Tightrope over a busy street far belowThe first day of class sets the tone for the rest of the term. The following suggestions outline general strategies and address two important tasks of the first day: handling administrative matters and setting course expectations. For tips on how to create a positive classroom atmosphere, please refer to the Centre for Teaching Excellence handout on classroom management.

General strategies

  • Visit the classroom before the first meeting. Get comfortable speaking in the room and see how well your voice carries. Check any audiovisual equipment you will be using and make sure your handwriting is legible from the back of the classroom. Create a discussion forum for frequently asked questions in the course website to make it easy for students to ask you questions.
  • Build a sense of community in the classroom. Make an effort to get to know your students and express your interest in working with them during the semester.
  • Address students’ concerns. Use the first day to help your students understand how the class will serve their needs and demonstrate your commitment to helping them learn.
  • Set a positive tone for the term. Greet students when they enter the classroom, encourage questions, give students the opportunity to talk, and stay after class to answer questions.
  • Make the time worthwhile. Once administrative tasks are completed, plunge into substantive material so that your students know you are serious about making progress at each session.

Administrative tasks

  • Write the course name and number on the board. This message will alert any students who are in the wrong classroom to leave before you begin.
  • Mention departmental course policies. Explain procedures for waiting lists, adding and dropping courses, and so on. Know where to refer students with such problems.
  • Explain the procedures for the course’s sections. If your course consists of multiple tutorial sections, describe the relationship between the course and its tutorial, and how tutorials will be run. It is also beneficial to have the teaching assistants introduce themselves.
  • Review any prerequisites for the course. Let students know what skills or knowledge they are expected to have and whether alternate experience or course work will be accepted. Is help available for those who do not possess all the prerequisites?
  • Define your expectations for student participation. Besides submitting written assignments and taking exams, what do you expect of students during class?
  • Tell students about campus policies on academic integrity. State your expectations, and let students know what you regard as cheating and impermissible collaboration.
  • Hand out and discuss the course syllabus. Hearing questions about the course or the instructor on the first day identifies the concerns that are uppermost in the students’ minds.
  • Invite students to attend your office hours. Be sure students know where your office is located and encourage them to stop by with questions and course-related problems. Determine the best time during the week for "online" office hours.
  • Review safety precautions and emergency procedures. If your course requires lab work or fieldwork, review safe practices for using equipment and supplies and discuss emergency procedures.
  • Bring copies of the required texts to the first class meeting. Know which stores besides the campus bookstore carry the texts. Are used copies available? Is the textbook on reserve in the library?

Setting course expectations and standards

  • Discuss the objectives of the course. As specifically as possible, tell your students what you wish to accomplish and why, but also inquire what they wish to learn and what problems they would like to tackle. Ask students, in small groups or individually, to list the goals they hope to achieve by taking the course. Use these lists to identify your class’s interests and anticipated problem areas.
  • Describe how you propose to spend class time. How will sessions be structured and how will discussions be organized? When is it appropriate to ask questions?
  • Give your students ideas about how to study and prepare for class. Tell your students how much time they will need to study for the course and let them know about campus academic support services.
  • Ask students to do a group exercise. Select a key word from the course title and have students generate word associations or related ideas. Put their responses on the board and use the list to give a thematic overview of the course.
  • Work through a problem or piece of material that illustrates the course content. Engaging students in actual work during the first class session gives them an idea of what your class will be like.
  • Give an assignment for the next class session. By moving immediately into the first topic, you are indicating to students that the course is worthwhile, well organized, and well paced. Make sure that the assignment is ungraded, however, because students may be adding or dropping your course during the first weeks.
  • Ask students to write their reactions to the first day. Take two minutes at the end of class to have students jot down unsigned comments about what went well and what questions they have about the course, or set up a short anonymous online survey to achieve the same outcome.

(Adapted from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis)

teaching tipThis Creative Commons license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon our work non-commercially, as long as they credit us and indicate if changes were made. Use this citation format: Surviving Your First Day of Class. Centre for Teaching Excellence, University of Waterloo.