. mattledding says:

    Great article Brad… I especially like number one, which is not as obvious to a nervous teacher. They won’t run away if we don’t chase them…

    In some schools (with children) teachers are warned against smiling until Christmas. Thoughts?

    • Hey Matt ! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      In the end, the best way to make a good first impression is to know that environment/community well, which is what I was alluding to by no.5 “do your homework”

      We all like to be treated well, but too much at first can throw up alerts, and this varies from culture to culture. For example, in the US, I can be fairly smiley, open, out-going and talkative from the get-go, whereas that doesn’t go over as smoothly here in France. No judgement here, just description.

      So, to answer your question, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are environments where teachers are encouraged to be stern because it is more effective at first. That being said, there are ways of being stern and still smiling… I think and hope. 😉

      What do you think ?

      • mattledding says:

        Think you got it spot on in terms of environment, and being able to read that. Also it might depend on who you are…

        Thinking of smiling and stern reminds me of Anna Musielak with her giant smile and military whistle in her English via theatre workshop. It worked across a couple of cultures!

  4. Thanks for sharing those 10 tips, Brad! Emotional Intelligenge is what your dear mom owns … what we, teachers, should manage very well. When we are in front of our students – especially for the first time -, we are being “scanned” for sure. It is like a diagnostic test or a lie detector. They see whether there is agreement between what we say and what we do. Therefore, as you said, it is better not to ‘press’ them or ourselves … being as natural as possible! 🙂

    Saludos desde Ecuador!


    • Natural and relaxed. Easy to say, right !

      I do have a lot to thank my mom for. She is one of the warmest and most giving people I know. Lucky me. Thanks so much for your comment, Ana and sorry it took me so long to respond (forget to check back after a few days !)

  5. Hear Hear!
    Particualrly appreciated the part about not “coming on too strong” at first!

  6. I like this article, Brad – and the advice goes beyond the first lesson.

    Personally what I usually do in the first lesson is:

    – do whatever course admin has to be done but more importantly be prepared with a few enjoyable warmer + introduction activities to get them interacting together

    – have a lexical element to the lesson (a must for Czechs to feel they still ‘learnt’ something in the very first lesson)

    – create a positive learning environment and hopefully establish a good rapport with everyone, as well as encouraging students to interact in English with each other

    This is my first visit to this blog, will def be back again soon


    • Hey David

      I apologize for the late reply. I too make that first class pretty laid-back with a fair amount of warmers. Interesting that your Czech classes would need that lexical amount. Lastly, YES, the teaching village is a place to revisit often 😉

  7. Jon Sumner says:

    Hi there Brad,

    Thanks for these good tips. In my experience of working in Korea, I have found that being kind but slightly serious from the start works pretty well. I think being a foreign teacher puts you in a situation of students potentially being more interested in your appearance and actions than in your lesson itself! I will try to take on board the advice you’ve provided here. Keep up the great work.

    Kind regards,


    • Thanks Jon !

      You are right to pay particular attention and adapt to the local environment. Funny, in 3 years of teaching in China I almost never felt the need to be stern… well, at least not at the public university. In some of the private classes, it was a different story !

      Thanks for your kind words and hope it helps 😉

  8. Torn Halves says:

    Brad, you are on safe ground here. Nothing controversial. I can’t see anyone arguing down at the bottom that the honeymoon period with a new class should be used to establish unequivocally that we are here to work – to hone ourselves into something sharp and bright – not to have fun and games.

    I have no inclination to criticise. I just want to confess that after reading your post, for some strange reason Nietzsche’s description of the Last Man came flooding back (Have you read “Thus Spake Zarathustra”?) It now seems timely to write a short piece entitled “The Last Teacher”.

    • “Thus Spake Zarthustra” huh ? You know, for all the attention Nietzsche gets, I’ve never read a word of his. Something a friend of mine said in passing when I was younger turned me off, and it was like a bad first experience with seafood… turns ya off forever 😉

      Will check out “The Last Teacher” Thanks

  9. Thanks for sharing this Brad.

    Although your post is aimed for those teaching English abroad, I think it definitely has some relevance when teaching English to non-English speakers in the UK.

    In my experience, teachers often forget some of the basics when teaching, this list is a great way to remind them of those basics, but also offer them a few tips they may not be aware of.

    Thanks again for sharing,


    • Thanks Dale.

      Glad to hear that you think there are some universal elements in there. People are people, right, whether they’re learning, teaching, be it ESL or physics. There are some basic communication skills that really make a big difference once we can master them (not that I have, but am always seeking that fine line).

      Cheers, Brad

  10. Sharon says:

    I find arriving to class a bit early and greeting each student as they enter the classroom to work. It shows that you care enough to show up not only on time, but early and are willing to make a personal touch.

  11. Lu Bodeman says:

    Loved your post.

    Great advice, which I will definitely consider when things get back into action (early Feb), especially the part about ‘doing your homework.’ Brings about greater (and better) rapport and builds a stronger (happier) community. Clap, clap. 🙂

    Thanks a lot.

  12. Great tips. It’s surprising how few teachers follow #3: dress for success. Here in Asia appearance is very important but I’ve seen quite a few teachers show up looking just… funky. As a school administrator I’ve had the unpleasant task more than once of having to tell a teacher that they need to dress more professionally. And this may ruffle your feathers, but it’s mostly a problem with Americans. I’m American, by the way, and it took me awhile to get used to it and appreciate the importance of dressing well. Now, I actually like wearing a tie. I notice the slight degree of additional respect I get when I wear a tie and I’ll even wear a tie when the school doesn’t require it.

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