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Jul 2001 Vol. 5   No. 2

........   TEACHING TIPS   ........
What To Do on the First Day of a Class
Associate Professor Lim Lum Peng
Associate Director, CDTL
Department of Preventive Dentistry

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

  1. 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.

  2. 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 the course.

  3. 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 rules.


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 as follows:

  • 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.





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