The First Day of Class

The first day of class sets the tone for the course. Use the first class meeting to set expectations about student conduct and class organization.  For example, if you expect students to participate regularly, conduct an activity on the first day that will elicit student participation. Clarify expectations in your syllabus and during the first day’s discussion.

As you prepare for the first day of classes, we wanted to share a short excerpt from What Inclusive Instructors Do.  

“Imagine the first day of class when the instructor walks into the classroom to prepare to start teaching.  A sea of new faces looks intently upon them as they set down their belongings.  These learners bring not only their notebooks and pens but also their social identities, prior knowledge of the material, personalities, motivations, physical and mental capabilities, mindset, life experiences, circumstances, and much more.  Many of these attributes may not be visible to the instructor, but they will likely have a large impact on whether each student succeeds in the course.”

More ideas for the first day of class:

  • Take attendance. You can call roll, make a seating chart, or have students introduce themselves. Try coming a few minutes early to chat to early arriving students, noting their presence, and get a jump start on learning names.
  • Discuss the syllabus. Talk about your course policies on student behavior, attendance, and grading. Provide a printed version of the syllabus for students’ reference (although posting one on Sakai is always welcome, too).  Don’t want to read the syllabus to them?  Play a quiz game.  Or, while you take attendance, have students read the syllabus and write down two questions about the syllabus; then answer questions.
  • Learn names. If you struggle with learning student names, some tricks include using name tents or cards, learning 5-10 names each class meeting, taking photos of your students, annotating your attendance sheet, or making a seating chart. Read this helpful article containing a wide variety of suggestions (via this link).
  • Find something out about your students through a survey, introductions, or other means. Getting to know your students personalizes the class and helps to develop a comfortable space for learning.
  • Cover content. Make a point to begin discussing the content of the course on the first day. Beginning academic work on the first day takes the students’ time seriously and places the course content front-and-center.
  • Express enthusiasm. Your enthusiasm for the material and for the course emphasizes why students should also be excited about this new learning opportunity.  Enthusiasm doesn’t have to be energetic, if that’s not your style. Convey your excitement in a way that’s comfortable to you. Gushing over calculus applications may work better for me while dreaming out-loud about your first encounter with a course topic may work better for others.