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The First Day of Class

Ever wish you could spice up that first day of class so that it doesn’t just include you reading from the syllabus? Below are some efficient ways to disseminate syllabus information that may be more dynamic and interesting than simply reading out the text of the syllabus word by word:

  • The book, Teaching What You Don’t Know, which is highly recommended by the Kaneb Center, suggests requiring students to perform a “Student Group Syllabus Review.” The task includes having students read through the syllabus and answer focused discussion questions together. This is a fun, active learning exercise that ensures that students are fully acknowledging the terms and content of your syllabus.
  • On his blog, Open Thinking, Dr. Alec Couros at The University of Regina suggests creating a course trailer to show on the first day of class. This is great idea for those who are tech savvy, especially those who will be asking their students to design multimedia projects. You might not be able to include all the important information here (grading scale, etc) but the trailer will enable you to at least address major themes and learning goals in a easy to follow, entertaining way.
  • If you really want to underscore active learning and are comfortable with collaboration, you may wish to build parts of your syllabus with the students on the first day. This may include creating assignments, rubrics and grading expectations together. I would recommend this only for experienced teachers.

Other Tips:

Always build in an activity to help students get to know you and one another. It doesn’t have to be a formal ice breaker activity and may even include some informal chat time. At the very least, have students introduce one another.

If you have extra time, use it to further frame the course. Always have a short assignment available just in case you have extra time left over after the syllabus review and introductions. It should not be a full lesson but rather something quick that introduces a thread that can be easily picked up and developed into a more fleshed out lesson in the next class session.

Further Reading:

  • Huston, Therese. Teaching What You Don’t Know. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009. Appendix C includes examples of a “Student Group Syllabus Review.
  • Couros, Alec. “10 Ideas for Classroom Video Projects.” Open Thinking.http://educationaltechnology.ca/couros/2127
    Number 6 on Couros’ list introduces the course trailer and provides an example. The other 9 items on the list might be helpful for generating ideas for the course trailer.
  • Leahy, R. Conducting writing assignments. College Teaching, 50.2 (2002): 50 – 54. This article includes suggestions on how to create course materials with student collaboration.

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