The First Day of Class

This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.

Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2008

Compiled by Carol Ormand, SERC, Carleton College

Check out a set of videos of what faculty in several disciplines do on their first day of class.

Why is the first day important?

Students not yet in groups

It's the first day of class, and the room is buzzing with excitement and expectation, novelty and nerves, curiosity and uncertainty. In spite of how distracted they may seem, students are paying attention. They want to find out as much as possible about the course and they are curious about the instructor - will you be fair, interesting, easy to learn from?

The first day of a geoscience course or lab sets the tone for the entire term. This is your opportunity to stimulate excitement about the course, give students a sense of classroom dynamics, and establish course expectations.

What can you do the first day?

  • Engage students with the course content in a substantive activity that stimulates their interest in the course and demonstrates your expectations for their class work. Involve the students in making observations, asking questions, testing hypotheses, solving problems - in short: doing science, even on the first day.
  • Motivate your students to want to learn more. Make explicit connections between course content and students' lives, present information about careers in geoscience, preview "coming attractions," or stimulate their interest with a challenging task.
  • Establish a positive classroom climate. Easing students' anxiety facilitates their learning, and it's never too soon to begin. "Icebreaker" activities can be very effective in fostering rapport and a comfortable learning environment.
  • Survey your students. Finding out what your students want to learn in the course, surveying them about their current attitudes/beliefs toward geoscience, assessing their current knowledge (and misconceptions) about the subject matter, or having them complete a learning styles inventory can provide you with valuable information for your teaching.

Search for Examples

Search the collection of examples for first day of class activities that engage students with course content. You can narrow your search by course topic or level, as well.

References and Resources

References and Resources is an annotated bibliography of additional resources.

First Day of Class is a chapter in Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis that was used extensively in making the First Day of Class pages and provides many useful ideas and suggestions.

First Day of Class Video
This set of videos from the MERLOT ELIXR project highlights faculty from a number of different disciplines and what they do during their first class session to set the tone for the rest of the course. Click on the image at the right to watch the video clips and see these faculty members in action.

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