Have you thought of what you are going to do on the first day of class? There are many great resources with both general recommendations on how to approach the first day as well as specific activities that you might want to try. We have gathered a few of these below for some quick reading before the first day. Hopefully this post will give you ideas on creating an open, exciting and engaging learning environment.
We hope the first day of class doesn’t turn out like this:
So what can you do to help make that first day a memorable one?
Here are a few articles that focus on general recommendations the first day of your class.
- Five things to do on the first day of class by Maryellen Weimer
- The first day of class: a once-a-semester opportunity by Maryellen Weimer
- First day of class by Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University
- Make the most of your first day of class by Eberly Center of Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation at Carnegie Mellon
- First day(s) of class by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at University of Michigan
Here are several questions to help you plan what to do on the first day of your class:
1. What is this course all about and why should students take it?
Focusing on these question and related ones allows you to address and showcase your course content. Do you have a course concept map? A concept map can be used as a graphical representation of the concepts that comprise your course content. The first day of class is a great opporutnity to look at a concept map in detail. If the course content is your area of research, you can demonstrate your enthusiasm and excitement for the material through the concept map.
How about a different strategy than just “going over the Syllabus”? Maryellen Weimer’s post on first day of class activities discusses how to create a climate of learning. “Syllabus speed dating” is not only engaging, but actually helps students focus on the expectations in the course, and getting to know each other at the same time.
How is the course relevant to what is happening in the world? Focusing on what students will learn at the end of the course provides them with a sense of direction. Connecting your course to “real-life” can help students have more authentic learning experiences. How are you evaluating your students? The expectations that you help set on the first day will help give students a guide as to what the rest of the semester will be like. Are you planning to use active learning strategies in your classes? Try doing them the first day so that you foster a culture of feedback and interaction right from the start.
Your course could change their lives — why not focus on how it can?
2. Who are you?
Providing students with your own background and story will help make you more accessible. As the course progresses, instead of seeming like “just another professor” at the front of the class, you become a real person with interests, hopes and ideas. One McGill professor likes to share some of her own undergrad experiences with students, such as how she changed majors three times and coped with failing a course. One other suggestion from the literature recommends focusing on a personal, educational and teaching biography to organize your own background. Why are you excited to teach this course? What are some of the things you learned teaching this course in the past?
Students can’t get excited to learn if you are not excited to teach.
3. Who are your students?
Finding out more about your students allows you to form connections with them and will allow you to help foster connections between them. Where are they from? What are their backgrounds and interests? Why are they taking your course? What are they anxious about? How can they help you create the best learning environment possible? You may want to consider having students share information with you through an anonymous survey in myCourses.
Get all your students talking. Find activities that can help move everyone from being passive learners to active learners. It is important to find strategies that allow you to create an open, exciting and engaging class environment that is a safe place for students to learn.
Your students want to be there, find out why.
We hope that gives you some new ideas for your first day of class. Of course, don’t forget to have a look at our own Teaching Preparation Checklist for teaching at McGill.
Have ideas or thoughts about the first day of class? Post them in the comments below!
Associate Director, Learning Environments, Teaching and Learning Services, McGill University. Focused on our physical and digital learning environments and the appropriate and effective use of technology in teaching and learning.