UW Continuum College Instructor Resources

Teaching the First Day of Class

The first day sets the pattern for the rest of the course and put you and your students on a path to success.  You should envision the first day as an opportunity for you to establish expectations, set the tone, and begin to get to know your students. When the students come to the first class, they are eager to know what will be taught in the course, what the instructor will be like, what will be required of them, and how they will be evaluated.

On the first day, consider ways to involve your students in a discussion of course content. Try modeling or practicing strategies and methods you plan to use throughout the course. By planning a focused and dynamic first day you will give students a better sense of the course overall. For online and dual-modality courses it will be particularly important to establish clear norms and expectations regarding participation.


Get to know your students


Introduce yourself by talking a bit about your work experiences and how and why you came to teach for UW PCE. Ask students to introduce themselves and share one motivation for enrolling in the course or program. If you are teaching in a classroom, you might have your students create small table-tents with their names writ large for all to see.

One very important task is for you to learn everyone’s names and get into the habit of using their names. Table tents work well for in-person students, but you’ll also want to get to know your online students and be able to call on them comfortably. The University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Office of Graduate Studies has also published strategies on learning students’ names.


Collect information about your students

It can be valuable to know something about your students’ background, including their current professional role, career ambitions, and prior coursework or workshops. Knowing their expectations for the course can also be helpful. This information can help you calibrate your teaching and course content to your students’ levels and interests.

Online surveys (e.g. via UW Catalyst) can be a useful tool for collecting information from all students. You can have students complete the survey during class, or as part of the first week’s homework. Or you could provide index cards and have the students provide the information as students are gathering for the first session.


Establish a collegial community of learners

Ice breakers

To mix things up a bit, you might take some class time for students to participate in an icebreaker activity. Consider how to modify traditional icebreakers so as to be inclusive of online students.

As a first homework task, we recommend having all students post a short introduction or bio to the course website. This is especially valuable when some or all students are attending online.


Establish a comfortable atmosphere and professional rapport

Establishing an atmosphere in which students will feel comfortable asking questions and contributing to discussion in a respectful manor will increase everyone’s potential for success. It may be worth explicitly discussing your expectations with regard to participation and collaboration. You might consider having all students contribute to a list of “norms” they would like to see in the classroom. This can be formalized into a document that is then posted on the course website.

UW’s Center for Teaching and Learning offers additional resources on inclusive teaching.


Establish expectations and goals

If your course is the second or third of a sequential certificate program, the first day is a good opportunity to review key skills and idea from prior courses. Online students can take advantage of discussion boards via the course website, or use the Chat or Breakout rooms (with Whiteboard) function of Zoom.


Review the syllabus

Review the syllabus as a group; highlight the course requirements and policies including the 80% attendance requirement.  Discuss the objectives of the course and your approach to the subject. If not teaching the first course in the certificate program, clarify how you course builds on previous course(s). Discuss the readings, assignments, and forms of evaluation. You may want to consider creative approaches to this important “housekeeping” task.


Additional Resources

Setting the tone