Tips for the First Day

Use these tips on the first day of class to set the tone for teaching and learning.

1.  Conduct a Flight Check before class

Visit your classroom (or online course shell) and check to make sure the physical and visual environment is ready, clutter-free and inviting. Do this even if someone else will be in the room before you.

2. Be an Early Bird: Arrive Early

Greet students at the door (or near the door) and start class on time.

3. Just Talk: Introduce Yourself

Introduce yourself. Provide carefully-selected background on your personal and professional life. Introduce the course by easing into it with a story, dilemma, scenario, or example that immediately brings students into your context.

4. Body Language: Anticipate your Typical Nonverbal Behavior

Stand in the front. Then move to the side. Then walk around the room. Try to be in close proximity to as many students as possible on the first day. Hold an open body posture: shoulders back, arms at sides or gesturing out to them. Smile!

5. They Don't Yet Understand: Identify Student Misperceptions About Your Class

Offer 10-15 statements about your subject that are either true or false. Have students decide which are true/false and discuss. Decide what prior information is truly necessary for the course. Turn this into a writing prompt, and ask them to write a One-Minute Paper. Collect these paragraphs and use them for impromptu discussion. Identify their misunderstandings early and build your teaching around them.

6. Crack the Silo: Create Interdisciplinary and In-Disciplinary Connections

Creating long-term retention involves building connections between our course and the others students take and to other disciplines and fields. Use a Venn diagram to show how your class fits into larger disciplinary areas. Discuss Pre and Post-requisite courses and where your course fits into their degree progression. Explain how they can use this content on the job, in graduate school, or in daily life.

7. Hold that Syllabus: Don't Give it Out Right Away

Consider distributing the syllabus in the last portion of the first session and using the first part to introduce the course in other ways. Consider explaining the syllabus in detail on the second class session after students have had time to absorb the big picture of the course.

8. Clarify Expectations: And Be Prepared to Do This Repeatedly

Use the First Day to explain procedures and policy, but also to clearly tell them your expectations for their performance. Provide a path to success –a checklist of what they need to do to succeed.

9. Don't Break the Ice: Tread in Deeper Water Instead

Skip ice-breaker events, especially with experienced students and instead use deeper engagement activities related to the course content to allow them to get to know each other and you.

10. Use Every Minute: Keep Them Until the Very End

They may (will) complain, but students will respect you for using all of the First Day, especially if you use it well. Alternatively, if you release them early, you may set an immediate perception that class time is not important to you. Note: If you use every minute but do so in an onerous way, this strategy may backfire.