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The first day of class is an important time. This CDTL Brief on Preparing for the First Lecture/Class provides tips on pre-class preparations, ideas on approaching the first class session and hints in getting comfortable in front of the class.

July 2004, Vol. 7, No. 6 Print Ready ArticlePrint-Ready
Your First Class: Preparation and “Theatre”
 
Alice Christudason
Associate Professor
Department of Real Estate
Associate Director, CDTL
 

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.
—Gail Godwin

It surprises me that even seasoned artistes confess to having nerves before their first performance. As one of the roles we assume as teachers includes being a ‘performer’ of sorts, it bodes well for us to make sure that we do whatever we can to ‘get our act together’, particularly for our first class.

When I have my first class, my primary objective is to whet the students’ appetites for what lies ahead in the rest of my module. In this article, I will deal with some of the matters that I am mindful of to ensure that my first class—most likely an introductory lecture—will be as effective as possible in sowing the seeds of interest in the students. There are of course, other matters1, which will be helpful, but the following can act as an initial checklist. For convenience, I have divided the list into three segments:

1. Before the class

The importance of preparation on your part cannot be over emphasised, particularly if it is your first time. Knowing that you are prepared will calm your nerves and give you confidence. If you have lectured before, sufficient preparation will ensure that this class will be better than the last. Your preparation should include the following:

  • Know the class size and study the class profile

  • Decide on your modes of instruction and try to have a mix of the following:
    - Lecture-based
    - Tutorial
    - Webcast
    - Use of IVLE
    - Emails

  • Prepare your module outline including:
    - Objectives
    - Syllabus
    - Reference list
    - Your expectations
    - Dates of tests/submission of assignments

  • Decide on the dates for submission of tutorial assignments or project work.

2. During the class

Depending on the size of the class, it might be useful to have an icebreaker. There are many ways to do this:

  • Introduce yourself
    - How you would like to be addressed
    - How you can be contacted
    - What your consultation hours are

  • Introduce your module
    - What you hope to impart to the students (e.g. is the emphasis on students gaining mastery in a subject area, the development of critical thinking or problem solving abilities?)
    - How you intend to impart the knowledge (e.g. teaching methods/strategies)
    - What your expectations of the students are (e.g. class participation, turning in assignments punctually)
    - What the students can expect from you (e.g. teaching methods, handouts, types of questions)
    - What the ground rules are (e.g. latecomers, hand phones, interruptions in class, provision of feedback)
    - What the role of class rep/respective group reps is (e.g. as a medium of communication between yourself and the cohort so that problems can be nipped in the bud)

  • Get interactive. At the first class, do not feel obligated to fill up the allotted time; rather it is far better to keep matters somewhat informal and fluid. For example, you can provide an overview of your objectives for your module and some content knowledge, casually seek students’ thoughts on what they think your module is about and end early if need be. Whenever I conduct my first lecture on the Property Law module, I pose the following question to the students:

    “What do you think the Module is about?”

    Invariably I get a perky response: “This module is about Property Law.”
    And the class goes: “Ha ha ha!”

    I say: “Yes and that is…?” Then as someone else’s hand goes up to offer his/her view followed by another, the students’ responses become more and more relevant. This always helps to lighten the initially serious and unsure mood in the lecture theatre.

  • Take questions from the students and welcome feedback.

  • I give handouts only after I have spoken (a personal preference). When I speak, I may use only a few slides or transparencies but the handouts will provide the detailed information. In this way I have the students’ undivided attention.

3. After the class

  • Stay awhile; do not rush off promptly at the going of the bell. I find that students often prefer to approach you individually or in small groups to clarify doubts rather than in a large crowd, particularly at the first class. Besides, it gives them (and you) a better chance to get up-close and personal and for your students to see you as a ‘real’ person, not some distant and imperious ivory-tower professor separated from them by a podium or table marking the clear line between teacher and student. Let them know you are there to be their guide.

Other matters

Of course, the above pointers will have to be varied according to:

  • The composition of students (Are they a homogenous group with similar academic backgrounds and ages?)

  • Level of the course (Is it an undergraduate Year 1 module, a senior Year or postgraduate module? If it is not a Year 1 module, was there an introductory course on the Module conducted previously?)

  • Students’ motivation (Is it an essential module or have students elected to do your module? The latter is an advantage but do ascertain the reasons for their choice)

  • Students’ attitude (Have the students previously taken a similar module at a basic level? This may affect the students’ attitude towards your module positively or negatively.)

  • The students’ knowledge of you from an earlier module.

Last words

I would like to conclude by referring to Gail Godwin’s quote (see top of article). In my view, the preparation you make for your first lesson is in fact for the “theatre” that is to follow. I also try not to lose sight of this:

The true aim of…a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions, but to kindle minds.
—Frederick William Robertson

I hope that by the end of my first class, my “theatre” will make my students eager for my next lesson, and I find that they usually are.


1 Royse, D. (2001). Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors:A Practical Guide. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

 
 
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Inside this issue
The First Class—Getting my Act together
   
Your First Class: Preparation and “Theatre”
   
Stimulating Student Interest in the First Lecture
   
Starting on the Right Track
   
Making or Breaking a Course—the First Lesson