Often, we assume that students are shopping for classes on the first day of the semester. We don’t want to do too much since other students will arrive the next session and some of the students sitting before us will not return. Yet the first day is an important opportunity to set the tone for the type of communication and thinking you expect throughout the semester and to provide an overarching vision of the course – precisely what students might need to know in in selecting your course.
Share the course objectives – what you hope students understand or learn to do by the end of the course. Give students a “road map” of the course – where you will be taking them (and why they should come along). Share key information about the course and your expectations, but don’t go over the syllabus word for word – that can be deadly (especially for students who are having a number of first classes).
Consider what is most important to you and work that into your first session. Here are some possibilities – select what makes sense for you and your course:
- Engage students in a discussion of a question or idea that demonstrates the kind of thinking that is important in the course
- If connecting with your students is important, share something about yourself (perhaps your intellectual journey) and ask them to introduce themselves
- If having students connect with one another and respond to one another is important, help them learn each others names and something about each other
- If you plan to use discussions, have students start talking on the first day
- If you plan to use groups frequently, put students in groups on the first day
- If you plan to use extensive writing, have some kind of short reflective writing activity
- If you want the students to be in charge of their own learning, start with an activity where they are the experts, and cannot rely on you for information.
- If you want students to be prompt, start and finish the class on time
And also, whether or not you are trying something new, expect some awkwardness. After all, it is the first day for everyone.
Further Reading: See the chapter “How Do They Treat Their Students” in Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do (Harvard Press, 2004), available in our library.