First Day Strategies

First Day of Class

The first day of class can be an anxious experience for your students. Students enter the first day of class with at least four questions (Ericksen, 1984):

  • Is the class going to meet my needs?
  • Is the teacher competent?
  • Is the teacher fair?
  • Will the teacher care about me?

To this list we should add:

  • Will I be able to succeed?
  • What does the teacher expect from me?
  • What will I need to do to get a good grade?
  • Will I be able to juggle the workload for this course with the workload in my other courses?

Keep in mind that the first day of class sets the tone for the whole course. This is the best opportunity you have to establish your expectations for student achievement and behavior. Take advantage of the fact that most students will be looking for signs to indicate what the course holds for them, and will therefore be highly attentive. Therefore, be careful to communicate to students not only your high expectations for them, but also your commitment to and support for their learning.

Recommended Checklist for the First Day of Class

Prior to the First Day

  • Visit your classroom prior to the first day
  • Print and review your class roster with pictures of your students using the IU Photo Roster tool in Canvas
  • Create an outline for how you will use your class time
  • Reflect on the climate you would like to create in your classroom (see also classroom civility); you may want to address some of these issues on the first day of class, too.
  • Send a welcome email to your students, perhaps inviting them to use NameCoach to record and learn the pronunciation of each others' names.

On the First Day of Class

  • Arrive early and plan to stay late to answer student questions
  • Introduce yourself to the class and help students meet each other with an activity
  • Review the “key points” of the syllabus, focusing not on all the policies and details (they can read those--and be quizzed on them--later), but instead highlighting the learning outcomes for the course and helping students see relevance to them in their own lives.
  • Communicate to your students clear expectations about attendance and grading policies
  • Set the tone by engaging students the way you intend to throughout the semester; that is, if you expect to engage actively in class, do that on the first day—telling them about how they will be active learners is counterproductive. In other words, let them practice learning the way they will throughout the semester. (see also group work, team-based learning, student response systems,discussion techniques)


For more about the suggestions and broader frameworks, see How to Teach a Good First Day of Class from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

It is good to know what your students are like before you meet them on the first day. Find out more about students at IUB by looking at the IU Factbook.