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The First Day of Class

What should you do in your First Class?

You never get a second chance to make a first impression

This adage is particularly significant in teaching. Even among experienced instructors the first day of class can create feelings of nervousness; it is important to know this nervousness is felt by both instructors and students because it is a natural human reaction to the unknown and the beginning of a new class holds so many unknowns for both instructors and students. To help strip away some of the unknowns and begin the process of building a positive learning environment there are a number of things you, as the instructor, can do.

The single most important thing you can do is hand out your course syllabus and walk students through it so there is clarity for everyone about all the key elements of the course. An understanding of the syllabus will help to alleviate students’ nervousness.

First Day of Class

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The Syllabus

Key aspects of the syllabus discussion should include:

  • The course name, number, section  
  • Your own name, office hours, and phone number
  • The text, the edition they will need, and additional readings and where to find them
  • Your expectations. Explain clearly the preparations required for class, describe assignments, quizzes, tests, and the learning outcomes for the course and how they will be evaluated
  • The policies regarding attendance, participation, and deadlines
  • Policies and procedures for late submission of work, missing assignments, and plagiarism (Refer to the Academic Honesty website for details on what instructors can and cannot do)
  • If you are willing to make exceptions, specify the circumstances and criteria

Other activities for the first day of class:

  • Tell your students something about yourself and make eye contact with them; if you are nervous, admit it - many of them will be nervous, too.
  • If the class is small enough, have the students introduce themselves aloud. Icebreaker activities may also be appropriate. If the class is too big for individual introductions, ask them to  introduce themselves to a neighbour. Some instructors also have their students provide information about themselves on a 3" x 5" card.
  • In general, maintain a conversational tone and show the students you are approachable and knowledgeable. Impart on them the importance of the class to the larger context of your disciple; you found it interesting enough to do a graduate degree in the subject after all.

Strategies to engage your students right away:

  • Discuss some of the current issues or research in the field. A major priority for the University of Saskatchewan is to make research-based learning the standard. Educating students about research in your field and conveying how dynamic the discipline is will help to move us toward that goal.
  • Give a short or light-hearted quiz to gauge class knowledge on the subject.
  • Have students discuss amongst themselves their interests and concerns for the class and then come back together as a group and share these thoughts, writing them on the board as you go.
  • Have students use free-association with one of the key words in the course title and call out words they think of or associate with the word. Write these on the board, and discuss them.
  • Have the students take part in an activity that exemplifies what a "normal" class will look like.

 All of these activities demonstrate to students that communication, participation, and interaction are essential components of the class.