First Day of Class/Introduction Activities
The first day of class is important no matter the modality, level of learners we are working with, or how many first days an instructor may have had. Each course is different, and it can still cause some nervousness. In this first meeting, we want to welcome learners to the space (whether physical or digital) and give a bit of a preview, or a roadmap, of the semester ahead. It is important to take time to introduce ourselves and our teaching style, while also facilitating activities for students to interact with one another. We also want to get to know the students who are taking our class, not only to make human-centered connections, but also because how we teach and approach learning is impacted by the prior knowledge and experiences our learners bring to the table.
It sets the tone.
Dr. Linda Nilson, on leading the first day of class
- Introduce yourself. You can determine how much of yourself you want to share, but who you are, your education and experience, and your relationship to the subject matter are all good places to start.
- Have students introduce themselves. Of course, you may have them share their name, area of study, and years at the school, but there are a lot of great introduction activities you can use that are effective for all types of personalities and work to build a sense of community day one. Resources for activity ideas can be found below.
- Give a tour. Many instructors have an online component to their class housed within the learning management system; it is recommended that you give a tour of your digital space so that students know how to navigate to the areas they will need throughout the semester. This is especially important in online, hybrid, or flexible courses.
- Clarify your learning objectives and expectations. Some students may still be feeling out whether or not the class is a good fit for them at this time within the context of other obligations and credit hours. Share a roadmap of the course and clearly articulate what the class will entail and what the students will gain from the course.
- Spark curiosity. In project-based learning, the project begins with an entry event. This event is meant to be memorable and to get students thinking about the upcoming unit or lessons. The same can be true for the first day of class. Have students do a bit of active learning, such as brainstorming or generating a hypothesis around what might happen in the course based on a reading or a title, asking them to dig into current events surrounding your subject, or to make connections to their own lives.
- Model the environment you will have throughout the semester. For instance, if you do a lot of group work, you may consider breaking into groups. If you are working through difficult materials that necessitate trust, you may work on "norming," or establishing a baseline for those activities.
- Gather information about your learners. Consider conducting a needs assessment to find out what your learners are bringing to the classroom, what they might know about the topic, why they are taking the course, what they hope to gain, and what they might perceive as a challenge. Then, after you have collected this data, you might decide to approach certain lessons differently, add more support materials or adjust the amount of time you spend on a certain lesson, for example.
- Housekeeping. While this is not necessarily the focus of the first day, it is important to make sure students know about drop add dates, breaks, other important deadlines, and pertinent University information.
Interested in trying some activities? Here are a few to get you started.
- Ideas for an introduction discussion in Elearning (the learning management system)
- Check out some of the community building activities at OneHE. They have activities related to topics including introductions, warm-ups, and setting the tone.
Finally, check out How to Teach a Good First Day of Class: Advice Guide by James M. Lang for more tips starting with theory, moving through logistics and practice, follow-up activities, and resources.
- "Make the Most of the First Day of Class," posted by Carnegie Mellon University's Eberly Center Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation.
- "First Day of Class," posted by the Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching.
- Lang, J. (n.d.). How to Teach a Good First Day of Class: Advice Guide. Chronicle.com.