Learning Innovation Teaching Resources

First Day of Class Tips

A successful first day can be key to a successful term. Instructors should envision the first day as more than just a day to review the syllabus. It’s an opportunity to establish expectations, set the tone for the rest of the term, and get to know students. When the students come to the first class, they are eager to know what will be taught in the course, what the instructor will be like, what will be required of them, and how they will be evaluated.  Providing a fun and dynamic first day of class will set the stage for the rest of the course.

A good rule of thumb for the first day of class is to model or demonstrate core strategies the classroom will use throughout the semester. For instance, if the course will utilize free-writing or journaling, have students get started the first day. Or, if the class will use group work and group discussions, design an icebreaker that involves groups interacting. By establishing from the onset what will be expected in the classroom, students begin forming habits from day one.

Try some of the following ideas for the first day of class:

  • Introductions: Introduce yourself and ask students to introduce themselves. To mix things up a bit you could take some class time for students to interview and introduce each other, or try another icebreaker activity.
  • Collect information about your students: Have students write down their names, contact information, majors and the last course taken in the subject area. This information will provide valuable background and help you calibrate your teaching and course content to your students’ levels and interests.
  • Review the syllabus: Review the syllabus as a group; highlight the course requirements and policies.  Discuss the objectives of the course and your approach to the subject. Discuss the readings, assignments and forms of evaluation.
  • Establish a comfortable atmosphere and professional rapport: Establishing an atmosphere in which students feel comfortable asking questions and contributing to discussion, in a respectful manner, will increase everyone’s potential for success. (For more on this, see the inclusive teaching page.)

Stuck on what kind of activity to do for the first day of class? Try one of the following activities/icebreakers:

  • Best and Worst Classes: On one section of the blackboard, write “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it: “What the teacher did” and “What the students did.” Then repeat the same on the other side of the blackboard for the worst class. Ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department, or teacher and begin filling in the grid based on what they say. Instructor should supplement with their own experiences. In about 10 minutes, two very different class portraits emerge and allow for discussion on what will make that class a successful class.
  • First Day Graffiti: Set up white boards or poster board around the room, each with a different sentence. Some examples include: “I learn best in classes where the teacher ___,”  “Students in courses help me learn when they ___,” “I am most likely to participate in classes when ___," “Here’s something that makes it hard to learn in a course: ___,” “Here’s something that makes it easy to learn in a course: ___," etc. Students are invited to walk around the room and write responses, chatting with each other and the instructor as they do. After there are comments on each space, the teacher can walk around and make comments on the responses.
  • Syllabus Scavenger Hunt: Distribute the syllabus and give students five minutes to review it. Then put them into groups and give the groups five minutes to answer 10 questions about the syllabus. The first group to answer all the questions correctly wins a prize (either literally or otherwise). This conveys the message the things students need to know about the course are in the syllabus and they should look there before asking the instructor. The goal is teaching in ways which make students responsible learners.



Other resources

Classroom Activity Contest, Portland Community College
6 Interactive Classroom Activities for College Students, Top Hat
The First Day of Class, Office of Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Learning Students' Names, Office of Graduate Studies, University of Nebraska-Lincoln