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First Day of Class

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." – Confucius

We, as instructors, can send very clear messages about the course and ourselves and set the tone and expectations for the rest of the semester by what we do on the first day. What information and attitudes do you want your students to leave with after that first class session? Here are some possible first day strategies.

Arrive early and plan to stay a bit afterwards

This is good advice for any class period, but especially so on the first day because it gives you time to settle in, it allows you to talk with some of your students before and after class and begin to establish rapport, and it sends clear messages about punctuality and caring.

Find out who your students are

Start to get to know your students. Administer a survey or conduct an icebreaker. Start to learn names. Find out something about their backgrounds, expectations, and prior knowledge. This helps to establish rapport and gives you valuable information upon which to base future class discussions.

Share some information about yourself

Give the students professional information (e.g., teaching philosophy and scholarly interests) and personal information (e.g., hobbies or where you're from). Be authentic. It builds rapport, establishes professional credibility, and can make you more approachable for class discussions and office hours.

Review the syllabus, but not too much

Rather than taking class time to completely review the syllabus, consider hitting the high points (learning outcomes, key policies, grading guidelines) and then creating a quiz for the next class session on specific syllabus content that students would take for credit.

Use the whole class period (but not more than the time allotted)

Leave some time to begin teaching the class. The message -- class time is important and the course material is important. Plus, you can accomplish the next two suggestions.

Get into the content

Introduce course content in a way that grabs students' attention. Share some little known information from your discipline, pose an intriguing question and start a class discussion, or address a current issue in the news that relates to course content. Demonstrate why the content in this course matters.

Model your teaching style from day one

Do you use clickers to promote discussion? Do you expect that the class will be interactive with the students talking to you and to each other? Do you like to use activities like one-minute papers or think-pair-shares? Start now.

Show enthusiasm for the course, the discipline, and your students

Show your enthusiasm in whatever way is congruent with your personality be it using humor, displaying high energy, or simply sharing your personal fascination with the subject. Be personable and deliver the message that you are there to help them learn.


CELT Library:

Davis, B. G. (2001). The first day of class. In Tools for teaching (pp. 20-27). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McKeachie, W. J. (1994). Meeting class for the first time. In McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (9th ed., pp. 21-27). Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath.

Scholl-Buckwald, S. (1985). “The First Meeting of Class.” In J. Katz (ed.), Teaching as Though Students Mattered. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, no. 21. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.