First Day of Class

A Guide to the First Day of Class

How to Start Your Semester Off Right!

The beginning of the semester is a busy time, so it can be challenging to know how to prepare for a successful semester and help our students with a strong start! Below are some ideas you can use on the first day of class to set the stage for the rest of the semester!

  1. Meet Your Students!

The first of class is your first opportunity to connect with students! Introduce yourself to them, explain why the course is important to you and to them, and discuss your expectations and how you will work together throughout the semester. This is a great opportunity to better understand your students, and to show them you are truly interested in their academic and personal development. It is also a great time to help them see you as a real person with a passion for the topic.

Ideas for Action

  • Create an instructor introduction page in Canvas.
    • This page should include a recent picture; your name, title, and professional background; the best ways and times to reach you, your regular office hours (face-to-face or virtual through Zoom), more about how you guide students (e.g. mentoring, coaching, advising, etc.) during the semester, and a few interesting facts (such as travel, pets, hobbies, etc.).
  • Record a student welcome video introducing yourself and walking them through the class! See this teaching guide for step-by-step guidance and example scripts.
  • Spend a few minutes at the beginning of class talking with your students and introducing yourself. Consider bringing a prop to share, demonstrating a talent, or sharing a personal story.
  • Send emails or announcements before class begins saying hello and welcoming them to class.
  • Students want to know their instructor is approachable and trustworthy, cares about them AND the course topic, will be open-minded and flexible if situations arise, and that they will be reasonable about expectations. You can show your students all of these things through engaging them in your introduction.
  1. Help Your Students Meet Each Other!

Meeting people can be hard, but making connections is essential to student success! Help your students break the ice and learn more about each other so they can begin connecting and building comfortable, collaborative relationships with each other.

Ideas for Action

  • Create an “Introduce Yourself” discussion board in Canvas.
    • Consider asking students to share their preferred names, majors, interest in the course topic and what they hope to learn from the course, funny stories, or experiences related to the course topics. The goal is to provide them with a space to share their personal experiences and interests and to connect with other students doing the same.
  • Ask students to create and share brief informal vidoes introducing themselves using Kaltura. Be sure to emphasize that these are informal “getting to know you” videos to help alleviate unnecessary stress.
  • Have an ice breaker activity for students to share personal experiences, play a game, or introduce themselves to the class. It sometimes helps to pair students in small groups first and then with the larger class. You may even have them introduce their paired partners to the class.
  • Work with your students to establish a seating arrangement that is cohesive to collaboration and supports engagement.
  • Study the roster and try to use your students’ names. This not only helps you build connections with your students, but helps them get to know each other from a distance so they are more comfortable engaging each other for the first time.
  1. Spark Interest in the Course!

What makes you passionate about your field? How does this topic relate? Introducing the course in a way that sparks students’ intellectual curiosity and motivation builds engagement and helps students apply what they learn to their own lives. Providing an enthusiastic overview of the course and topics will help students’ dive deep into what they are learning.

Ideas for Action

  • Create a course overview page in Canvas.
    • Share the course description and your own description, list well designed Course Learning Objectives (these should align with your Module Learning Objectives), and describe why the course is important to the field and to your students. Consider sharing a personal story, recorded interview with a figure in the field, a brief article, or similar content to help the students connect the course topic to other areas of their lives.
  • Create a Course Tour video to walk the students through how the course is constructed. Link the ideas in the course to other areas as you describe the topics and flow of the course. See this teaching guide for step-by-step guidance and example scripts.
  • Spend some time on the first day sharing photos, stories, anecdotes, and important information about the topic. Have an open discussion with students to answer any questions and help them orient the course to their own lives. Consider asking each student to write a one minute paper at the end of class sharing how the course topic is important to them personally.

  1. Set Realistic Expectations!

Students are busy! They may be taking full course loads, working full time, and/or attending to family responsibilities, all while trying to plan for their futures and achieve a variety of goals all along the way! It is important to set realistic expectations of what it takes to succeed in the class, while also being empathetic to the other obligations students face. Sharing realistic expectations on the first day of class, and making sure students know where to get help, goes a long way toward helping them succeed in class.

Ideas for Action

  • Clearly describe all of the projects and assignments required in the course, along with realistic timelines, due dates, grade value of each assignment, late work policies, and expectations about each project. This can be housed in the syllabus, or in a special page in Canvas.
  • Provide a course schedule detailing each week’s readings, activities, assignments, etc. to help them know what they need to read and do by when.
  • Explain the timeline of assignments, course and university policies, guidelines for student behavior and course communication, and required technology. This can be done in class, or through a video or Canvas page.
  • Consider providing a brief informal quiz or one-minute paper to ensure students are aware of the expectations and assignment makeup for the course.
  • Share a workload estimate calculator to help students plan time for study and support.
  • This is also a good time for you to personally write down a few statements you would like to see on your own course evaluations at the end of the semester. Clarifying this to yourself now will help you build toward those goals throughout the semester.
  1. Help Students Find Help!

Students carry a lot of responsibility and are under a lot of pressure, so it is important to make sure they know where to go to get help. UNC Charlotte has a number of resources for students facing a variety of situations. Knowing just where to get help before it is needed can make all the difference in whether students seek it out or not. Help students know that you are there for them, and share other campus resources to help them tackle other challenges they may face throughout the semester.

Ideas for Action

  • Share where and how students can get support from the Office of Disability Services for accomodations, accessibility, and support; the University Center for Academic Excellence for tutoring, mentorship, and peer consultations; the IT Service Desk for technology support; the Veterans Services division to support military students, the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services for counseling and other mental health needs; and other offices and services as appropriate. This information is typically housed in the syllabus, so you can talk through it in class or point it out in your online courses. Consider reviewing the suggested syllabus policies and notices for what to cover.
  • Make yourself available to students. Explicitly state, whether in class, in Canvas, or in an introduction video, that you are there to support them and that you will help them find important information and resources if they encounter a problem. If the student is in your office or in class, offer to call and walk them to the appropriate office so they don’t have to go it alone.
  • Consider having students complete a scavenger hunt where they get signatures or specific information from each service’s office or website.

Where to Learn More

Need more help? There are some additional resources below to provide additional information and ideas. You can also always submit a help ticket for more personalized support by emailing