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.

Presenting Yourself

  • 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

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.


Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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.