First Day of Class: Suggestions to maximize instructional efficacy

first-dayWow, a new school year is poised to launch, and I find myself wondering what the first day of class will look like. Do I just walk in and say “hello” or do I attempt to be somewhat creative? If so, what should it look like? According to the new roster, almost all registered students will be new faces. I do want to make a good impression on them, and I want the students to learn something about their new course.

Sound familiar? Probably. The first day of any new semester should be one of order and excitement, not chaos. As a seasoned instructor I desire students to learn, on the first day of class, that class order and structure are very important to me and hopefully to them. After all, they will tend to learn more, respect their peers, and leave the classroom with a sense of awe toward the intentional learning environment. And remember, what happens on the first day of class will typically set the tone for the semester. But, how do I achieve the class order and yet impact the students learning environment beginning with the first day of class? The following components attempt to suggest means of how to achieve this daunting task.

1) Do students take a lot of time entering the classroom and discovering where he or she will sit? One way to streamline this procedure is to place a desk at the entrance door with folders and 3×5 cards—the cards are discussed in point 2. As students enter, it is hoped they will pick up material for the class session and select a seat. On a chalkboard or screen should be a list of instruction (e.g., a “Today We Will” list) for the folder, 3×5 cards, class activities, and syllabus. The folder is to serve as a student’s point-of-contact with papers to turn in, being returned, or handouts. When the folders are on the table students know to check for documents. This action will conserve the instructor’s time following day one.
2) The 3×5 card is to make a name placard for the student’s desk (first name—large letters) to enable the instructor to learn names. By learning students’ names early on will demonstrate the instructor’s respect for them. While students are working on a short assignment, the instructor may check the roll without using additional classroom time.

3) On the screen list, titled “Today We Will,” should be an activity that will focus the student’s attention a specific task. For example, the placard can be prepared and placed on the student’s desk and the instructor should attempt to pronounce the name and make room for feedback—correction to the pronunciation—and this helps build rapport. Building rapport is a positive motivator. Educators Benson, Cohen, and Buskist “found that when teacher-student rapport increased, students enjoyed the class more, their attendance improved, as did their attention during class, [and] they studied more . . .” (Weimer 155, 2013).

Another activity might be to allow students to help with how they learn. State several stem sentences that allow for student response. For example, “I learn best in classes where the teacher ______________.” Or “I am most likely to participate in classes when ______________.” Or “Here’s something that makes it hard/easy to learn in a course:  _______________.” To get students involved in a dialogue, the instructor could select one response and ask additional details of the student or the cooperate body. The purpose is to get students to know each other, to discover how this class learns, perhaps the syllabus may need to be adjusted—this gives students ownership, and establishes ground rules.

You may query, why should the “Today We Will” list be posted on the chalkboard or screen? This list facilitates students in understanding what will be covered in each class. Here each step for a given day is noted, which serves as a class road map.  Students will come to expect a given direction for each class and the semester.

4) On the first day of class, during the appropriate time for individual introductions, students may build their community by stating their degree goal, briefly discuss the call of God into ministry, or their desire to serve in another country as a missionary.

5) Next, the instructor may choose to engage students in a mini-lecture to whet their appetites with some outstanding feature of the course and what the student will be able to do, having completed the course.

6) Consider referring to the syllabus toward the end of the first day of class. Yes, the syllabus is the “road map” for the semester. However, try reviewing it in general terms and then have students write one or two questions about what they don’t fully understand as an assignment for the next class. This activity will assist students in becoming familiar with the various components of the syllabus. A well-written syllabus should contain course description, objectives, textbooks, requirements, reading assignments, how grades will be calculated to assign the final grade, daily schedule, criteria for each assignment, bibliography, among others.

7) Develop lesson plans. Is there a definitive means for developing a lesson plan? There is no one means to prepare a lesson plan. Educational websites, however, provide a plethora of options. Whatever format the instructor may choose, be sure it includes: a) means of getting students to focus on what is being taught, b) facilitate students with new course materials and practical explanations, c) application, synthesis, and creativeness, d) review, conclude, and assess before the final bell rings—ending the class. In the course of teaching be communicative; visual—chalkboard, PowerPoint’s; allow time for participation—Q&A, discussion; reference to textbooks; two-minute papers—think and write; small groups; among others.

Remember, the first day of class will tend to set precedence for the balance of the semester. Be impressive, persuasive, interactive, practical yet academic. The instructor’s role is to impart skills and knowledge and reinforce student learning. Modeling study habits and effective ways of interaction will lead students down the path of succeeding in real world life. It all begins on the first day of class.

Organizational studies researcher, John S. Brown (2005), proffers that “As the pace of change in the 21st century continues to increase, the world is becoming more interconnected and complex, and the knowledge economy is craving more intellectual property. . . . [I]t is critical that we shift our focus from education to life-long learning” [emphasis mine]. “Though students have the ultimate responsibility for their own learning,” according to educator Mary C. Clement (31), “instructors can and should create the structure for learning by creating a well-organized class.” By creating a healthy atmosphere for learning, students will gravitate to a learner-centered approach, which is well attested if the first day of class is dynamic and not status quo. Some University of Oklahoma professors developed a nine-point list of how to get off to a good start on day one of class. Their bottom line of response was something like the following, “Whatever it is you want your students to do regularly in class, have them do it on the first day of class” (Google).

So for the LAC audience, let us learn how to be more dynamic in our institutes beginning with the first day of class to facilitate life-long learning.



Brown, John Sealy. “New Learning Environments for the 21st Century.” 2005.
Accessed August 31, 2015.


Clement, Mary C. “Ten Ways to Engage your Students on the First Day of Class.”

Magna Online Seminar. A Magna Publications White Paper. Accessed August

5, 2015.


Google. “The First Day of Class.” Accessed August 31, 2015.


McCulley, Murriell. Transformational Teaching: Partnering with Your Students.

Springfield, MO: Life Publishers, 2014.


Weimer, Maryellen. Learner-Centered Teaching: Five Key Changes to Practice. 2nd ed.

San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2013.

One Reply to “First Day of Class: Suggestions to maximize instructional efficacy”

  1. Great suggestions and reminders here, Mike. I know for a fact that communicating expectations at the beginning of each class makes for a more comfortable and understandable experience for all.

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