Josh Boldt

Technology Director at University of Kentucky

What Do You Do on the First Day of Class?

Full 08212014 firstdayofschool

Image: Oregon State U. Special Collections & Archives.

A huge proportion of Vitae members identify themselves either as graduate students or faculty members—which means that a pretty significant number of people here will be teaching at least one section this semester. And of course for every section taught, there’s always a first day of class.

So I thought it might be fun to come up with some ideas for first-day lesson plans. David Gooblar has compiled an excellent database of teaching resources here at Vitae and at his website Pedagogy Unbound. We’ve also just created a new Teaching Tips group where teachers—beginners and veterans—can share more tips and ideas. Consider this post the beginning of that discussion.

It took me a few semesters before I finally nailed down a good first-day-of-class ritual. I resisted the generic icebreaker games, yet I always wanted to do more than just read the syllabus and dismiss the students. I finally decided on a modified icebreaker that got the students talking and also happened to not be soul-crushing.

After I went over the syllabus and gave a quick rundown of my expectations, I handed out note cards to every student. I asked them to write down three things on their cards: 1) their names, 2) where they were from, and 3) some element of popular culture they happened to be into at the moment. I explained that this third entry could be pretty much anything—a film, a book, a magazine, a website, a piece of music, whatever.

Giving the students complete freedom to pick anything allowed me to see into their personalities a bit, and it also foreshadowed the creative freedom that I built into my courses. Inevitably, students’ answers to the third question were all over the board. It made the exercise more fun, and it also gave me some insight into what kids these days are into. It never hurts for a teacher to be aware of that.

Once they finished writing, I asked them to find a partner next to them and share their answers with each other. I found this to be much less stressful for the introverted students. I know I always hated having to talk about myself with others, but reading from a card is pretty easy to do.

Next came the fun twist. The students traded cards and then we went around the room with each student introducing his partner, rather than himself. Here again, nervous students could just read from the card (most did).

“This is Josh. He’s from Kentucky and he’s in the middle of Boardwalk Empire, Season Four. No spoilers.”

We almost always learned that some students were from the same town, or that they liked the same band, or that they were reading the same book. A connection like that establishes a unique bond between the students from day one.

The first day of class always ended right after we did our introductions. Students were much more talkative on the way out than they were on the way in, so I guess that was a good sign. As an added bonus, I used the note cards to call roll for a few weeks until I memorized their names. It’s much easier to remember the name of a student when you know she likes Wes Anderson movies.

What do you do on the first day of class? Any advice for new teachers? Leave a comment below or join the discussion in the Teaching Tips group.

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