First Things First

by Jake Hollingsworth // Seoul, South Korea //

The old saying goes, “You have one chance to make a first impression.” Generally these words of wisdom are applied to job interviews and introductions to a new girlfriend’s parents. But this idea is also relevant in our classrooms. As an ESL instructor, we will teach many students throughout our career. Naturally, this implies we will have many first meetings and first lessons. Especially for children, who have most likely had no significant exposure to the language, those first few lessons will shape their overall learning experience.

What are you doing with that opportunity? How are you setting your students up for long-term success? How are you preparing them for a positive future of English learning?

As for me, I don’t start with grammar. Not with vocabulary. Not with the ABC’s (unless of course they’re super young). I start with ideas. On my dry-erase board I draw the following picture…

Yesterday <———- Today ———-> Tomorrow

Underneath each word, I write with a different color marker the words…

Was <———— Is ————-> Will be

With the use of a calendar as a visual aid, I teach them to say…

Yesterday was Wednesday.
Today is Thursday.
Tomorrow will be Friday.

My aim is to begin instilling the idea that a language is a living, breathing thing. A sentence, particularly the verb, adapts to different situations. A sentence takes the shape of its context. There’s a huge difference between 1) I ate a pizza; 2) I am eating a pizza; 3) I will eat a pizza; 4) I have eaten a pizza; and 5)didn’t eat the pizza. Verbs constantly change, depending on the context. They’re tricky. But verbs are an essential component of a sentence.
What about you? What foundation are you laying for your students? Remember…they are trusting us to set them on the right path.

About The Author


Jake Hollingsworth is a 2010 graduate of English For Life Academy. Find him at