I don’t know if the first day of class is the most important day of the course, but I don’t think many of us would disregard its significance. What we do and how we do it matters. There are lots of good first-day activities—we’ve shared some in this blog over the years. In this post I’d like to move our thinking in a different direction and suggest five first-day essentials that go beyond the activities. These are the goals for the first day that we can use the activities to accomplish.
It’s the first day of class. They shuffle in, spot similar life-forms, and slip in with that group. Hipsters sporting wild hair and tats, buttoned-up and serious young scholars, middle-aged moms and dads, maybe a couple of aging hippies. One or two sad souls choose spots isolated from the others; they don’t want to identify with them for reasons of insecurity, arrogance, or something else.
There’s no discounting the importance of the first day of class. What happens that day sets the tone for the rest of the course. Outlined below are a few novel activities for using that first day of class to emphasize the importance of learning and the responsibility students share for shaping the classroom environment.
I bring a box to the first day of class — especially if it’s a course with beginning students. At precisely the time class starts, I walk into the room with my box filled with random, quirky objects. I like to include a small Alf doll, a pad of Post-its, some scissors, perhaps a can of Slim-Fast, a candle, a rock, a comb, and maybe six or seven other objects indiscriminately gathered as I leave for class. As soon as I enter the room, I put the box on the table; take each article out; place it on the table; and finally, when all of them are out, return them to the box. Then I ask the students to take out a piece of paper and write down as many of the items as they can remember.