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Suggestions for the First Day of Class

"A successful opening sets the stage for a successful class." - Teaching for Success, 1994

The first day of class can play a big role in setting the tone and creating a positive learning environment for the rest of the semester. It is an opportunity to pique the students' interest and create an environment where inquiry and participation is expected. Here are a few ideas for getting your class off to a great start!

  1. Break the Ice

    On the first day, plan some sort of icebreaker to allow students to get to know you and one another. Something as simple as having students take a few minutes to get to know their neighbor may be appropriate. If the class is small, you might even have students introduce each other and mention something that makes that person unique (e.g., "John went whale watching this summer.") In a writing class, you might have students spend several minutes getting to know each other by writing, not speaking. For more icebreaker ideas, see the CTE's Teaching Tip, Icebreaker Activities.

  2. Learn Students Names

    Learning students' names can go a long way in creating a positive environment where the instructor views students as individuals rather than faces in a crowd. A great way to learn names on the first day is to have each person recall the names of everyone who was introduced before. The instructor goes last, of course. For more ideas on Learning Students Names, see the CTE's Teaching Tip, What's in a Name? Strategies for Learning Students Names.

  3. Create a Positive Learning Environment
    • Arrive as early as possible to set up and arrange the room as desired.
    • Greet students as they arrive.
    • Write your name and the name of the course on the board to avoid embarrassing students who may be in the wrong class.
    • Provide a ten minute break for every fifty minutes of classtime. This is important in terms of resetting their attention and it provides students with opportunities to connect with one another.
    • At the end of the class, ask students to anonymously write their impressions and any questions or concerns they may have regarding the course. This provides the instructor with valuable feedback that students may have been reluctant to verbalize, and it indicates your interest in learning from them.
  4. Introduce Course Content

    Hold a mini-version of your class to give students an idea of what's to come. Pose a question, and have them work in small groups to answer it. Or, have students share what they know about a topic. Post their responses on the board and clarify any misconceptions and/or elaborate on their ideas as a way of previewing a topic or the course as a whole.

  5. Other Ideas
    • Describe how you plan to spend class time (i.e., lectures, large group discussion, small groups, etc.).
    • Give your students ideas on how to study and prepare for your class.
    • Have the students generate a list of ground rules. Post them, review and modify as needed. This goes a long way in avoiding disruptive behaviors in the classroom.
    • Bring copies of the required texts and let students know where they are available. You might want to consider sharing some information about the texts and any discrepancies between the text and the material you plan to present.

For more tips on the first day of class

First Day(s) of Class

Teaching Tips Index: First Day

Icebreaker Activities

References

Fink, L. Dee. "The First Day of Class." First Day Of Class: What Can/should We Do?. U. of Oklahoma, 1999. Web. 13 Oct. 2006.

"Teaching Strategies: First Day(s) of Class." Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. U. of Michigan, 2004. Web. 13 Oct. 2006.

"Teaching Tips." Faculty Development Teaching Tips. Honolulu Comm. Coll., 2010. Web. 13 Oct. 2006.

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