First Day of Class


It is important to be well-prepared for the first day of a course. Students often decide very early whether they like a course, the teacher, and their fellow students. According to the University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, “The first days of class are important in setting the tone for what is to come, and it is crucial to think carefully about how you present yourself and how you get the course established.”
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Recommendations for the First Day of Class

The goals of the first day of class are to provide and gain information and to set the tone for the course. Here are some recommendations for achieving those goals:

  1. Ask students to introduce themselves to you and to each other. You have a choice about how much information to ask for, possibilities include: name, year level, academic/professional interests and plans, and expectations and goals for the course. You can also include a less predictable question, for example: Who is your favorite musician? or Do you have a pet? The goal is to start building a sense of community in the class and lay a foundation for engagement, trust, and a sense of mutual responsibility.
  2. Introduce yourself to the class and state your pronouns. Tell as much or as little as you want and be as formal or informal as you want. Keep in mind that this introduction can inform students not only about your professional credentials, experience, and expertise, but also about you as a person – your interests, hobbies, and activities – as well as your approach to teaching and working with students. Tell them what you would like them to call you. Be authentic. The goal is to make yourself approachable and build rapport so students will communicate with you directly and honestly and be open to the material you are teaching.
  3. Provide information about the course. Recommendations differ about how much detail to go into when reviewing the course syllabus. At a minimum, you should point out the most important sections: course goals and learning objectives, course format, assignments and deadlines, grading policies, and expectations about classroom behavior and communication. You might also wish to mention university policies regarding academic integrity, religious holidays, accommodations, and so on. The goal is to inform students so they know what to expect in the course.
  4. Begin to present or discuss course content. Your goal is to capture students’ interest, spark their curiosity, and build their enthusiasm for the topics to be covered. You can do this by (a) describing some of the central issues in the field; (b) introducing major controversies; (c) asking thought-provoking questions, (d) giving compelling examples; or (e) pointing out interesting applications. It is important to put this course in the context of the students’ entire curriculum and training experiences. Point out how this course will add to their knowledge and skills as they progress through their education.
  5. Model your teaching style and philosophy.  Do you expect the class to be interactive, with the students talking to you and to each other? Do you plan to use activities like one-minute papers or think-pair-shares? Will you rely predominantly on lectures? Will students work in small groups? Will there be demonstrations or role playing? The goal is to give the students a clear picture of what their class experience will be like.

Sources and Resources

  • Your First Day of Class
    ​​​​​​​The University of Chicago Center for Teaching provides a list of specific tasks for preparing and doing on the first day of class.
  • The First Day of Class
    The Cornell University Center for Teaching Innovation provides information on why the first day is important, general considerations, and specific recommendations.
  • What to Do on the First Day of Class
    The University of California/Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning lists activities to consider for the first day of class, including filling out a questionnaire.
  • How to Teach a Good First Day of Class
    ​​​​​​​The Chronicle of Higher Education describes four principles that can help in planning activities for the first day of class as well as suggestions for preparing and following-up.
  • Design & Teach a Course
    The Carnegie Mellon University Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation provides detailed suggestions for the first class meeting, including how to create a good first impression, introduce yourself and the course effectively, help students learn about each other, set the tone, introduce students to course content, and inform students about course logistics.
  • First Day of Class
    The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching focuses on creating an inviting class environment and presenting and discussion course expectations and requirements.

Learn Student Names and Pronouns

The MIT Teaching + Learning Lab blog provided the following tips for learning student names and pronouns.


·      On your course syllabus and the first day of class, introduce yourself by sharing what you’d like students to call you, your pronouns, and how to pronounce your name.

·      In a pre-semester survey, ask students to share their name, phonetic pronunciation, and pronouns (see ideas for questions in pre-semester surveys  here).

·      In a community building activity, create opportunities for students to share the story of their name.

·      During the first weeks of class, ask students to introduce themselves to each other during small group activities and to say their name each time they ask a question or share a comment in class.

·      When addressing groups of people or people whose pronouns you haven’t been told, use gender-neutral language such as, “everyone,” “folks,” “all,” or “y’all,” rather than “guys,” “ladies,” “ma’am,” or “sir.”

Learning how to pronounce names

·      Invite each student to record themselves saying their name using a (free) tool like namedrop  that produces a link to the recording. You can also record your own name and include the link in the syllabus, canvas site, and your email signature.

·      Consult a database of name pronunciations:You can upload a list of your students’ names to a database such as nameshouts to hear authentic pronunciation of names verified by linguists and native speakers.

·      Phonetic spelling: Invite students to share phonetic spelling of their names (see instructions here) or a familiar word that rhymes with their name.

·      You can invite each student to share their name recordings or phonetic spellings in a pre-semester survey, a Canvas assignment, and/or email signature.

Memory strategies for learning names and pronouns

·      Whenever possible, practice recalling a person’s name and pronouns (e.g., as they enter the classroom, ask a question, or take an exam in class).

·      Visualize the student, recall their name, and imagine referring to the student using the correct name and pronouns when they email you or when you encounter their assignment submission on Canvas.

·      If you teach in a large class, invite students to create name cards using large blank index cards that can be seen by you and by others in the class. You can invite students to add their pronouns (if they wish).

·      Invite students to correct you if you make a mistake with their name, your pronunciation of it, or their pronouns.  If you make a mistake, acknowledge your error, apologize, and to correct it.

Learn student names and pronouns