The first 5 minutes: it’s the vibe that counts!

“It’s the vibe” – from the movie, The Castle, (1999).

I was chatting with a prac teacher recently, and she touched on an issue with one of her English classes being a little, well…dull, in terms of discussion. Essentially, she reported that there was no ‘vibe’ and that unresponsiveness had become a class culture.

It got me thinking; ultimately, whose responsibility is it to create the ‘vibe’ in a classroom?

Dr. Richard Curwin suggests that like a TV sitcom, teachers need to make the first 5 minutes count so that viewers don’t change the channel. In his post on Edutopia, he outlines a strategy he calls ‘teasers’. Just like a news anchor tries to keep viewers engaged before an ad break, Curwin suggests that teachers flag the upcoming content with a provocative teaser. Check out the example below from Curwin’s post:

Which of the following maths and English class beginnings would motivate you more?

  • Today we are going to learn about functions. Take out your math books and turn to page 87.
  • Today we are going to see how functions are used in making computer games.


  • Today we are going to start a unit on Shakespeare. Please take outTwelfth Night, and we’ll begin reading.
  • Today we’re going to see why some people think Shakespeare is sexier than Madonna. Let’s start reading.

Questions as Icebreakers

Another ‘vibe’ strategy I use in the first 5 minutes of a class is starting with a question. I like to ask every student to answer – if they need more time to think then I come back to them. The goal of this strategy is to begin with a question that is not academically threatening and that will encourage even the quieter students to vocalize an idea. Sometimes I will add in a ball and students can throw the ball to each other in order to respond – this adds a level of kinaesthetic engagement and I have never seen any group of students throw a ball around and not laugh and smile.

Example questions – ranging in complexity

  • What is your favourite animal and why?
  • If you were an animal, what would you be and why?
  • How do you feel today in one word?
  • What is your favourite word?
  • If your life was a movie, what would it be called? Who would play you?
  • If you had a clothing label what would it be called?
  • What is your dream holiday?
  • Invent a new sport. What is it called and how does it work?
  • What is a song/movie that makes you cry?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What are you most excited about?
  • If The Taming of The Shrew was a sitcom, what would it be called?
  • What is something you are good at?

Importantly, I did mention to the prac student I was chatting with not to take things too personally. Occasionally you may come across a group of seriously shy students who don’t seem to loosen up no matter what you do. But don’t let that stop you from being awesome and at least trying to create a vibe.

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