The first class

The first lecture in a course creates the right environment and establishes expectations between teachers and students.

Lecturer standing in front of students in a lecture theatre.

“The first class sets the scene: go through the teacher-student relationship and get an agreement/contract”—Teacher

Create a relaxed atmosphere

  • Show students you are human and approachable. Feel at home yourself, and your students will too.
  • Appreciate that university can be an alien environment for students.

Teaching first classes

  • The first lecture establishes the atmosphere. Some educational experts suggest that a class evolves as a social entity.
  • Establish a dialogue with students from the beginning. Encourage them to share their thoughts about the role of university study and offer some of your own experiences and thoughts.
  • Enlighten students with your views on why this course is important to them.
  • Start with questions designed to surface students' assumptions and understandings about the course topic areas.
  • Summarise what students are expected to learn early on, setting expectations higher with each year level. Indicate the point students are currently at and show them where they are expected to go.
  • Tell students about your teaching philosophy, emphasising higher order learning (analysis, synthesis, evaluation and the like). Bloom's revised taxonomy can be a useful guide to explain how different levels of thinking build learning. More information can be found on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.
  • The first day of lectures is also about laying the ground rules. Discuss the teacher-student relationship, gain agreement and put strategies in place to avoid problems later in the course.
  • Tell students about the effort you will put into teaching them, and that equally, you expect them to read, listen and participate. Increase the work ethic and you get the product from the students.
  • Let students know that as teachers, we might provide 10% of their experience/readings and that the other 90% is their own work that will help prepare them for a successful career and lifelong learning.
  • Passively listening to a lecturer in class does not help magnify the learning, whereas participating through questions, examples, and exercises improves the learning process.
  • Establish that you will be asking students questions, and you will expect, and reward participation from the whole class. But, you respect that some students do not want to be singled out in front of the class.
  • Point out the importance of personal examples that can be interpreted on a professional level. Train their minds to think about these things and make it a habit.

Use ice breakers

Photograph of an ice cube on a white background.

Name saying: Start with “Hello class, I'm John Smith”, acting a bit. Eventually, students will reply with ‘Hello John Smith’ and they'll know and remember you. Make it a bit of a joke—not serious.

Names are part of building that meaningful dialogue. It's surprising how many students don't know their lecturers' names!

Put up a slide that tells students: “Talk to your neighbours” or “Get to know your neighbours”.

Playing music: Makes it an inviting environment for lecturer and students.

“It's not uncommon for me to spend the first lecture just telling the students about my teaching philosophy, so they understand where I am coming from. Otherwise, they are expecting something quite different.”—Judy Brown