Ten Things to Make the First Day (and
the Rest) of the Semester Successful
By Mary C. Clement, Berry College, GA
I like to arrive in the classroom well before the students. It gives me
time to get things organized. I create an entrance table (I use chairs or
desks if there’s no table) that holds handouts for students to pick up.
From day one the students learn the routine: they arrive, pick up handouts
on the entrance table, and read the screen for instructions. They know
what to do, and it saves time. Here’s how I recommend introducing the
routine on day one.
1. Post your name and the name and section of the class on the screen, so
that when students walk in they know that they are in the right place.
2. Write “welcome” on the screen and have directions that tell students
what they need to do immediately. Example: “As you enter, please tell me
your name. Then pick up a syllabus, a card, and a folder from the entrance
table. Fold the card so that it will stand on your desk, and write your
first name on it in BIG letters. Add your last name and major in smaller
print. Write your name on the tab of the folder, (last name first, then
first name). Read the syllabus until class starts.” [Note: By asking
students to tell you their name as they enter, you can hear how the name
is pronounced, and avoid the embarrassment of pronouncing it for the first
3. When it’s time for class to start—start class! Late arrivals can catch
up by reading the screen.
4. For classes of 25 or less, I have students do brief, 10-second
introductions. I tell them there will be a verbal quiz after all the
introductions and that they can win stars if they know who is who. (Have
fun with this, but remember that these are adults and college is not like
5. For larger classes, I have students introduce themselves to three or
four people around them, and then we might do “stand-ups”—stand up if you
are a Spanish major, stand up if you are an education major, and so on. I
explain that students need to know each other for our small group work,
and in case they have a question.
6. I collect the file folders and put them alphabetically by student name
into a big plastic carrying case. When students need to turn in
assignments, they find the box on the entrance table and they put their
papers in their respective folders. When papers are graded, they can pull
their graded tests or assignments from their folders. The beauty of this
system is that time is never wasted by passing out papers. For small
classes, I put handouts in the folders of absent students.
7. After the introductions and the explanation of the folder and box
system, I turn to the “Today we will” list that I’ve written on the board,
posted on a large paper flip-chart, or projected on the screen. I like to
actually write this list on the board, so I can return to it even while
projecting my notes. A “today we will” list outlines my plan for the day.
For example, for the first day, my “today we will list” says:
- See screen for instruction for card and folder.
- Turn in folders
- Go over syllabus completely
- Minilecture on ___________
- Interest inventory
- Do you know what to read/do before the next class?
[Note: The “today we will” list lets me walk around the room, teach from
the projection system, and then look at the list for what I should do
next. I tend not to forget things if I have the list. As the semester
progresses, the “today we will” list might contain warm-up questions
that then appear as test questions. The list helps students who arrive
late or leave early see what they have missed.]
8. The minilesson/minilecture—whether it’s a short overview of the
first reading assignment, some sample problems, or 10 interesting
questions students will be able to answer at the end of the course, I
strongly recommend doing some course content on the first day. For classes
that last longer than 50 minutes, I include a short student activity. I
also think it’s important to begin with course material on day one so that
students begin to see who you are and how you teach. Since I teach courses
in teacher education, I often talk about my teaching career. I include a
few stories about how times have changed and about how some things in
teaching never change.
9. Interest inventories are great for the first day of class. An interest
inventory is just a short list of questions about students’ backgrounds
and interests. It may assess their prior learning as well. In addition to
name and major, students can write about a hobby, interest, or goal. Do
not be too personal. You can have them answer several questions about
content—maybe solve a problem, write a short paragraph or answer specific
questions. Finally open-ended questions are useful:
- What are your goals after graduation?
- What has a teacher done in the past that helped you to learn
- Is there anything else that you want me to know about you and your
course of study?
You can always add one fun question:
- If your song played when you entered the room, what would that song
10. Every good class has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. I
usually teach the minilesson, and then save the last six to eight minutes
of class for the interest inventory and individual questions. This way,
students don’t have to wait on others to finish. I instruct students to
turn in their interest inventory as they exit. As they are writing, I
alphabetize their folders and put them in the box on the table. Another
good closure is to ask if they know what to read/do before the next class,
and if they know three people to ask about the assignment if they have a
Contact Mary Clement at
Copyright © 2007 Magna Publications. Reproduction in whole or in part
without permission is prohibited.
To register for your own copy of the Teaching Professor,
contact Devah Carter at