The First Day of Class

The first day of class is one of the most important of the entire semester. Instructors miss an important opportunity to engage students and generate enthusiasm if the first day consists of taking attendance and handing out the syllabus. Students should leave the first class meeting with a clear understanding of the course and of the instructor’s expectations. Ideally, they also leave excited to return for the next class session. Here are some pointers for making the first day a success:

  • Begin by introducing yourself and letting students know what they can call you. Some students will be hesitant to speak if they are unsure whether to call you "doctor," "professor," "Mr.," "Ms.," or by your first name.
  • Start learning students’ names by taking attendance or by using an "ice breaker." Unless the course is a large auditorium lecture, you will want to be able to call on each student by name quickly. Classes with a high level of student participation are more successful when students know each others’ names and have a familiarity and rapport with each other. Consider having the students pair off or break into small groups on the first day to become acquainted; they can then introduce each other to the rest of the class. Some possible icebreakers are published online at There are some online tips for learning student names quickly at
  • Consider having each student fill out an index card with their contact and other information. In addition to collecting student contact information, you might ask students to list other courses they have taken in the field, their reason for taking your course, and one or two things that can help you remember them, for example a favorite book or food.
  • Hand out the syllabus. Go over the syllabus with the students, making sure all of the information is clear and soliciting questions. Discuss the course objectives and what students should expect during the course, for example, how will classroom time be spent? Discuss your expectations for students, including expectations regarding behavior, classroom participation, and academic honesty.
  • Try to reserve enough time to engage students with the course material in the first meeting through a brief introductory lecture, exercise, or general discussion. Using up the entire class period from the beginning sends a positive message about the value of class time and your commitment to the class.
  • Give an assignment for the next class session. By moving immediately into the first assignment, you are conveying a sense that the course is worthwhile and well-organized. However, it should be a light assignment, something to hook them into the material and generate interest. It’s best to make it an ungraded assignment, as there may be a lot of student turnover during the first week of classes.

For more extensive advice, consult Barbara Gross Davis, "The First Day of Class."

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