Day 1 Decisions

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By Gerry Hess from Gonzaga University School of Law

As a new semester approaches and we begin planning our courses, we should spend some time thinking about the first day of class in each course. The first class is important – it sets a tone for the remainder of the semester and students form first impressions of the course, their peers, and their teacher. Among the aspects of first classes that merit our attention are the few minutes before class begins, the opening of the class, the syllabus, the content, and the teaching/learning methods.

Before class. What will you do just before class? Options include:

» Greet students at the door as they enter the classroom
» Introduce yourself to each student individually as you distribute a handout
» Project an intriguing image on the screen in front of the classroom
» Enter the classroom just as class is about to begin.

Opening. What will you do in the first few minutes of class? Knowing that students will form first impressions of the course and their teachers very quickly, you could:

» Introduce yourself, exhibiting your passion for the course
» Have students introduce themselves, including something that will help make their name memorable for you and the other students
» Introduce the course with a problem, hypothetical, or news story that engages students.

Syllabus. You want students to know the information in the course syllabus but may not want to spend too much class time on the syllabus. You could:

» Ask students to read the syllabus outside of class
» Highlight the most important aspects of the syllabus in class
» Encourage students to ask questions about the syllabus on the course web page or in class
» Give students an open-syllabus quiz – a treasure hunt with little prizes for correct responses.

Content. The first class should include some important course content. You could:

» Give a short lecture introducing major themes for the course
» Pose a problem or hypothetical that raises key issues for the course
» Make a connection between course content and real life through a news story, video, or student experiences.

Teaching/Learning Methods. The first class not only introduces students to the course, their teacher, and their fellow students, it can signal to students what they will be expected to do each day in the course. To send an accurate signal, the first class should contain some of the methods you will use throughout the course. Options include:

» Lecture – students take notes
» Questioning – call on students or solicit volunteers
» Discussion – in a large or small group
» Writing – short, written responses to questions, problems, hypotheticals
» Variety – several different methods in the first class.

By thinking about these issues as we approach the first day of our courses, we make our teaching more intentional. Of course, when the first class actually arrives, we need to be flexible, ready to adjust, open to seizing a teachable moment. The combination of thoughtful planning and flexibility can lead to success in the first class … and in every class that follows.

Institute for Law Teaching and Learning