first days

What are effective ways to get to know my students and create a positive learning environment from the very beginning of the term? How can I pique students' curiosity about the course material? How can I set student expectations for active engagement in class?

Students in a classroomThese are common questions as teachers prepare for the first days of class, an important time for setting the tone for what is to come in the term. CRLT links to many resources that can help faculty and GSIs think carefully about getting the most out of the first days. These include research on why classroom rapport is useful for student learning, and specific strategies for building relationships and communities in the early days and weeks of a course. Other resources provide suggestions for introducing course material and communicating expectations. Find more first days resources on this list, or click on the tags below for pages that include links to materials we use in our new teacher orientation programs. 

Other CRLT resources about inclusive teaching provide specific strategies for ensuring that you foster learning environments that include and enable all of your students from the very beginning of the term. Inclusive teaching can begin before you ever walk into a classroom, as emphasized by these pages on course design and syllabus design.

As always, CRLT consultants are also available to work one-on-one with instructors. We're here to help you get your classes off to a great start.

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With the beginning of the semester just around the corner, many instructors are strategizing about how best to start productive classroom conversations. Students who speak even briefly at the beginning of a class meeting are more likely to participate in discussions going forward, and a well-chosen icebreaker can help everyone join in. As quick, low-stakes, and often fun activities that involve students at the beginning of a session, icebreakers can be a good way to learn about who's in the classroom, reduce anxiety, and engage all students in thinking together about course content.  

CRLT provides examples of icebreakers and guidance for using them in the Handbook on Departmental GSI Development. We also recently polled our Graduate Student Instructional Consultants (GSICs) to gather a list of their favorites. Here are some good ideas we received when we asked the GSICs to "tweet" us a particularly effective icebreaker they have used, seen, or heard about: Read more »

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Students walking on campusAs winter term wraps up, many U-M teachers are thinking ahead to their spring and summer courses. When teaching in a short semester with a limited number of class sessions, it's especially important to make good use of the first day. How can you use an initial meeting to do more than review the syllabus and begin to learn students' names?

CRLT provides many resources to help you quickly establish a productive learning environment in your courses. This page provides an overview of resources related to goals you might have for the first day, from building rapport among students to getting them engaged with the course material. You can also click on the links below for great ideas about:

As always, CRLT staff are available to consult with individual instructors about effective teaching strategies before, during, or after your course. 

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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. The links in this section provide information and suggestions for getting started effectively on the first day of class.


Learning Students' Names (University of Nebraska)
List of 23 techniques for learning students’ names in both small and large class settings.

The Most Important Day: Starting Well (Wright, 1999)
Ideas for faculty members on how to use the first day of class to start building relationships with students.

The First Day of Class (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Seven tips for handling your first meeting with students, and specific strategies in response to common concerns of beginning teachers.

101 Things for the First 3 Weeks (University of Nebraska, Lincoln)
Specific ideas for generating interest in course material, building community in the classroom, helping students transition into the course, and encouraging active learning. Read more »

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