The Office of Faculty Development

The First Class - Tips for A Successful Semester

The first class, and the first week in general, are critical to setting tone and expectations for students. It can be more than just a ‘syllabus day’. Use the ideas in this guide to make the most out of the first day and week of a semester. 

The first day is an important time to establish how your classroom is going to work and begin fostering a community within your course. Important areas you will want to be sure to address include:

  • Connection with the instructor
  • Connection with peers (other students)
  • Connection with content
  • Student Learning Outcomes
  • Expectations of students
  • Expectations of the instructor (from students)
  • Course structure
  • How to succeed in the course

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    Examine selected research on The First Class: 

    Samudra, P. G., Min, I., Cortina, K. S., & Miller, K. F. (2016). No second chance to make a first impression: The “thin‐slice” effect on instructor ratings and learning outcomes in higher education. Journal of Educational Measurement, 53(3), 313-331. in new window)

    Rannelli, L., Coderre, S., Paget, M., Woloschuk, W., Wright, B., & McLaughlin, K. (2014). How do medical students form impressions of the effectiveness of classroom teachers?. Medical Education48(8), 831-837. in new window)

    Make the Most of the First Day of Class. Carnegie Mellon University. in new window)

    Lesser, L. M., & Kephart, K. (2011). Setting the tone: A discursive case study of problem-based inquiry learning to start a graduate statistics course for in-service teachers. Journal of Statistics Education19(3).


    Ready to apply these tips to your teaching? Here are some ideas and strategies to get you started:

    Carnegie Mellon (Linked Above) recommends that there are two main objectives for the first day of classes: 

    1. Establish expectations of SLOs, performance, your background, how you teach, and what will be required of them
    2. Get to your students and what they expect of you.

    They break these two main objectives down into 8 areas that you should be sure to consider:

    1. A Positive First Impression
    2. Introducing yourself
    3. Discussion of SLOs and Expectations
    4. Student Peer to Peer Connection
    5. Setting a tone for the course
    6. Assess students baseline knowledge
    7. Get student excited for the course
    8. Review course requirements and how to succeed.