Top 10 Tips for Your First Day of Class

Some professors choose to just distribute the course syllabus, manage the class administration and then dismiss the class early on the first day of class ? but this is a missed opportunity for student engagement! Make use of the first day to set the tone of your class, get to know your students, communicate your expectations, and explain the importance of the course. Here are some suggestions for what you can do on the very first day of class:

  1. Visit Beforehand or Come to Class Early: Try to scope out the space you?ll be in, imagining how best it can be utilized. Try out the technology available, and think about the different types of teaching styles?lecture, small group discussion, etc.?that the room accommodates.
  2. Introduce Yourself: Let your students get to know you on the first day of class. Give them your background, and explain why you are teaching the course?convey your own sense of enthusiasm for the material. Start to develop a rapport with the students, and help build a sense of classroom community.
  3. Explain the Importance of the Class: Use the time to discuss the objectives and the expected outcomes of your class. How does this class relate to other classes in the program? What is the relevance of this class to the students? lives and learning? Even though the basic information is listed in your syllabus, talking to the students will clarify why they?ve chosen the course, and help them decide whether the class is right for them.
  4. Communicate Your Expectations: Meeting expectations is a key concern of students, so use your first session to communicate your policies, requirements and ground rules. Explain to your students how they can excel?and how you would like them to participate. Cover rules on technology use, like laptops and text messaging, go over your grading polices and expectations for class attendance. Make sure they have an understanding of acceptable in-class behavior, and solicit their ideas to encourage their participation in the course.
  5. Get to Know Your Students: Take the opportunity to learn your students? names. Engage them as people, and let them not only get to know you, but discover each other. Consider doing some ice-breaker exercises by asking them to socialize in small groups. A comfortable, socialized classroom environment will encourage student interaction throughout the entire semester.
  6. Assess Prior Knowledge: It?s never too soon to discover whether or not your students are prepared for your course. Determine whether you will need to adjust your course materials to fit their knowledge level by conducting quick assessment exercises on the first day of class. Be prepared with suggestions on how students lacking in preparation can quickly get up to speed.
  7. Introduce Class Delivery Methods: Give your students a sense of what the class will be like by discussing your course delivery methods. Students who are shy will appreciate knowing how much group or small group discussion is expected, whether or not presentations will be included, etc. Being prepared with this information on the first day will also prompt you to reevaluate your own teaching, and encourage you to include multiple?and accessible?representation styles in the course.
  8. Explain the Assessment Methodology: Describe your grading policies, explaining the relative weights for class participation, homework, papers, examinations, etc. Help the students understand how grading and testing will be tied to the course goals. Distributing rubrics for the assignments may help students understand your expectations and the goals for the assignments.
  9. Campus Policies: Spend some time explaining university policies on adding, dropping, wait lists, plagiarism, emergency procedures, etc., and respond to student concerns and queries. Provide information about the disabilities center, learning assistance center, counseling and psychological services, and encourage your students to seek support if necessary.
  10. Provide Administrative Information: Explain how you would prefer to be contacted?by email, phone or in person?and provide information on where and how your students can contact you. Give them your office hours, and point them toward your website or learning management site for the class. Provide the class with contact information for any graduate or teaching assistants.


Brooke, Corly. "Corly's Top Fifteen suggestions for managing the first week of class in order to enhance the learning environment," Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching. Iowa State University, August 2005
Clement, Mary. "10 Ways to Engage Your Students on the First Day of Class." Magna Online Seminars, 2009
Davis, Barbara Gross, "The First Day of Class," Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993
Fink, Dee. "First Day of Class: What Can/Should We Do?. July 19, 1999
Carnegie Mellon. Make the Most of the First Day of Class.
McKeachie and Svinicki. "Meeting a Class for the First Time," McKeachie's Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006

For more in-depth suggestions, tips and ideas, please visit the ELIXR website at for the video "Making Your First Class Session Really Class", created by Joe Grimes and Cynthia Desrochers of CSU. You can download the accompanying PDF file below.

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