First Day Essentials

Considerations for Setting a Positive Tone on the First Day

  • Begin with enthusiasm. Early in a course, communicating great enthusiasm for teaching and for the content of the course may be even more important than communicating expertise (see video: Teaching with Enthusiasm and Teacher Presence).
  • Welcome & introduce the class. Write a welcome statement on the board/screen, greet students as they arrive, state your name, and briefly describe the big ideas of the class in a way that "hooks" their interests (see video: Welcoming Students on the First Day, Iowa State University). Also consider using multimedia tools such as an introductory video or a Prezi with pre-recorded audio via Relay 5 (see Lecture Capture and Podcasting for tips).
  • Introduce yourself. Tell a short personal story relating why you are passionate about the content and teaching. A brief history of how you got involved in the subject area, how it applies to life, or how it has applied to you can help less motivated students see the practical application of the content.
  • Allow the class to introduce themselves to one another. Help students begin to establish a sense of community (see Creating Classroom Connections¬†online video module.) Whether the activity is done with the entire group (in smaller classes) or in divided groups (in larger classes), arrange chairs so that students can make eye contact with each other and you. A simple guided introduction could include having students share their name, class year and major, and respond to a prompt about the course topic or their prior knowledge/experience with it. For other icebreaker ideas, see The Most Important Day, HCC.
  • Learn student names. While not always possible in large classes, reviewing the photo roster (via Web4U) and making some attempts will go a long way (see: Not Quite 101 Ways to Learning Students' Names, U. of Virginia). To help learn the pronunciation of students' names, see: PronounceNames.com.
  • Begin to evaluate and acknowledge prior knowledge the students may bring to class. If the general level of knowledge is found to be higher or lower than expected, the class can be "fine tuned" if needed. Questions used in the "guided" introduction can be designed to assess background knowledge. Additional strategies include:
    • Straw Poll: use it to ask students some general questions regarding their familiarity with the content. They respond with a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", indicating their familiarity, or lack thereof. This can be integrated with a presentation, allow for anonymity and engage students via the use of Student Response Systems like Socrative.
    • Concept Maps: If the general level of knowledge is found to be higher or lower than expected, the class can be "fine tuned" if needed (see the CIIA's online video module, Classroom Assessment Technique: Concept Maps).
    • Also see: How to Assess Students' Prior Knowledge, Carnegie Mellon
  • Introduce the Syllabus. The above "warm-up" strategies provide context for, and can serve as a lead-in to handing out and discussing the syllabus. Students could form groups and develop summaries or questions about the syllabus, or participate in a "jigsaw" activity to cover longer syllabi.
  • Set the Tone. What happens during the first meeting of your class sets the tone for the rest of the term. Communicate your expectations so students understand clearly what they'll need to do during the course to be effective, then provide support to meet the expectations (Communicating High Expectations to Students podcast). Alsoc give students an idea of what they can expect from you and the course (see: Truth in Advertising: Course Expectation and Requirements). Whether you intend to incorporate active learning strategies, student response systems, or peer interaction, be sure to include at least a "taste" of that the first day.
  • Define rules of engagement that clarify student participation and help create and support an inclusive learning environment, one that emphasizes respect and civility (see: Guide for Setting Ground Rules, Creating Inclusive College Classrooms and the Inclusive Teaching Toolkit).

 Opening Closing Routines

Management of the Classroom



Source Information

What to do on the First Day of Class, from The Center for Teaching and Learning, UC Berkeley.

McKeachie, W. J. (1986). Teaching Tips: A Guidebook for the Beginning College Teacher. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath & Company.

Wlodkowski, R. J. (2008). Enhancing Adult Motivation to Learn: A Comprehensive Guide for Teaching All Adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Wright, D. L. (1999). The Most Important Day: Starting Well, as republished from University of Nebraska online via Honolulu Community College.