Teaching the first day of class

“The first day of class sets the tone for the rest of the term…To pique students’ interest, convey your enthusiasm for the material and stimulate students’ curiosity about topics that will be covered during the term. To put students at ease, try to create a relaxed, open classroom environment conducive to inquiry and participation, and let students know what you will expect from them and what they can expect from you and the course.”

Barbara Gross Davis (2009)

Wondering what to prepare for the first day? Consider the following:

1. What do students want to know about the course?

  • Learning goals
  • Teaching and learning strategies
  • Overview of content and readings
  • Assessment and grading policies
  • Important dates and deadlines

You can provide this information through:

  • A brief activity illustrating the kind of teaching, learning, and student engagement that will take place in the course
  • A typical quiz, exam, or paper assignment, and your criteria for grading
  • Collaborating on classroom norms or otherwise establishing an atmosphere in which all students will feel included.
  • A detailed syllabus

2. What do students want to know about you as their instructor?

  • What to call you (Professor, Dr., first name?)
  • How you teach, and how you expect students to learn
  • Why the subject is interesting to you

You can provide this information through:

  • Examples that illustrate teaching strategies and ways of learning successfully in the class
  • Comments from students in previous classes
  • Personal history of your work in this subject
  • Examples showing how you apply the course content in your work or use it to solve problems

3. What do you want to know about students?

  • Preferred name and pronunciation, interests, year, major
  • Relevant previous courses or prior knowledge
  • Reasons for taking the course
  • What students hope to learn in the course

You can collect this information by having students:

  • Provide information on 3×5 cards or an online survey
    • Invite students who may need accommodations (students with disabilities or student athletes for example) to make necessary requests
  • Interview and introduce a classmate
  • Do an icebreaker activity
  • Complete an ungraded assignment or quiz to show what they already know
  • Write anonymous two-minute responses at the end of class. For example:
    • What’s the most important thing you learned today?
    • What questions do you have about the class

4. What resources are available to you?

The Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) works with faculty and TAs to help advance teaching and learning at UW.

Additional reading

  • “Making the Most of the First Day of Class”, Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, Carnegie Mellon
  • The First Day“, Faculty Development Committee, Honolulu Community College
  • Felder, R. and Brent, R. (1995) “Getting Started,” Chemical Engineering Education, 29(3). 166-167.
  • Davis, B. (2009). Tools for teaching (Second ed., Jossey-Bass higher and adult education series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.