“The first day of class is one of the most crucial classes you will have during the semester.”
– Dave Ferreira

“The way you engage students on the first day sends powerful messages about the level of involvement and interaction you expect from them.”
-Carnegie Mellon

Kicking off your class to get it on the right foot for student success and retention requires careful thought and planning as you only get one chance to make a first impression for the course and the learning experience.

1st Class General Best Practices Goals From the Literature:

  • Do NOT dismiss the class early after a syllabus handout.
  • Assess that students are informed and confident with the general setup of the course: Regular due dates, Weekly cycle of activities, grading turn-around, late policies etc.
  • Do not make it be an “information dump” or “reading to me what I have in my hand.”
  • Chunk activities so students do not get overwhelmed and disengaged
  • Explain the WHYs of the course setup – What are YOUR (hopefully high) expectations of students? What are your assumptions?
  • Give Students an opportunity to have input/ focus on their concerns/ questions — “Let students know you are interested in how they experience the course and in any suggestions they have.” (Carnegie Mellon)
  • Find out What Students Experiences and Preconceptions of the Course Material Is — then record this and refer to or revisit it often over the first few weeks.
  • Get Students Engaged With Material & Each Other
  • What is the real-world relvance/ importance for the course material? What pressing/exciting questions/mysteries will the course answer?

Specific 1st Day Activity Ideas:

Best & Worst Classes (Weimer 2013)

  1. On the whiteboard (and or a hard copy handout form) write the following headers for a grid:
    the BEST class I ever had The WORST class I ever had
    (Class from Hell)
    What the students did What the teacher did What the students did What the teacher did
    ?? ?? ?? ??

2. Give the students a set amount of time to write down as much as they can under each of the headers on their sheet.
3. Either put students in pairs or small groups and find commonalities or have students report out individually

4. Write down students/groups responses on the whiteboard under the appropriate header.
5. After all report out, point to the BEST class experience and indicate that this is the course you want to teach here, but emphasize the key role students played in these good experiences and that everybody has a role to make it be this kind of experience.

Common Sense Inventory. Nilson (2003)

  1. Students need to determine whether 15 statements related to the course content are true or false (e.g., in a social psychology course, “Suicide is more likely among women than men,” or “Over half of all marriages occur between persons who live within 20 blocks of each other”).
  2. After paired or small group discussions, you can reveal the right answer. This works particularly well in courses where students bring in a lot of misconceptions (e.g., Introductory Physics).

 Student Questions Syllabus Scavenger Hunt

  1. Have students individually write down their 5 biggest Qs about the class at this point
  2. Put them in groups
  3. Have groups synthesize group’s TOP 3-4 most important Questions,
  4. Hand out the syllabus and course schedule
  5. Give the groups a time limit for the group to work together to find the Answers to the group Qs
  6. Have groups note New or unanswered Qs.
  7. When the time is up, have the groups report out any remaining questions they could not answer.

Expectations/ Motivations

  1. Put up 3 questions: “why are you taking this class? What are your expectations for this class?/ Other than grade, What Is your Biggest Concern About this Class?
  2. Ask students to write down answers.
  3. Then after 5 minutes or so, either put into pairs or small groups to introduce themselves to each other and share answers.
  4. Then have group report out what the top 2 reasons for taking the class are and top 3 expectations and top 3 biggest concerns.
  5. Frame the course setup to focus on areas of student interest.


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