They say you never get a second chance to make a good first impression. We know that the first week of a new term can be stressful—and even experienced educators may feel apprehensive about facing students. 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 explore community building, classroom rules and fun icebreakers that will help you make a positive first-day-of-class impression.

Welcome your students

On 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.

1. Arrive early: Consider opening the doors to your learning environment—in-person or virtual—a few minutes before class starts. This way, you can greet students as they join. Consider playing music, prompt discussion with an icebreaker question or encourage students to draw on virtual whiteboards while they wait for class to begin.

2. Help students get to know you: Consider sharing some personal photos and a few anecdotes about your path to your current position. Encourage teaching assistants to do the same. By letting students get to know you beyond simply what you teach, you encourage them to get comfortable with sharing in this new learning environment.

Review rules and routines

Once students are 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.

3. 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’re using in your classroom.

4. Hold space for questions: Place students into small groups and ask them to put their questions about your course in a Google Doc or worksheet. Distribute the syllabus after each group has prepared their questions and have students find answers to their questions using this document. Reconvene as a group and give students an opportunity to ask any further questions that couldn’t be answered from the syllabus. 

5. Provide a resource overview: Highlight resources that may help students be successful in your course, such as your Campus IT Center, CTL, Library and Research Database Center, Peer Support Centers, Campus Housing Services, Financial Aid Information and Mental Health Resources.

6. Help orient your students: Consider leading a quick tour of where support services and resources are located on campus. This way, you can also share tips and tricks with students about where your favorite place to get coffee on campus is, any shortcuts to get to classes and where some good study spots might be.

Keep it light

To wrap up your first week, try easing students into the 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.

7. Use an icebreaker activity: Effective icebreakers 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: For online courses, 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.
  • Two truths and a lie: Divide the class into small groups and have each participant share three statements with their group; one is a lie and two are true. The other students in the group take turns guessing which is the lie. 
  • 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.

8. Try a think-pair-share strategy: Think-pair-share gets students out of listening mode and into talking mode. Processing information verbally helps create new pathways for learning. After presenting introductory course material in class, pause the lecture for a moment and ask students to pair up with a partner and ask them to discuss the material they just learned. Once they’ve had some time to discuss with their classmates, students can take turns presenting their observations to the rest of the class, or in an online discussion thread for an asynchronous class.

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.

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