students working in whiteboard on first day of class July 19

First Day of Class Activities that Create a Climate for Learning

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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.


student on a laptop July 11

How Student Learning Can Begin before the First Day of Class

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The first time my middle school-aged son attended a Major League ballgame, he was astounded by what the players were doing on the field before the game. He saw some of his favorite players contorting in all sorts of positions: balancing, running backwards and sideways, even lying on the ground, some stretching their hamstrings with enormous rubber bands. One player even stood on one leg with outstretched arms. He could not understand why all those moves were required, since he never witnessed a single one of those motions in the game. But even through his misunderstanding, he did recognize something significant: all the players believed in what they were doing, even if he could not see the significance behind their pregame gymnastics. Essentially, my son saw the importance of the practice routine before the big game, even if he did not fully comprehend it. And even more importantly, he witnessed the characteristics of practice the players needed even if they performed in ways not directly related to the practice.

And so it is with college teaching. Students and their professors see the importance of the first day, that big game. But often they do not make the connection with the practice routine, divorced from the look and feel of when they’re keeping score during the semester. But even those professors and their students who recognize the primacy of practice can still find it difficult, even impossible, to find enough time on the first day to initiate such practice. After all, there’s the syllabus to go over, the structure of the class to introduce, names to learn and mispronounce. There’s so many activities for professors to do. And perhaps that’s the core problem. It is professors who are explaining, exhibiting, and demonstrating. They are taking on all the activities of practice that they want their students to enact. And while professors are practicing on the field, students assume another role and become the spectators in the stands, wondering why all this practice is necessary before they have to take the field themselves and play the big game.

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Four puzzle pieces July 5

Four Things to Do on the First Day of Class

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First impressions are important and you can make favorable ones on the first day of class by doing things just a bit out of the ordinary. Here are some ideas.

  1. If it’s a course where students don’t think they know anything about the content, start by dissecting course title. For each keyword, ask student to report (or write down) the first word or phrase that comes to mind. Make a collection of these on the computer or white board. Accept all associations. Then use the collection to provide an overview of the course, pointing out (where it’s appropriate) that students aren’t as clueless about the content as they may think they are. It’s also a useful way to establish a common foundation, the place on which you can start building the course structure.

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students collaborating in class January 11

The First Days of Class: Building Authenticity and Community

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Regardless of whether you’ve been teaching for 15 years or 15 minutes, how to act and what to do on the first day of class seems to be something many faculty are constantly revising. The impact of the lasting nature of the first impression may lead to nervousness on the first day of the semester. Consequently, many of us may feel pressured to adopt a personality or plan that doesn’t necessarily resonate with who we are for the rest of the semester or in our outside lives.

We’ve discovered some ways that not only help you feel prepared for class but also create an authentic community conducive to learning in a non-threatening environment. What follows are a few of our best practices.

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students in lecture hall April 13, 2016

The Last Class Session: How to Make It Count

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“First and last class sessions are the bookends that hold a course together.” I heard or read that somewhere—apologies to the source I can’t acknowledge. It’s a nice way to think about first and last class sessions. In general, teachers probably do better with the first class. There’s the excitement that comes with a new beginning. A colleague said it this way: “Nothing bad has happened yet.” Most of us work hard to make good first impressions. But by the time the last class rolls around, everyone is tired, everything is due, and the course sputters to an end amid an array of last-minute details. Here are a few ideas that might help us finish the semester with the same energy and focus we mustered for the first class.


teaching face to face January 4, 2016

First Impressions: Activities for the First Day of Class

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The old expression that you never have a second chance to make a first impression is certainly true in the classroom. Early in my career, I tried several first-day-of-class strategies, ranging from briefly introducing the course and dismissing students early to spending the entire time reviewing policies and procedures, but I began to feel that I was missing an important opportunity. Students are never more attentive than they are on the first day of class, when they’re eager to determine what kind of professor they’re dealing with, and although it is tempting to delay the real work of teaching and learning until the class list has stabilized, it can be difficult to change even the subtle norms that are established during this initial class. Several years ago, I tried a new approach, and I’ve been using it with great success ever since.



Young professor on first day of class July 20, 2015

First Day of Class Activity: The Interest Inventory

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The interest inventory is a simple tool to help you acquaint yourself with your students. Unlike many icebreakers, the interest inventory is a paper-based activity and students do not have to give answers aloud in front of class. The interest inventory, therefore, helps you get to know your students privately and allows you to ask different questions than you would during oral introductions.


June 27, 2014

Opening Intentions for the First Day of Class

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Editor’s Note: In last week’s Teaching Professor Blog, Maryellen Weimer mentioned an article that originally appeared in the Nov. 2010 issue of The Teaching Professor newsletter. Due to numerous requests from readers, we’re sharing that article here.

I was the invited outside speaker at a professional development event for schoolteachers. The day’s lunch was preceded by a public prayer that inspired me to consider parallels in “callings to serve” that can be found in both education and religion. Sometime later, I happened to read a poem in a Jewish prayer book that expressed noble intentions for a worship space. The poem didn’t reference a particular faith—it was really just a set of intentions. Immediately, I thought of what professors hope for in their classroom spaces.