What to Do on the First Day of Class

The first day of class provides a unique opportunity to create a positive first impression, to establish goals of the course, and to set the tone for the rest of the semester.

This day usually include some form of social interaction and information about the class.  Each instructor decides how much time to spend on one versus the other, but it’s a good idea to include some of both.

Social Activities

  • Introduce yourself personally and professionally. Provide any personal information about yourself that you feel comfortable sharing to build a positive, open relationship with students.  This may information about where you grew up, your family, your personal interests, and so on.  For a professional introduction, describe your academic credentials and teaching/research experience, your work in the field, your interest in the subject matter, and how this course helps you think about your research topics.  If you have a website, a blog, a podcast, publications, consider mentioning those as well.
  • Ask students to introduce themselves. Common questions are where they are from, what they are studying, why they selected this school, whether they are involved in sports or student organizations, why they are taking this class, and anything personal they would like to share, such as hobbies or pets.  If possible, make this activity interactive and social by asking students to introduce themselves to a neighbor or to a small group first.
  • Create an “ice breaker” or other group activity. Ice breakers allow students to meet each other.  These activities can be effective for building a class community, and students may be more willing to study in groups and feel obligated to attend class if they make friends early on.
  • Consider collecting student assessment information through a “pre-test” or a questionnaire that asks about student skills, experiences, and interests.
  • Take attendance?  Taking attendance can help instructors learn student names.  It also creates a record for questions about financial aid, and it sends a message that attendance is important and that students will be held accountable (or at least it will be noticed) if they are absent.

Course Information

  • Describe the broad academic goals of the course. Explain why the course is important to the students’ intellectual development – answer the students’ question of “Why do I have to take this course?” or “Why is this course important?” or “What will I learn in this course?”  You can answer this question by describing the content knowledge and skills they will learn.  You can also answer it by describing the questions, challenges, and activities students will be engaging in the course.  As much as possible, try to present the course as a venue for advancing thought in an academic discipline.
  • Set academic expectations. Point out the policy on academic integrity, and describe the differences between “Excellent,” “Good,” and “Passing” grades.  Help students understand the quality of work they will be required to produce.  (You will have to describe these standards several times throughout the semester.)
  • Go over the logistics of the course, including assignment due dates, office hours, how and when to communicate with you, attendance requirements, late assignment and make up policy. If the course has a clinical, lab, or service-learning component, describe the logistics for those portions of class as well.  Be sure also to describe the relationship between the lecture portion and the clinical/lab component; the relationship is not always clear, especially when the two sections are on different schedules or units.
  • Review the syllabus. Much of the material presented above (course description, learning outcomes, policies) are listed on the syllabus, so a common first day activity is to review the syllabus.  Listening to the instructor read the syllabus is not an engaging activity, so begin by talking or describing these goals and policy, and then point them out on the syllabus.
  • Provide an overview of online course content on Canvas (see recommendations here).
  • Describe class resources such as tutors, supplemental instruction, materials on Library reserve.
  • Provide an introduction to the first unit, or at least describe the required readings and assignments for the first week. Not all faculty will agree with this.  Some instructors may want to provide only a broad course overview on the first day and not begin the first lecture or unit until the next day.  This probably depends on the length of the class period, the number of students in class, and the level of the course.
  • Assign homework?  Assigning homework can send the message that students need to “get serious” about the course, but it may also punish students who registered late or didn’t have the financial resources to purchase the book.  Sometimes, students are even told not to purchase the book until they go to class and see what’s required.

Click on the Teaching tag for more strategies on effective teaching, or contact the Dean for Teaching & Learning Outcomes.

What do you do on the first day of class?  Feel free to post a comment below.

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