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Planning the First Day

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As you plan for your first day, you consider the different activities and opportunities you would design for that first in-person encounter with your students. In general, try to layer in low-stakes and incremental tech usage of platforms or pathways you'll use often in class to help students become familiar with the tech infrastructure of the course.

Syllabus walk-through

Many instructors provide an overview or walkthrough of the syllabus on the first day of class. In an online class, you might consider one of the following modes for this:

  • Screencast "walkthrough" video that students watch ahead of time, with Q&A either on a discussion forum (asynchronously) or synchronously during the class meeting (you can use Zoom or Quicktime to create this screencast)
  • Live walkthrough of the syllabus during your Zoom class session, with Q&A in person or in chat

Activities to Create Class Community

Develop activities to help students get to know one another. For some ideas see our Creating Class Community page. You might also use some of the icebreakers below:

  • Six sentence stories (Ruth) - ala Hemingway. Have them each write their own six sentence story on a Google doc and then try to figure out who wrote which story.
  • Story starter (live on Zoom, or asynchronously through a discussion board), where a student starts a story and they all have to add on. A variation could be done on a discussion forum, where someone posts a picture, and then someone else has to post a different picture that builds off of one element in the previous picture.
  • A meme based activity - share their favorite meme currently? Or have them make one.  Could also turn into a meme of the week - why this meme at this time?
  • JJ's Name mini-story activity (TBU) - designed for PWR 2, but works well for PWR 1 also

Student survey/introductions

Many instructors incorporate some form of student survey or information form in their first day or week of class. In choosing between whether to have students write a profile or to fill out a survey, consider the following:

  • Timing: You might want to do this ahead of time, have them fill out information in class for real-time results, or assign it as homework after the first class meeting.  It depends on your purpose in the survey.
  • Identity: Choose between anonymous or not.
  • Purpose: Student profile (see examples from elsewhere in teaching writing and Amanda's form) - what's the rest of your life like? What are your expectations for class? What are your goals for the quarter? What are your strengths as a writer? What do you want to develop more?
  • Purpose: Class profile (general response, anonymous with option to self-identify).  What device are you on? Phone? Laptop? What's your space like? How do you feel about your wifi speed? What do you usually use to connect with your friends online?  Are there any challenges that you might be facing that you want me to know about?  Helps draw a comparison between what in person education looks like versus what online education looks like.  You can share this information with the class, making the data public as a possible topic of conversation
  • See some examples of PWR student information sheets from our Canvas archive

Establish classroom norms

  • Collaborate on shared norms around technology and classroom behaviors.  You could use breakout rooms for students to brainstorm in small groups and then come back to share with the group.  See also Lisa's online classroom norms activity, designed to be shared with students on a Google Doc.
  • You might also distribute and discuss a Community Guideline's handout, like Angela's.  

Rhetoric practicum

Consider introducing rhetoric even on the first day and giving them an opportunity to start to apply strategies of rhetorical analysis.

  • Play an engaging video that you could use as the basis for rhetorical analysis or group discussion. You can screenshare and play it from your computer (be sure to unplug your headphones), letting students respond in real time in the back channel or on a Google Doc, or you could share the link and have them each watch individually and then come back to a discussion as a full class.

See also our "Planning for the First Day of Class" for best practices drawn from in-person PWR sections.