The First Day of Class
Consult this recent webinar highlighting effective teaching practices for the First Day of Class presented by UNT faculty and Dean of Students. Presenters focused upon their own plans for their own First Day of Class and included materials and wisdom gained from past experiences. They referred often to the UNT Teaching Excellence Handbook 2015-16 that is linked in the resources on this page. Also note the “Teaching Strategy Form” we designed to help you with your planning. The webinar presenters addressed the following topics:
- Creating a positive first impression with your students
- Setting the tone and format for your course
- Establishing open communication with students
- Introducing course components and tools
- Sharing course expectations and procedures
- Helping students learn about one another
- Generating interest in your course.
You can read more about the presenters here.
The first day of class can be a source of excitement and anxiety for students and instructors. By planning ahead and creating a list of important points to cover, the first day can set a positive tone for the rest of the semester.
Before the first class meeting, there are a few tasks you should complete:
- Order books (via your department administrator).
- Contact your TAs to get their office hours and discuss duties.
- Consult with CLEAR about use of Blackboard and classroom technology.
- Prepare your class syllabus and materials.
- Provide syllabus, office hours, and contact information to department administrative assistant.
- Arrange to have copies made if you plan to use paper materials.
- Create filing system (electronic and/or paper) for course materials.
- Develop a system for taking attendance (to verify audit rolls).
- Post your online materials on Blackboard and make the Blackboard page available to your students.
- Practice your lecture and any instructions you will give for activities.
- Stop by the classroom to ensure that the technology you plan to use (computer, projector, speakers) are present, working properly, and that you know how to access them. Also check for supplies you plan to use (chalk, dry erase markers, etc.).
Use the entire class period the first time you meet. This will show students that class time is valuable to you. You can make productive use of your time by addressing two basic goals:
- To communicate your expectations for the class and answer questions students have about the course requirements.
- To learn about the students who are taking your class and what their needs and expectations are.
You can accomplish these goals by meeting the following objectives:
Create a positive first impression. Arrive early for class so you can set up and test technology ahead of time and avoid technical issues during class. Be available before class to interact with students who may have questions. You may find that students are unsure about approaching you, so take time to greet students as they come in.
Whether your teaching style is formal or relaxed, you will need to do a couple things to ensure students view you as a professional authority figure in the classroom: start and end class on time, and have a well-organized and comprehensive syllabus in hand. Bring extra copies if you plan to hand out the syllabus. Alternatively, you may post it online.
Your choice of clothing on the first day of class will affect student's perceptions of you. Dressing formally will communicate authority and expertise. Dressing informally will communicate greater approachability. For those who are younger or of smaller stature, dressing a bit more formally on the first day than you usually would (especially if you are incline to dress casually) will give you an air of authority and set you apart from the students.
The physical arrangement of the classroom will create a first impression about the course as well. Rows of desks tend to imply a more formal atmosphere, while desks arranged in a circle or U-shape create a more relaxed climate.
Introduce yourself. Tell students who you are and why you are teaching the course. You may want to share a bit about yourself, such as your background and qualifications, whether you have a formal or informal teaching style, or why you are excited about teaching the course. There are some things students don't need to know. Avoid sharing that this is your first time teaching the course, you don't enjoy teaching the course, and unnecessary personal information that may cause students to lose respect for your authority in the classroom. Have the TAs for the course introduce themselves as well.
Set the tone for the course. On the first day of class, it is important to use the same format you plan to use for the rest of the semester. For example, if you plan to do group work throughout the semester, have students get into groups on the first day for discussion or a brief activity. If you plan to use a discussion format, start a discussion on the first day about the course requirements or course topics. This will help students understand the level of interaction and involvement you want from them.
Establish open communication with students. Ask each student to make a voluntary or required appointment to visit you during your office hours. This will break the ice in a brief one-on-one interaction and provide them an opportunity to find your office. If they have done these things, it's more likely they will come to you for help later. Additionally, tell students you are interested in their experience of the course and solicit feedback. It is a good practice to provide students a way of giving you feedback after the first three weeks of the course so you can improve your teaching and incorporate appropriate suggestions.
