Even veteran teachers will admit to feeling a combination of excitement and anxiety on the first day of class. It makes sense; this is the first time you’ll be meeting people with whom you will be spending a considerable amount of time for several months. The first day of class is also unusual in that students will not necessarily have prepared anything in advance; faculty are often left wondering, “If there is no content to dig into, what are going to do with all that time?”
But the first day of class can set the tone for the entire semester, so it is worth developing a plan that will communicate to students what they can expect for next few months.
Some elements you might include in your First Day of Class plan:
- Introduce yourself and say why you are excited to be teaching the course – A positive relationship between students and their instructor can be a major motivator in student learning. Let the students know something about you. Foreground why you think this will be an interesting and useful course for them.
- Introduce the syllabus, course goals and important course policies – Hopefully students will read the syllabus on their own, but it can be useful to walk them through it anyway. Showing students how to read your syllabus can help them avoid confusion later. If you’d rather not spend class time reading the syllabus, consider using Adaptive Release in Blackboard to have students take a short quiz on the syllabus before they can see other content in the Blackboard site.
- Introduce texts – Explain why you chose the texts or other course materials, where they can be purchased, and if there are less expensive options (used, online, etc) which would be acceptable. If you really want students to use a particular edition, and especially if the edition is pricey, explain why it is important that they get that edition and why it’s worth the investment.
- Allow students to introduce themselves to you and each other – There are many ways you might have students do this:
– Simple Introductions – Simply go around the room and ask students to introduce themselves – name, year, major, hometown, why they’re taking the course (or some other questions for which you’d like the answers).
– Introduce Another – Ask students to introduce themselves to the person next to them. Then in a larger group, ask them to introduce the person they just met.
– Class Survey – If you have a large enrollment course, do an informal class survey. Ask students to raise their hands in response to questions such as: how many people are from Maryland? how many seniors? juniors? sophomores? freshmen? how many people work full-time? This is a good way for you and the students to get a sense of who is in the room. You can also move the conversation into opinion questions related to course content.
– Scavenger Hunt – Give students a list of “requirements” – “Find a classmate who has been to Europe,” “Find a classmate who prefers cats to dogs,” etc. This one can be time-intensive, so plan accordingly.
Capitalize on that first-day-of-school excitement by giving students a chance to engage on some level with the content of the course.
- Pose a thorny issue from your discipline or a problem around which you will organize some part of the course. Solicit student opinions or ideas. Then connect those responses to the work they will be doing in your class. What big questions or problems will you be working on?
- Ask students to discuss their experience thus far with your subject matter. “Why do we still read Shakespeare?”, “How conscious are you of personal nutritional choices?”, “What’s the most interesting statistic you’ve read in the last few months?”
- Give an ungraded pre-test – A pre-test will allow your students to see if they have any areas of weakness. This is especially useful in a skill-based course, but levels of knowledge at the start of the course can also be assessed by a pre-test. If you also give a post-test at the end of the semester, you and your students will easily be able to assess how far they’ve come.
- Ask students to set 3 personal learning goals – These might be based on what they learn in the pre-test or simply based on what they want to get out of the class, the more specific the better (“I want to get an A,” “I want to learn how to use commas and semi-colons,” “I want to learn once and for all how to craft a research question”). When motivation wanes (as it often does during the semester), tell students to refer to their learning goals.
- Use index cards to get information – Ask students to record information for you on an index card (name, major, past experience with your subject matter, or whatever else you want to know). At the end of the class, consider asking them if there are still points of confusion about the course, if they have any anxieties about the course and / or what they’re most excited about in the course. Then collect the cards and use them to see if there are confusions or anxieties you need to address, or excitement you can capitalize on in future classes.