The first impression is crucial in any work dealing with people, and
more so with students attending a new course. As the first day of a class
will often set the tone right for the rest of the course, I would like
to offer some suggestions on what to do during that crucial day.
Breaking the Ice
Be friendly: Course evaluation research has shown
that students appreciate instructors who show interest in them as
individuals. Once established, this rapport often improves student
motivation and attitude towards the course. Becoming acquainted with
your students also fosters a congenial environment that will help
to stimulate discussion on coursework later on. Some ways to build
rapport include the following:
Arrive at the classroom at least 15 minutes early
so you can check that the various facilities are in order and
chat informally with students as they arrive.
Introduce yourself. Who you are and what you
are like will interest new students. So begin a relationship with
your students by sharing something of yourself and about your
enthusiasm for the subject. You can also direct students to your
webpage for more information.
Introduce the other staff members who will
be teaching the course.
Get to know each student’s name. In a
small class, ask students to introduce themselves and talk about
the reasons for taking the course or their interests. You can
also get students to pair up, introduce themselves to each other
and then perhaps share a positive comment about their partner
with the rest of the group. Both methods usually create a more
relaxed atmosphere and help students to get to know one another
in a new class. Another method, perhaps more suitable for a bigger
class, is to ask students to write their names clearly in large
letters on place cards or sticky labels for all to see.
Introduce the course: The first session is an ideal
opportunity to introduce to students the course objectives, course
outlines/syllabus, assessment criteria, assignments, expectations
of student participation, learning activities and reading resources
for the subject. Such items should preferably be listed in a handout.
In addition, encourage students to raise questions and concerns regarding
Lay the ground rules: Although students should
learn autonomously, set some simple ground rules in classroom management
so as to optimise learning and minimise unnecessary disruption. Common
ground rules may include: punctuality in starting and ending the lesson,
mandatory contribution in learning activities, deadlines for assignments,
and showing respect while others are speaking. To obtain the students’
compliance, obtain their feedback on the feasibility of the ground
Conducting the First Lesson
While the first session can be used to introduce the course, including
the first lesson during that session may stimulate the students’
interest in the subject. Conducting the first lesson early will also help
you to know more about the students and their attitudes, motivation, interpersonal
skills, learning styles and prior knowledge about the subject. Advance
awareness of the gaps in the students’ knowledge will help you to
plan subsequent lessons.
To involve students in the learning process, use a diversity of approaches,
e.g. combine direct instructional modes with active learning strategies.
The more active the learning strategy used, the more you will be able
to direct students’ attention to the relevance of the lesson and
interest them in the rest of the course. The learning activities conducted
should allow interaction in a non-threatening manner (e.g. assign group
tasks). Avoid being critical or judgmental; give encouragement and praise
when appropriate. A possible lesson plan for the first session could be
- Present the learning objectives for the lesson.
- Give a short ungraded quiz to test degree of pre-existing knowledge.
Alternatively, start the session with a group brainstorming or discussion
on a ‘real-life’ problem.
- Explain the basic concepts of the subject matter. If possible, provide
some linkage to previous courses the students may have learnt. Handouts
given should be concise, effective and efficient.
- Depending on the availability of time, incorporate additional activities
(e.g. case studies, problem solving) to reinforce learning.
- In closing, give encouragement and constructive feedback about the
class interaction and summarise key issues covered in the class. To
stimulate further intellectual curiosity, present a take-home problem
to the students.
Evaluating the Lesson
To help you evaluate the quality of learning, request students to reflect
on the lesson at the end of the first session. Ask them to write down
two key points about what they have learnt during the lesson, what they
like best about the lesson, and/or questions and concerns they still have
about the course. Tailor future sessions to address some of these needs.
Consequently, this process of reflecting on what went right and which
aspects need to be modified in our lesson planning inevitably helps us
improve our teaching effectiveness.