9 Things to Do on the First Day of Class

Do you have it all figured out? Do you know what you’re going to do on the first day of class?  Are you going to jump right in with your first lecture, or are you going to save that for the second day?

Maybe you are thinking of just handing out a syllabus, a list of books to buy, and then sending all your new scholarly charges off to the bookstore with a warning not to be late on Wednesday? That's the day you're going to begin opening their eyes to the wonders of the course you're teaching, right?

Both of these are doable, of course, but...are there any other options?

A group of professors  at the University of Oklahoma, after visiting each others’ classrooms on the first day of class, got together to discuss their observations. The discussion quickly went from what they observed, to what they might do instead.

They drew up a list of 9 items—tasks—that, if done on the first day of class, or at least in the first week, will help you get the semester off to a healthy start.

From the Tips on Teaching section of the University of Oklahoma Program for Instructional Innovation Web site, here are their suggestions:

Involve students quickly

Let your students know right from the get-go that active participation is the name of the game. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • have everybody introduce themselves
  • create some individual thinking and writing time
  • conduct class and/or small-group discussions

Identify the value and importance of the subject

Not all students come to class with a clear idea of the significance of your subject. You may need to help them grasp its importance. The quicker this is done, the quicker students will begin investing time and energy into the learning process.

Set expectations regarding

  • The amount of study time required to do well in the course
  • homework deadlines and the consequences for not meeting them
  • in-class behavior rules and the consequences for not observing them
  • parameters of student/teacher interaction
  • anything else you consider important

The first day also offers an opportunity to explore the expectations of your students.

Establish rapport

You will enjoy your teaching experience a great deal more if you communicate effectively with your students. This applies to your students as well. They will enjoy learning a great deal more if they know that communicating with you is going to be easy. Get to know each other a little bit.

Reveal something about yourself

Students often learn in proportion to how well they relate to their instructors; when they see them as more than just an authority figure or subject matter expert; when they see them as human beings with similar experiences. Share some personal stories with your students and learn to laugh at yourself. It will help establish rapport with your students and put them at ease while getting to know you as a person.

Establish your credibility

Your students deserve to know your professional background. Depending on the class you’re teaching, this may be assumed—your credibility a given—but not always: don't take it for granted. Inform your students about your prior experience: work, travel, research, publication credits, and anything else that might be important. You want to instill in them a sense of confidence in the idea that you know what you’re talking about.

Establish the "Class Climate"

Different teachers prefer different classroom climates: intense, relaxed, formal, personal, humorous, serious, etc. Whatever climate you prefer, you must establish it at the beginning. It sets the tone for the whole semester.

Provide administrative information

Go through your syllabus with your students. Make sure everybody knows what’s in it. Information they will need include:

  • list of textbooks and other required reading
  • the kind and quantity of homework involved
  • your office hours, address, phone and email
  • grade stipulations and the procedures by which they will be determined
  • classroom policies: attendance, late papers, make-up exams, etc.

Present an overview of the subject

  • What is it?
  • What parts of the subject will be covered in the class you’re teaching?
  • How are those parts connected?
  • How are they connected to other subjects, courses and types of knowledge?

Final Note:

Remember this imperative: Whatever it is you want your students doing on a regular basis, have them do it on the first day of class as well.

If class or group discussions are going to be a regular activity, have a class or group discussions on the first day. If you want them working in small groups throughout the semester, put them in groups on the first day. If you want them writing regularly, have them write immediately.



University of Oklahoma Program for Instructional Innovation. (n.d.). The first day of class: What can/should we do? In Ideas on teaching. Retrieved August 19, 2008, from the University of Oklahoma Program for Instructional Innovation Web site: http://www.ou.edu/pii/tips/ideas/design4.html

Copyright and Permissions:

This Teaching Tip was adapted from material developed by the Program for Instructional Innovation at the University of Oklahoma.


Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor