Getting Started with the First Day of Class
First impressions are important. In the first 30 seconds of class, students form an opinion of you (Rosenthal & Ambady, 1993, p. 101). Many strategies can be used on the first day, as well as throughout the first few weeks of class, to set the tone for a safe, inclusive, and productive classroom environment. Below are just a few techniques instructors have done to get a class off to a good start.
- Think about what students want to know about you, such as your personality and teaching style.
- Communicate confidence.
- Express enthusiasm for the subject and for student learning.
- Smile, laugh, and convey openness.
- Prepare for the first day of class just as you would for presenting at a conference or delivering a speech. This is especially important for larger-sized classes.
Be Mindful of how the Classroom is Arranged
- Visit the classroom to orient yourself before the first day.
- Check that the set-up of the room is appropriate for the class activities.
- Check that the technology works properly.
- Rearrange furniture before students arrive.
Get to Know Each Other
- Make name placards for the first weeks of class.
- Use a low-risk icebreaker.
- Introduce yourself to students as they enter the room.
- Tell a story about yourself. Explain how you became interested in the field.
- Invite questions.
- Introduce teaching assistants and/or lab instructors.
Set the Tone
- Give students a sense of your teaching style. Get started with learning activities that you plan to use throughout the course, such as interactivity, group work, or writing assignments.
- Communicate high and reasonable expectations. Make clear what students need to do in order to be successful in the course.
- Establish expectations for classroom behavior. Consider having students contribute ideas.
Collect Initial Feedback
- Use index cards to collect contact and background information.
- Request that students share their expectations or questions about the course.
- Ask students to share one thing they hope to learn in the course.
Introduce Course Content
- Hook students on the content with an intriguing question or problem.
- Explain learning outcomes of the course.
- Connect course content to students’ lives or current events.
- Describe how students will be assessed.
Check Background Knowledge
- Do a quick pre-test or background knowledge survey.
- Ask students to work through a problem and assess their ability to do so.
- Collect a sample of their writing to check their writing skills.
Review Administrative Details
- Display the course name and number clearly on a screen or on the board.
- Review important administrative details in the middle rather than at the beginning of class.
- Ask permission to share the class roster and present students as resources to each other for questions regarding class procedures.
Wrap up the First Class
- Assign a short task that will be collected during the next class.
- Ensure there is enough time for questions.
- Ask students to reflect on the first class in a short, written summary.
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Case, K. A., Bartsch, R., McEnery, L., Hall, S., Hermann, A., & Foster, D. A. (2008). Establishing a comfortable classroom from day one: Student perceptions of reciprocal interview. College Teaching, 56(40), 210-214.
Davis, B. G. (2009). Tools for teaching (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Kirk, D. (2005). Taking back the classroom: Tips for the college professor on how to be a more effective teacher. Seattle, WA: Tiberius Publications.
Rosenthal, R., & Ambady, N. (1993). Half a minute: Predicting teaching evaluations from thin slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64(3), 431-441.
Svinicki, M., & McKeachie, W. J. (2011). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.