What do you do the first week of class?

Here’s what I do. On the first day I enter the classroom right on time, smile at the students, put my stuff on the table and write my name and other info on the board. Usually the students are silent; they don’t know each other yet, and for some of them this is their first time in a college class. Then I turn around, smile at the students again and say “Buongiorno!” and motion for them repeat “Buongiorno, professore!” I reiterate in English what I wrote on the board and then I call roll. I smile at each student and ask him or her why he or she is taking Italian. If a student is at a loss for words, I ask “curiosity, you love languages, you need credits, your life would be empty if you didn’t know Italian?” They all chuckle. This sets the tone. I’m in charge, serious about them learning Italian and well organized but they can see right off the bat that I’m fun-loving. And they find out immediately that they are not anonymous faces in a full room. Each one has name and a voice. Each one is special. After roll call I ask, “Do you guys want to read the syllabus now, or shall we do some Italian?” The answer is invariably “Do some Italian!” and I start the Lezioni Preliminari that I have thoughtfully prepared over the years. I tell them to get out a pencil and paper and get ready to write down everything I write on the board. As I write I pronounce the Italian and translate it bit by bit, and ask them to repeat every so often. When I’m done with the first chunk of language I ask them if they have any questions. Then I say, “OK, now stand up and have this conversation (the one we just wrote on the board) with at least five different people! By the time you get to the fifth person you’ll know it by heart!” They are amazed, but they do it. All of a sudden the classroom is noisy and raucous as 50 nineteen-year-olds get busy introducing themselves, smiling at each other, shaking hands, saying “Sorry, gotta go now” and going on to the next person. The conversation is all in Italian, but it goes like this:

—Good morning, sir/ma’am.
My name is Dave Pardess.
What is your name?
—My name is Joe/Lisette García.
(We shake hands while we say…)
—It’s a pleasure.
—The pleasure’s mine.
(I look at my watch and make a sorrowful face.)
—Well, I have to go now.
—Me, too.
—See you later.

We do as much of the Lezioni Preliminari in this fashion as time allows. About fifteen minutes before class ends, I pass out the xeroxed Lezioni Preliminari packets so they can see and read what we’ve done in black and white. I distribute these packets free of charge so we can get right to work the first week of class. I tell them to make sure they buy the text materials at the student store by the beginning of the next week. I take care of adds right after class, and invariably at least one student tells me “This class is so much fun. I can’t believe I learned so much in one day. I can’t wait for the next class. Thank you so much, professore.”
At the next class meeting we have fun doing more of the Lezioni Preliminari and then we read the syllabus (except for some technical info) as a class. In fact, the students do all the reading by taking turns, and “snaking” around the room. I also have students fill out a student info sheet, which I collect to get to know more about each one and how to contact them if the need arises.

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