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Make the First Day of Class One That Inspires Your Students

By Katie Reynolds

Did you know you began preparing for the semester's first day of class years ago? It began when you found your passion for the course's topic and your field of study. Do you still have that spark? If you answered yes, then get ready to share it.

Why do you love what you teach?

What about your subject sparks curiosity and passion in you?

How can you spark that same curiosity in your students? 

Use these questions to get in the mindset to start the semester off well. Think back to what you were thinking when, as a student, you walked into the first day of the class you are currently preparing to teach. What did you like or not like about the class or the instructor? What about the class should you emulate or eliminate? Students tune, very quickly, into your mindset for the class. They make a judgment by the end of the first day as to whether they can expect the class to be one that will inspire them.

Here are some suggestions to set yourself and your students up for success.

1. Start the Term with Excellent Communication

In fact, excellent communication and an introduction to both you and your topic before the first day of class sets you up for success.

Make a short biographical video and post it to the Homepage of your course site in Isidore.
An intro video doesn't have to be snazzy or complicated. It just needs to convey your excitement to share the term with your students. Express warmth towards working with them during the term, let them in a bit on your own life and experiences, tell them why the course is important to their development as students, professionals, and people.

Email Your Students Several Times Before the Start Date
Once you have your homepage populated with the syllabus, schedule, and introductory video (optional), email your students to let them know that you hope they will orient themselves to the course by visiting the site before the first day of class. Again, express how excited you are to work with the student during the term. Include something in your pre-class communication to spark curiosity so that they are eager to attend your class on the first day. Our Spring 2021 Course Communication Guide provides examples of pre-class course communications. 

2. Facilitate Connections

Or, as we say here at UD, – Create Community.
Making your students comfortable and giving them safe opportunities to speak up both in and out of class will encourage them to participate in meaningful ways throughout the semester.

Let Students See Your Human Side
Greet students as they enter the room (easier in Zoom with their name showing), ask students about life, share a bit about your own intellectual journey, and don’t forget to share your own sense of humor in appropriate ways. You can also get to know student’s names and faces before your first class by reviewing the Roster tool in Isidore in your site which has students' names, photos, and major.

Freshen Up Syllabus Talk
Rather than simply going over the syllabus on the first day, share your syllabus using the Forums tool or Commons tool and ask students to post any questions they have within those tools. You can also use the Perusall tool for a syllabus annotation exercise. This will help you to focus on the components that students have questions about or want to know more about rather than taking important instruction time during class to review the whole syllabus.

Give Students Time to Connect
Your students, especially in the time they are learning online, desire connection with one another. Be creative with a productive and short breakout session during your firat Zoom class session. Give students a prompt or exercise they can discuss in groups of 4 or 5 to get to know one another and get oriented to the course's topic.

Encourage Outside Class Partnerships
Students have access to their own Zoom accounts. Encourage students to form study groups and set up their own sessions to study with one another. Students can access one another’s names and emails through the roster tool in your course site.

Be Available
Make sure to inform students how they are to get in touch with you. In addition to email, we recommend hosting regular office hours in Zoom. Promote the Commons tool to your students for informal communication purposes. You can create random surprise posts in Commons with a question or challenge concerning the readings for the week. Reward students with excellent responses with special kudos during the next class or bonus points on an assignment.


3. Kick off the First Day with Learning

Provide a Challenge
You don't need to use the first day to begin course instruction, but start it with a knowledge or skill challenge to spark learning. Students start with a baseline of knowledge, and you want to draw upon that throughout the term to strengthen their skills to each new level. Challenge them with a problem/task the first day that takes them a bit beyond what they are capable of, but allows them to see that they have some knowledge and skills to get started on the solution. This "activates" their prior knowledge and inspires them to see areas of needed growth.

Partner with Students to Set Course Goals
Students perform better when they feel a sense of ownership. Devote a short amount of the first class to ask students to consider their strengths and weaknesses. How have they been successful in previous courses? How have they experienced failures? Have them brainstorm and develop ideas and goals for how they can use these experiences to be successful in this new course. Ask them how you can be of best assistance to them to be successful. Just asking them this simple question will do wonders to establish a sense of trust in your classroom.


4. End the Day by Setting Clear Expectations

Make sure to thank students for their participation on day one and let them know your future participation expectations. If anything concerning deadlines, assignments, assessments, or policies has been left uncovered, make sure to clarify before dismissing students.

The first day of class sets the tone for the rest of your term. Make it count! The time and effort you put into your "course debut" will pay off in many ways for both you and your students. Be contagious with your passion and curiosity. 

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