Setting the Tone Early—First Day Activities

[Instructors: Be sure to look at our first day writing prompts, which you’ll find in our Classroom Exercises post.]

We all know the feeling of standing in front of dozens of new faces for the first time with the daunting task of introducing your course’s goals and yourself. You may experience excitement, or you may be jittery with butterflies, but whatever you feel, your actions will set the tone for an entire term on that first day.

To help you usher in the new school year and set the tone for a positive learning experience, we’ve put together a variety of activities to make your first day seamless. Pick and choose!

shutterstock_186783779Create a welcoming environment that will persist throughout the term. Arrive early so you can greet and make eye contact with every student. When the students are seated, come out from behind the lectern. Move around the room and show enthusiasm. Share information about yourself as it relates to teaching the course: “This is my first time teaching business communication, and I’m so excited because I know this class will help every single one of you be more successful in your careers.”

Meet students/call roll. Because some students will inevitably arrive late, wait to take roll for about 10 or 15 minutes. Use that time to go around the room and ask students to reveal something about themselves (name, major, home town, or a fact not obvious by looking at the individual.) Start by modeling and tell students what you’d like them to call you: “Welcome to Business Writing 101. My name is Kerry Jones and I’d prefer for you to call me Prof. Jones. This is my third year as a business communication instructor, and I love teaching this course because past students tell me it’s the most useful class they’ve taken in college.”

Read/discuss parts of the syllabus. Instead of tine-worn tradition of reading the entire syllabus with the class, make an electronic version available prior to the first day. Inform enrolled students to read it before they attend the first class session. Then, rather than go over policies, spend time explaining the course goals and the rationale for readings and assignments. Setting objectives and expectations helps students know how to prepare for the entire term.

Interview instructor activity. Assign random groups of four or five. First have the students exchange contact information so they can later connect with several classmates if they miss class. Then ask them to come up with questions to ask you that are related to the course, assignments, or grading. Start the groups off by providing one guided question: “ Prof. X, what do you expect of students?” or “What can students do to earn top grades in your class?” Have the groups pick one student to read all of the groups’ questions as they “interview” you.

Create positive behavior lists. On the board, write two headings: Behaviors for Student Success, and Instructor Behaviors to Foster Student Learning. For the first heading, ask students to volunteer suggestions about how they can be responsible for their own learning. For the second, prod the students to define what they need from you as the instructor to facilitate their learning. If they hesitate, add points such as “Return student work quickly” or “Be available during office hours.” Be sure to call on various students, not just the eager beavers.

Now you are armed with the first day lesson plan. Have a great semester!

Do you have favorite first day activities you’d like to share? Start a conversation!


2 thoughts on “Setting the Tone Early—First Day Activities

  1. Victoria Austin

    I pick a short Ted talk (3-5 minutes), and ask pairs of students to discuss what made the talk successful and/or what they think characterizes good communication. They introduce each other and share their partner’s ideas with the class, which is generally less scary than sharing your own, especially when starting out. While they are writing, I put what they say onto a whiteboard, trying to use their words as much as possible. Duplicates are fine, because one can see themes emerge. Then I generally have a couple of things to add which they didn’t pick out. If there’s time, we watch it again to look for the things students mentioned.

    1. bizcombuzz

      Victoria, thank you very much for sharing your warm-up and introduction activity. You cover multiple purposes here. Your activity breaks the ice, allows you to assess oral communication skills, and triggers a discussion of communication skills. Students tend to be more motivated when they understand the relevance of the curriculum early on. –Dana


Leave a Reply