First Day of Class Checklist

A photograph of scrabble tiles spelling out “back to school” on top of a yellow notepad.

The first day of class can be a source of excitement and anxiety for students and instructors. By planning ahead and creating a list of important points to cover, the first day can set a positive tone for the rest of the semester. In this article, we provide a preliminary checklist for the first day of class, along with some helpful tips and suggestions for engaging students on the first day of class.

Before the first class meeting, there are a few tasks you should complete:

  • Order books (via your department administrator).
  • Contact your TAs to get their office hours and discuss duties.
  • Consult with CLEAR about the use of the learning management system and classroom technology.
  • Prepare your class syllabus and materials.
  • Provide syllabus, office hours, and contact information to department administrative assistant.
  • Arrange to have copies made if you plan to use paper materials.
  • Create filing system (electronic and/or paper) for course materials. Click here for suggestions on how to organize for teaching.
  • Develop a system for taking attendance (to verify audit rolls).
  • Post your online materials on the learning management system and make the course available to your students.
  • Stop by the classroom to ensure that the technology you plan to use (computer, projector, and speakers) are present, working properly, and that you know how to access them. Also check for supplies you plan to use (chalk, dry erase markers, etc.).
  • Practice your first day of class lecture and any instructions you will give for classroom activities. Consider the how you can incorporate the following into your first day of class activities:
    • Creating a positive first impression with your students.
    • Setting the tone and format for your course.
    • Establishing open communication with students.
    • Introducing course components and tools.
    • Sharing course expectations and procedures.
    • Helping students learn about one another.
    • Generating interest in your course.

Tips for engaging students on the first day of class

Introduce yourself as well as any TAs you may have. Distribute and thoroughly discuss the syllabus. Be sure to emphasize available resources for students who need help. Take questions as you move through class policies, so that students feel comfortable asking questions and so that you can be assured that expectations are clear. Consider using a syllabus scavenger hunt or syllabus quiz to encourage students to become more familiar with the syllabus.

On the first day, students are often concerned with the basic aspects of the course. They want a list of required books and supplies and an explanation of the grading policy and exams. Instructors should be responsive to those concerns, handing out a syllabus and a reading list, or walking students through how the course is organized in the course shell. The instructor should explain the grading policy; let the students know the nature and frequency of exams and other assignments; and tell students whether class participation and attendance are taken into consideration in grading. It is important to begin and end class on time and, most importantly, convey concern to the students about their education and well-being by eliciting their questions and responding to them openly and candidly.

Consider an ice-breaker activity. In small classes, this could be as simple as having students introduce themselves and offer an interesting tidbit about their lives (where they’re from, for example). In larger classes, consider breaking students into small groups (even just pairs) to discuss a topic related to the course. This will engage students and give them a chance to meet someone else in the course.

Try to cover some substantive intellectual material that students will find relevant to their lives during the first class. Many instructors feel it is important to get beyond mundane administrative details and at least briefly discuss some exciting problems or issues germane to the course. This may immediately get students engaged in the material and be motivated to prepare for the next class meeting.

The tone set on the first day is more important than the content covered. For many students, the first day of class is all about expectations. What will the instructor expect of students? And what can students expect from the instructor? In short, the instructor should begin the class with the same tone they intend to use throughout the semester.

For more ideas for the first day of class, click here.

To see this list as a pared-down, interactive document that you can print out or check off electronically, click here.