First Day of Class


First Day of Class Suggestions

Set a positive tone that focuses on student success

When students see your syllabus and course requirements, they may feel overwhelmed. Be reassuring. Let students know that you believe they can succeed, and let them know you will help them. The purpose of the first class session should set up an expectation for success—not scare students away!

Set the tone for the course.

The way you engage students on the first day sends powerful messages about the level of involvement and interaction you expect from them. 

The following strategies will help you set a productive tone: 

  • Whatever you plan to do during the semester, do it on the first day. For instance, if you plan to use discussions, have students start talking on the first day. If you plan to use groups frequently, put students in groups on the first day. If you plan to use extensive writing, have some kind of short reflective writing activity. If you want the students to be in charge of their own learning, start with an activity where they are the experts, and cannot rely on you for information. For instance, in a psychology course on myths about human behavior, the instructor starts with a brainstorming of myths about student behaviors in dorms.
  • Consider a “Homework 0” voluntary-mandatory office hour. The assignment is simply to make an appointment with you at a convenient time, find your office and visit you there before the next class or two. This gets students to your office, breaks the ice with a short one-on-one interaction, and makes it much more likely that the students will come back for help when they need it.
  • Establish a culture of feedback. Let students know you are interested in how they experience the course and in any suggestions they have. Let them know you will do formal early course evaluations, but that they should feel free to give you constructive feedback, even anonymously. You might not adopt every suggestion they have but you will listen and consider them. This starts to create a partnership in learning.


First Day of Class “Best Practices” Resources