Share your expectations. Your goals and expectations for the course will be outlined in the syllabus and you should go over this information verbally with students. If there are any prerequisites for the course, let students know. Talk about the structure of the course, learning objectives, grading policies, expectations for classroom behavior, and any other important aspects of the course that students need to be aware of. You may choose to administer a quiz covering the content on the syllabus to emphasize it's importance. It's also helpful to share strategies for succeeding in your course, such as regular class attendance, reading the material before class meetings, and forming study groups with other students.
Students will often have the following questions on the first day of class. If possible cover these as you are going over the syllabus.
- Will material for tests be from the lecture, book, etc.?
- What types of questions will be on tests?
- How should students prepare for tests?
- Will you provide a review sheet?
- How will written assignments be graded?
- Is there extra credit or a curve?
Address administrative procedures. Take attendance on the first day (and each day for the first two weeks) so you can complete the audit roster. You will also need to share information about the following:
- Add/drop dates
- Enrollment caps and waitlists
- Procedures for obtaining ODA and in-class accommodations
- Safety procedures
- Other relevant administrative information
Learn about students. You can learn basic information about students, such as major, classification, and view their student ID photo under the faculty tab in your MyUNT portal.
During the first class collect additional information about baseline knowledge students will need to be successful in your course. If you plan to have your students work in teams, you can use this knowledge to ensure a good mix of stronger and weaker students in each group. Collecting information about each student's motivation for the course is also important. Ask about why they are taking the course, what they hope to learn, and what challenges they anticipate.
Help students learn about each other. Creating a positive social climate will help students to be more engaged in the course. Consider using an ice-breaker activity to increase comfort and energy in the classroom. Here are some examples of great ice-breaker activities:
- Lansing Community College Center for Teaching Excellence: Icebreaker Activities (32 strategies).
- Human Bingo: Create a four by four bingo card with a different characteristic in each box, such as freshman, has traveled abroad, married, and lives on campus. Have students ask each other if they have one of the characteristics on the card. No one may use a given student for more than one characteristic. When a student does have one of the characteristics, they will sign their name in the corresponding box. Whoever has all the boxes signed on their card first shouts "Bingo" and wins a prize. Bring several prizes in case there is a tie.
Generate interest in the course. Discuss material related to the course on the first day and share your enthusiasm about the subjects to be covered. This will get students to begin thinking about the course and motivate them to prepare for the next class. Here are a few suggestions for activities that can be used to engage students:
- Generate a possible table of contents for the course textbook.
- Have each student make a list of topics that might be covered in the course textbook.
- Ask students to then pair up, share their lists, and arrange the all their ideas into categories.
- Ask the pairs to name the categories.
- Finally, have the pairs combine their ideas with another pair of students. These groups of four can then organize their combined categories into a possible table of contents for the course textbook. Ask each group to share their table of contents with the class.
- Conduct a survey with students about a topic relevant to the course.
- Ask students to form a hypothesis about an issue or problem related to the course material.
- Discuss the course content in the context of current events.
- Common sense inventory: Create 10-15 statements about the course material, some of which are counter to common beliefs. Then have students mark which are true or false and discuss their answers in small groups. You can allow them to debate the issues or ask them to reach a consensus on the items. Have the groups share their experience of the debate or consensus answers with the class. You can share the correct answers with them immediately or allow the correct answers to be revealed over the course of the semester.
To discuss your own first day of class or request further information please contact, Nancy Fire 940-369-8744 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Carnegie Mellon University. (n.d.). Make the most of the first day of class. Retrieved from www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/teach/firstday.html
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Lyons, R., McIntosh, M., & Kysilka, M. (2003). Teaching college in an age of accountability. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Nilson, L. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.
University of North Texas. (2015). Teaching Excellence Handbook 2015-2016 (p. 72). Retrieved from http://clear.unt.edu/sites/default/files/TEH.2015-16.Final_.pdf
Dai, M. (2007). 10 ways to engage students in an online course. Retrieved from: http://www.hartnell.edu/sites/default/files/llark/online_classroom_newsletter.pdf
Faculty Focus (website). First Day of Class postings: Available at: http://www.facultyfocus.com/tag/first-day-of-class
USC Center for Excellence in Teaching. First day of class. Retrieved from: http://cet.usc.edu/resources/teaching_learning/first_day.html
Weimer, M. (2013, January 9). First day of class activities that create a climate for learning. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from: http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/first-day-of-class-activities-that-create-a-climate-for-learning