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7 Tips for the First Day

Students are back in the residence halls, syllabi are (mostly) written, and somewhere, right now, a professor is planning the first day of class. A few minutes for the syllabus, then letting out early? Maybe go around the room and check attendance before they leave? While the first class may seem unimportant, it can actually be a critical time to set a positive tone for the rest of the semester. Here are 7 tips to help you “rock the first day”:

  1. Show up early and greet students as they walk in. Arriving early gives you a chance to survey the classroom and get familiar with any technology you might be using during the semester. As students enter, welcome them and begin building rapport with them. This demonstrates that you are approachable and care about their individual success.
  2. Introduce yourself to the students, and have them introduce themselves too. You can create a more collaborative environment by learning everybody’s names early on in the semester. There are plenty of ideas online for effective icebreakers to help students make connections with one another, and you might consider having students make nametags too. At Notre Dame, if you are listed as an instructor for the course, you can download students’ photos before the semester by accessing Online Photo on the Academic tab of InsideND.
  3. Collect relevant information from your students. Have them fill out a notecard with information about their major, relevant coursework, why they are taking the class, or anything else you might need to know to create a productive learning environment. You can then refer back to these notes as needed without having to remember what students said in the first class of the semester.
  4. Teach something on the first day. If the class is project-based, have them complete a minor project on the first day to give them a feel for how the rest of the semester will be. Completing a learning activity on day one indicates that this is a course where learning occurs every class period. Try using a “real-world” example to motivate students’ interest and leave them wanting to know more.
  5. Promote discussion and student interactions from the very beginning. With each successive class that does not provide an opportunity for students to participate, they become increasingly less likely to speak up. Even if you are not leading a discussion-based class, provide some time for students to ask questions and talk to one another. Students will feel more comfortable asking the critical questions later on in the semester.
  6. If your course is part of a series or dependent on students’ prior knowledge, consider having students fill out a questionnaire or ungraded quiz to assess entry-level competence. This is a good way to remind students of the ideas or skills they need to succeed in your class, as well as for you to gauge the level of understanding students are bringing to the course.
  7. Communicate your expectations to your students. Have a syllabus or policy-sheet available, but consider discussing the details of it at the end of class, after your introductions and teaching activity. At the beginning of the class you are still making first impressions; make your impression one of passion for the subject matter and commitment to the students and their education. While you should always cover the most important parts of the syllabus (such as the learning goals, the expectations, any important administrative or safety details), you could also assign an online quiz on the syllabus to ensure that students have read and understand it.

Good luck to all teachers and students in the first week of classes!

Additional Resources

Successful Beginnings for College Teaching: Engaging Your Students from the First Day by Angela Provitera-McGlynn

“Here’s Your Syllabus, See You Next Week: A Review of the First Day Practices of Outstanding Professors” by Iannarelli et al.

“Make the Most of the First Day of Class” by the Eberly Center at Carnegie Mellon University

“101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class” by Joyce Povlacs Lunde

“Teaching the First Class” by the Yale Teaching Center

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