The First Day of Class

One of the most important things to accomplish during the first meeting is to set expectations for the course. These should be made clear in the syllabus, but they will be much more impactful  if you articulate them directly to your students.  At the same time, give them a taste of what to expect during class sessions – lecture, group learning, discussion, student presentations, etc. 

Having a good first meeting can set the stage for a successful course. The first meeting of a class provides opportunities to introduce yourself to students, for students to introduce themselves to you and to each other, and for you to share your vision for the course.

Some practical things to consider:

  • Visit the classroom in advance and make sure that you are familiar with the technology , furniture, and other features. Even if you taught in the same room during the previous term, things may have changed!
  • Don’t assume that all of the students have looked at the syllabus – consider bringing some paper copies.
  • Arrive early – this tells the students that you expect timeliness, and gives you some time for informal introductions with students as they enter the room.

You might consider using part of the class to “teach the syllabus”. For example, the class could be divided into small groups and each one assigned a part of the syllabus to review and come up with a question to ask the rest of the class. A syllabus “scavenger hunt” can be achieve the same thing.

Some faculty like to use a “social ice breaker” to help catalyze a sense of community and inclusion, and overcome the anonymity that some students might otherwise fall into. Let students introduce themselves.

Depending on the course, you might want to understand students’ baseline knowledge and conceptual understanding of the subject (hopefully this will be much greater at the end of the course!). You could administer an ungraded pretest ofskills and knowledge, and/or ask students to write a short self-report or execute a self-assessment probe that you have designed for this purpose.

Professor Jack Trifts shares his first day of class practices here.

CMU’s Eberly Center has some excellent suggestions for the first day of class. Other ideas can be found at:

Have some favorite ideas for “The First Day”? Share them in the comments below.

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