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Week Two
Starting Strong in the First Week of the Semester

The first week is the best opportunity to make a positive initial impression and present your vision of the class to your students. This is a great time to pique their curiosity in the subject matter by introducing big questions they will answer or problems they will explore. You can create a welcoming and inviting environment through introductions or ice breakers that build a sense of community. The first days of class also establish norms and expectations for the rest of the semester; use this time to demystify the course and model what is to come.

Research on student engagement and success strongly recommends including some form of low-stakes assessment in the first week. You might include a short reflective writing activity for students to share their past experience with the subject matter and any concerns they have going into the course. Another option would be a short quiz on pre-requisite knowledge or the course content, to assess their prior knowledge. This low-stakes assessment ensures that students are connected and engaged, gives you vital information about their readiness for the course, and gives students the opportunity to practice with your format for assessments (including practice using Blackboard or other technologies you plan to use during the semester).


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How to Teach a Good First Day of Class

This article by James Lang introduces four key principles for the first day of class: curiosity, community, learning, and expectations.

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The First Day of Class: Off to a Good Start

This article from the CITL Instructional Guide provides a foundation for a variety of ways to make the most of your first day and week of class.

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Teaching the First Day of Class

Whether you have been teaching for years or are about to teach your very first semester, being prepared for the first day of class takes planning. This recorded workshop provides techniques to remember names, tips for trying out a new technology or strategies to carefully plan that first day.

Recommended Strategies

Choose one of the following strategies to implement

Conduct a Syllabus Reconnaissance

Instead of reading or reviewing the syllabus with students, use a syllabus reconnaissance activity. With one activity, you help students discover key points or policies in the syllabus, you start to build community through group discussion, and you set the expectation for active participation throughout the semester.

Use Introductions or an Icebreaker

Introductions are important for building community. If you already use introductions, try using one of the creative methods from the Equity Unbound initiative or an icebreaker activity. Your icebreaker can also be an effective way to introduce course content, activate prior knowledge, or encourage metacognitive thinking!

Try Some Metacognition

Get metacognitive with a reflection prompt (one minute paper) that focuses on learning how to learn. Sample topics could include reflecting on their prior experience with the subject matter, sharing any concerns they have about the course, or a student success tip they could apply to your course.

Assess and Activate Prior Knowledge

Assess students’ prior knowledge with a pre-test or prior learning activity. There are several Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS) that you could use, such as Focused Listing, Concept Maps and 3-2-1 that can make the activity more engaging.

Next Steps

Please review the resources and select at least one of the recommended strategies to implement during the first week of the semester. Regardless of the strategy you employ, focus on creating an engaging and welcoming environment where students believe that you care about their success. Make a note to yourself about the strategy you used and the impact that it had.

Next week, we will share resources on building a community and sense of belonging for your students. If you have any questions or concerns in the meantime, feel free to let us know at

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