First day of class...setting the stage

How do I motivate my students on the first day of class?

Each time I step into the classroom on the first day of class, there is nervous excitement. I am leading a class of students on a journey to learn something new, so I want to make a good impression.

Those first few hours of class time sets the tone and climate for students to make a judgement about their attitudes towards the course and efforts executed throughout the course.

So rather than making the first day about reading the syllabus, try a new approach.

Combine the following four principles with simple classroom management techniques to motivate your students through a learning experience you both find meaningful.

Make the first day of class a “Discovery Day”.


Classroom climate

  1. The Students - learn about your students before the first day, review the class list, understand the class culture, demographics, and languages.

  2. The learning space - go to your classroom before the start of class and walk around to become comfortable with the space, layout, furniture, seating arrangement, etc.

  3. The classroom technology - test out the control panel, login to the computer, plug in your laptop, launch web apps to make sure they will work.

To prepare students to learn on the first day of class remember these four principles:

  1. Curiosity - open with a meaningful/relatable question and discuss, or ask a foundational question about the course and discuss in small groups

  2. Community - be social together; talk in small groups, circulate

  3. Learning - Ask students “what makes a successful course?”

  4. Expectations - Highlight the major points on the syllabus to outline assessments, policies, deadlines.

So what happens on the first day of class?

Putting it altogether…

  • Arrive 10 minutes early to get the classroom technology setup.

  • Greet students as they arrive and ask them questions about themselves.

  • Get started by introducing yourself and introducing the foundational principle for the course.

  • Pose a question to students. Allow 15 minutes for them to write a response (a paragraph).

  • Have students divide into small groups of three or four. Ask them to introduce themselves to each other. Then have them share their response and discuss. They prepare a response or summary and write it on a whiteboard tablet.

  • One person from each group shares with the class the group response or summary. The whiteboard tablets are displayed at the front of the class.

  • The class concludes with you distributing the syllabus and reviewing expectations, such as deadlines, policies, and the first assignment and/or explaining course material for next class.

  • After the students leave, you take a photo of each group response on the whiteboard tablets. These photos will be presented on the last day of class to ask students how their perspectives have changed.

This post was inspired by The Chronicle of Higher Education guide posted at .https://www.chronicle.com/interactives/advice-firstday

Credit to James M. Lang, who is a professor of English and director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Assumption College.