AppetiteDepending on the length of your first class meeting, after going over the syllabus and other such responsibilities, you may still have some time left to whet the students’ appetites for what they are about to learn. Because students may still add your class, you do not want to address too much content (especially anything that appears on the first exam and will not be addressed a second time) during the first class session. However, starting in on discipline-specific material and activities will help your students know how interesting and challenging the upcoming class is going to be and can help you know more about the students, too.

A number of effective professors whet their students’ appetites by asking open-ended questions such as “What do you think of when you hear [economics, sociology, etc.]?” This not only engages the students’ interest but gives you something to work with. Students might not shout back what you would hope to hear, but take their answers at face value and do something with them.

An alternative idea and one that also gets students to begin working in groups on the first day, is to do a no-book directed reading thinking activity (DR-TA). The steps, which can be listed on the board or on the screen, are as follows:

  1. On your own, list everything you can think of that might be in a book entitled __________________________.  [Write the title of your textbook, or the title of your course if you do not use a textbook.]
  2. Get with a partner, share your ideas, and then put the ideas you both generated for step 1 into categories.
  3. Give each category a name.
  4. Get with another pair and, together, combine your ideas. Then arrange the categories as a table of contents for this book and write it on the piece of chart paper each group has been given.

This entire process takes about thirty to thirty-five minutes and is worth every second. Students begin to think about the class, they meet at least three other members of the class, and professors begin to have a sense of what their students know relative to the course as they walk around listening to the groups process the task and as they observe what students write on the chart paper for display.

Seeking to open students’ minds to a new perception by asking additional, perhaps rhetorical questions, is also valuable. Sharing the front page of the morning newspaper, a video clip from recent news broadcast, or the cover of a popular weekly newsmagazine is an effective attention-grabbing device for visual learners, while passing around examples of work will appeal to tactile learners. Experiential activities that require students to move around within the classroom engage the learning systems of kinesthetic learners. The key is to plant seeds to encourage students to examine their preexisting views, without trying to win them over to your views of the subject matter all at once.

You might also want to provide a cursory review of the textbook adopted for the class, acquainting the students with how the content is organized, what study aids are included, and how those aids might enhance their mastery of the course material. If you will be using supplementary materials, such as a course pack or a website, you may want to explore those with your students, making appropriate connections to the textbook and to the syllabus. If you have made arrangements to have materials on reserve at the library (virtually or physically), you can review procedures for their use. Perhaps you have an extended reading list; reviewing it and highlighting specifically interesting or unique articles or books would be most beneficial to your students.

Remember, your goal is to encourage students to establish a foundation on which they can build knowledge and skills throughout the course. You also want to be sure that your students, particularly if they are new to your campus, know when, where, and how to access the resources of the library for their other class projects. Good teachers encourage students to use the library (also known as the knowledge center in today’s parlance).

Use every moment of the first week of class to ignite the learning of students. Whetting their appetites for the upcoming course content is key and using the ideas in this article are just starters for that process.

Strategic professors know that the first day of class sets the tone (and can *almost* determine the success or the lack thereof) of a course. Pay attention to the ideas in this article and others available from Meggin McIntosh. In addition, you can learn much more about teaching and reaching the many different types of students who are in today’s college classroom by reading the book *Teaching College in an Age of Accountability* (Allyn & Bacon). The book was written by Richard Lyons & Meggin McIntosh (the author of this article).


And if you want to get your current semester organized or prepare for the next, I highly recommend If You Do Nothing Else This Semester. With the strategies I present you will get the strategies you need to not only have a successful semester, but a successful year.