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Planning the first day of class

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Even very experienced teachers can get the jitters before the first day of class. Most likely, a little nervousness probably helps to keep us on our teaching toes. The best way to deal with such nervousness is through careful and thorough preparation. You may want to visit your classroom before the first day of classes to familiarize yourself with the layout, especially if you’ve planned to use any technology the first day. 

Information Sheets

Many instructors ask students to fill out information sheets during the first week of class, whether during the first section meeting or on their own, between the first and second class meetings of the quarter.  While these sheets are useful for gathering information (such as dorm assignment, a student's extracurricular involvement, and pronoun preferences), they also can be used pedagogically:

  • Goal setting: Most information sheets include a section that asks students to identify their goals for the course, which invites students to take some responsibility from the very first day for identifying how they would like to grow as writers, communicators, and rhetoricians.
  • Reflection: At the end of the quarter, many instructors redistribute copies of the info sheets that they filled out in week 1 and then have students look back at the goals they set to help them reflect on their growth across the weeks.  You could do this in conjunction with a final reflection assignment or on its own to help students understand how much they have changed and grown as writers, as a community, and as people.
  • Community-building: You can use the info sheet as part of an activity designed to draw students together as a community.  Whether students fill it out in class or prior to a class meeting, you can ask everyone to introduce themselves and to share one item from their info sheet (for instance, one of their goals for the quarter) so they get a better sense of each other as a class community (and, in the case of sharing goals, hear how many people share similar goals).
  • Active reading: You could build a "syllabus quiz" into the info sheet that asks students to answer questions about the syllabus, ensuring that students actively engage with that text and process important information before filing it away in their folder for the quarter.

See Examples of Student Information Sheets

Orienting Students to Course Resources

It's important for students to feel like they know how to access all of the resources they may need to be successful in their PWR course. On your first day of class, aim to offer your students the following to shape their expectations about using course resources:

  • Explain how Canvas will be used in the course. Whether you're using Canvas extensively or not using Canvas at all, your students will want to understand whether and how often they should check their course Canvas site, particularly since students will have different experiences in different class contexts with using Canvas.
  • If you're using Canvas, do a quick walkthrough with your students to show them how you're using each part of the site. You may not have designed your Canvas course website like other instructors your students have encountered, so it's a good idea to take a few minutes to explain how you're using certain tools and which parts of the site you expect your students to access regularly.
  • If you're not using Canvas, orient them to the workflow they should use to approach other websites that you'll use. If you're sending your students to an external WordPress or Box site for your class resources, take a few minutes to show them where they can find the course's WordPress or Box materials and explain what kind of work they'll be doing in those spaces.
  • Tell students where they can find the course readings. Let students know whether their course readings are available online or through some other source.
  • Include information for students about the campus library, tech resources on-campus, and writing support on-campus. Some students, particularly freshmen, may not know where to access library resources, where to check out tech equipment they may need for their learning, and where to seek additional support for their writing on-campus. In particular, letting students know about the resources available at Green LibraryLathrop Library, and the Hume Center for Writing & Speaking will help them know what their options are for helping them succeed in your course.

Instructor Examples

Looking for inspiration? A few of our lecturers in PWR have brainstormed a few creative first day of class activities:

  • In her PWR 2 class, Sarah Pittock invites her students to introduce themselves, first to the class, and then to another audience (e.g. Kim Jong-Un, their unborn child). To learn more, read her "Introduce Yourself" activity description.
  • In his PWR 2 class, Russ Carpenter asks students to review what they learned in PWR 1, and then act out those lessons without saying a single word. To learn more, read his "What We Learned in PWR 1" activity description.

Additional Readings

Castillo, Anna. "Off to a Great Start: Stanford Teachers Share Tips for a Successful First Day of Class."  Teaching Talk.  Teaching Commons.  Stanford University.  3 Sept. 2013.