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Teaching Tips

Make the First Day of Class Set the Stage for Success

Ever feel like your first day of class is full of dreaded administrative tasks and boring syllabus review?  When reflecting on your “first days,” how would you say you meet the following first day of class goals (Desrochers, 2008).

Goal #1 Establish motivation for the course

  • Do a vivid demonstration or something attention-getting
  • Describe (or elicit) how the course will benefit students

Goal #2 Frame the entire course

  • “The five essential questions this course will answer are…”
  • Describe how this course fits in the major or program

Goal #3 Establish expectations

  • Discuss course materials/tools
  • Do some group work or activities if that’s part of the course
  • Introduce a concept (Learning is what we do in this course.)

Goal #4 Complete essential administrative requirements

  • Do an activity around the syllabus (e.g., scavenger hunt, group worksheet)

Goal #5 Assess students informally

  • Do an ungraded classroom assessment that gets at prior knowledge
  • Assess attitudes towards the subject or misconceptions

Goal #6 Create a comfortable classroom climate

  • Allow the students to start to get to know each other and you
  • Do an icebreaker or some activity that encourages interaction

While you may not meet all five of these goals on the first day, being intentional about which goals you can meet can help you make the most of your first day and set the tone for the rest of the semester. Below are a few novel activities (adapted from Weimer, 2017) that can help you better meet some of the first day of class goals.

First Day Graffiti – This is an adaptation of an activity proposed by Barbara Goza in the Journal of Management Education in 1993. Flip charts or white board space with markers beneath are placed around the classroom. Each location has a different sentence stem such as:

“I learn best in classes where the teacher ___”
“Students in courses help me learn when they ___”
“I am most likely to participate in classes when ___”
“Here’s something that makes it hard to learn in a course: ___”
“Here’s something that makes it easy to learn in a course: ___”

Students are invited to walk around the room and write responses, chatting with each other and the teacher as they do. After there are comments on every flip chart, the teacher walks to each one and talks a bit about one or two of the responses. If you run out of time, you can conduct the debriefing during the next session.

Syllabus Speed Dating – Karen Eifler, an education professor at the University of Portland, designed this activity. Two rows of chairs face each other (multiple rows of two can be used in larger classes). Students sit across from each other in a line, each with a copy of the syllabus that they’ve briefly reviewed. Students are asked two questions: one about something in the syllabus and one of a more personal nature. The pair has a short period of time to answer both questions. The instructor checks to make sure the syllabus question has been answered correctly. Then students in one of the rows move down one seat and the new pairs are asked two different questions. This activity gets students acquainted with each other and gets them reading the syllabus to explore what they need to know about the course.

Additional articles/resources to help you begin the new semester:

Contributed by
Dr. Tasha Souza
Associate Director, Center for Teaching and Learning
Boise State University

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