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Teaching the first day of class

Whether you’ve taught for a year or a decade, the first day of class often brings a mix of excitement and nervous anxiety. It is a time of new beginnings – a chance to meet new students, share new information, and try out new teaching strategies.

How should you spend the first day of a course? Like a lot of other things in teaching, there’s no one “right” way to tackle the first day, but there are a few things to aspire to: conveying your passion for your field, piquing students’ interest, assuring students that they are welcome, and setting expectations.

Suggestions for the first day of class

As you set out to design your first day, here are some suggestions to guide your planning:

Provide students with basic information about the course

Consider sharing information about:

  • Course learning goals
  • Course content and readings
  • Types of assessments and your grading policies
  • Important dates and deadlines
  • How to get in touch with the instructor(s)

Tell students a little about yourself

For example, you might share:

  • What you prefer to be called (e.g., Professor? Doctor? First name?)
  • Why you find your field and the subject of the course fascinating
  • Your teaching philosophy or preferred teaching strategies

Ask your students a bit about themselves

Consider having students answer the questions below on a 3×5 index card or Canvas survey, or have them interview a classmate. You might also structure an icebreaker activity to help students open up.

  • What do they preferred to be called and how do they pronounce their name?
  • What year are they? In what do they hope to major?
  • What prior knowledge or coursework do they have on the subject of the class?
  • Why are they taking the course?
  • What do they hope to learn in the course?
  • What questions do they have about the course?

Take advantage of UW’s instructional support teams

  • To work with someone on your campus, see our Contact page.
  • UW’s Learning Technologies team can help you navigate the ins and outs of using learning technologies like Canvas, Panopto, and Zoom. Check out their Workshops and office hours page.