First Day of Class

We all have experienced some anxiety about the first meeting of a class. Some faculty avoid “first day anxiety” by handing out a syllabus, giving an assignment, and dismissing the class. This only postpones the inevitable. It also gives students the sense that class time is not very important. Most of all, it fails to take advantage of the opportunity to use the heightened excitement and anticipation that students bring to the first day, as well as the chance to direct that excitement toward enthusiasm for the class.

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On the first day, make sure that you arrive at the classroom early to ensure that the equipment is working properly and to engage in small talk with students. Greet students at the door as they enter the class. When students enter your classroom, they have any number of things on their mind. To help them focus, many teachers use a hook, or a three- to five-minute activity to engage students at the beginning of class (some instructors use hooks at the start of every class throughout the semester). Ideas for hooks include playing music and asking students to think about how the lyrics relate to a class topic, presenting a question to the class to begin discussion, giving a brief demonstration of a principle you will be discussing that day, or projecting a photograph, cartoon, drawing, or chart related to the day’s topic.

Some other recommendations for the first meetings of a course include making sure you start class on time and take attendance. Make note of any absences, and follow up with these students after class by contacting them via e-mail.

In addition, start to learn students’ names. To this end, there are several methods you can use to help learn the names of your students quickly:

  • Have students give their name before they speak in class.
  • Try to memorize a row of students every class period.
  • Have students make name plates with 5” x 8” index cards. Ask students to fold the cards in half and write their names on them in large print. You can collect these name plates and hand them out at the start of every class, which will also serve as a means of taking attendance without using extra class time.
  • Use students’ names as often as possible.
  • If you’re teaching a large class, divide the entire group into smaller working groups. Give each group a short project, and learn the names of everyone in a particular group. Do this several times throughout the semester to learn each student’s name.
  • Ask the students to provide index cards with their name, a photo, and an interesting fact about themselves. You can use these to study their names in between class meetings.
  • Be honest with the students and patient with yourself. Your students have to remember the names of only four or five teachers every semester, while you have many more names of students to learn. Even if you call a student by the wrong name, the class will appreciate your efforts to acknowledge them on a personal level.

Other ideas for the early meeting of a course include asking students to write out their expectations for the course, as well as what they hope to learn this semester. Assess the students’ previous knowledge by distributing a pre-test over the material you plan on covering that semester, and provide feedback on their responses as soon as possible. Each day, provide the structure for the day’s material using an outline on the chalkboard, overhead, or PowerPoint slide. This will help students see where the lecture is going, as well as aid the organization of their notes. Use multiple types of media for the presentation of the material, including overheads, films, audiotape, and models or demonstrations.

To aid student participation early in the semester, have students write questions on index cards to be collected and answered during the next class period. Finally, gather student feedback regarding the beginning of the course. Ask the students to provide suggestions regarding ways to improve your teaching and their learning.