They say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. The first week of a new term can be stressful. Even experienced educators may feel apprehensive about facing new students at the beginning of a term. Just take a deep breath, double-check your syllabus and remind yourself of all the effort you’ve put in to get the semester off to a successful start. These strategies and tips will help you make a positive first-day-of-class impression.
Welcome your students
For your very first day of class, use your allotted time to welcome students to the classroom. Before you begin covering course content, try to establish a rapport with students.
- Arrive early: Consider opening your Zoom room or physical classroom a few minutes before class starts. This way, you can greet students as they join. Consider playing music, prompt discussion in live chats with an icebreaker question or encourage students to draw on the virtual whiteboards while they wait for class to begin.
- Consider a student interest inventory: A student interest inventory is a short survey administered to students in order to gather information about their academic backgrounds, hobbies and interests. Try asking questions like:
- The reasons why they signed up for the course and what they are most looking forward to learning.
- What are their goals after graduation and how will this course help them achieve their goals?
- If applicable, the reason why they might need to arrive late or leave early to your course. This can help with seating logistics and minimize possible future disruptions.
- Fun questions help to get to know students such as: If a song played when you entered the room, what would that song be? If you won one million dollars, what would you do first?
- Share some information about yourself: In addition to a brief overview of your academic career, provide an anecdote about why you chose your discipline or a funny story from your undergraduate experience.
Click here to access the 2021 Online Teaching Toolkit to learn how to elevate your online teaching practice.
Review rules and routines
Once you’ve got students comfortable, it’s time to start reviewing your syllabus and the logistics of your course. Set aside ample time to answer questions, particularly in online courses, where students may not be familiar with the tools or platforms you plan to use in your course.
- Review the syllabus: Distribute the syllabus through email or as an LMS announcement a few days before the beginning of the semester so students can come to the first day of class prepared with their questions about due dates, instructions and tech tools that you are using in your classroom.
Tip: To make it more interactive, have students review the syllabus individually, then discuss areas for further clarification in pairs, then share with the class.
- Provide a resource overview: Highlight resources that may help students be successful in your course, such as your Campus IT Centre, CTL, Library and Research Database Centre, Peer Support Centres, Campus Housing Services, Financial Aid Information and Mental Health Resources
- Set up clear communication strategies: This can include virtual office hours, netiquette for email communications and in-class conduct.
Tip: Joel Stake, Lecturer of Biological Sciences at Louisiana Tech University, starts each new term with an introductory video to briefly overview course policies. He then follows up with weekly short videos highlighting what’s on deck for the week and sharing personal updates. This way, he is able to humanize his online course.
Keep it light
To wrap up your first week, try easing students into the community learning environment with a few hands-on exercises. Weaving course content together with community-building activities is a great way to start your course on a positive note.
- Use an icebreaker activity: Effective icebreakers will help start discussions and allow students to feel welcomed in your classroom. These activities may even strengthen camaraderie and team-building amongst students for the duration of the semester and beyond.
- What’s in front of you: Have students take a photo of something that’s in front of their workspace. Perhaps it’s a wall of photos with their closest friends or their pet that keeps them company during online courses.
- When I grow up: Have students share what they wanted to be when they grew up as a child and contrast that with their current goals for their future career.
- Start with a diagnostic assessment: Short assessments can help provide instructors with insights into students’ prior knowledge and understanding of the material to be covered before the class starts. This can be an exit ticket, minute paper or short ungraded quiz.
The first week of classes can be nerve-wracking for professors and their students. But holding space for questions and discussions helps create an open environment. By setting the stage for dialogue and transparency from day one, you’ll be able to equip yourself and your students for success this semester, wherever your class is taking place.