Feed on

The first week of class is already over, and the semester is off and running, ready or not.  How was the first day?  Did you make any mistakes? Is there anything you would like to do over again?  Well, you cannot get that first day back again, but there are still many things you can do in the first three weeks to shape your class in productive and positive ways.


1) Keep learning your student’s names (Don’t give up!): taking the time early in the semester to learn the names of your students goes a long way to creating a positive learning environment.

  • Get to class fifteen minutes early so that you can meet and greet each student as they come in.
  • With a blank piece of paper, create a seating map by writing down each student’s name on the paper approximately where they are seated in the classroom. Use this map throughout the class to call on students.
  • Use the “online photo” feature of insideND to match faces and names. If you are a T.A., ask your professor to print student face shots for you.
  • While students are working on an active-learning assignment (such as a think/pair/share), go around the classroom and work on memorizing student names.
  • Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Tell your students ahead of time that you will probably make mistakes.


2) Establish a positive classroom community: the tone of the classroom is often fixed after the first few class sessions, so early on work really hard to establish the “climate” you would like to keep for the rest of the semester.

  • Learn student names (see above), and expect students to learn each other’s names.
  • Model humility and respect, and explicitly ask students to treat each other in the same way.
  • Get as many students involved as possible. Students will learn that their participation is expected and valued.
  • In the first couple of classes introduce the types of activities and assignments you would like students to do on a regular basis during the semester. If introduced later, such things will be met with more resistance.
  • Encourage questions and wait long enough (10 seconds) to allow students to actually ask.
  • Start and end class on time.
  • Stick around after class and meet with students.


3) Establish your authority as the instructor:

  • Stick to your policies and expectations early, and students will learn that you cannot be pushed over.
  • Early on, err on the side of being “too strict” and “too formal;” it is easy to become less strict and more informal as the semester progresses. Going the opposite direction, from casual to formal, is a lot more difficult.


4) Address students’ concerns:

  • If you have not already done so on the first day of class, require students to fill out a survey in which students may air their concerns and fears about the class.
  • At the next class, let students know that you have heard them and do your best to address their fears and concerns.
  • When applicable, let students know that their concerns are shared by others in the class.


5) Give feedback early and often: don’t wait until the first exam to evaluate your students’ progress.  In the first few weeks of the semester establish a precedent of regularly assessing your student’s comprehension.

  • End class sessions with a low-stakes, self-diagnostic quiz which covers the day’s material.
  • Tell students that this is a chance to see whether they have comprehended the day’s learning goals.
  • Immediately afterwards, have students grade each other’s quizzes; quiz grading is another form of active learning!
  • Expose students early to the types of questions that you intend to give them on their exams.


Additional resources:

101 Things You Can Do in the First Three Weeks of Class” by Joyce T. Povlacs, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Colorado State University’s teaching page.

For more tips and extensive Bibliography, see: Barbara Gross Davis “The First Day of Class,” pages 37-47 in Tools for Teaching (Jossey-Bass, 2009); available at the Kaneb Center’s Library.

Cf. Linda B. Nilson, “The First Day of Class,” pages 43-50 in Teaching at Its Best: A Researched-Based Resource for College Instructors (Jossey-Bass, 2010); also available at the Kaneb Center’s Library.





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