Getting Your Class Off to a Great Start
Self-Paced lessons for getting your class off to a great start
Lesson 1: Icebreakers
"People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care." -Teaching For Success, August 1995
To help establish a positive environment and provide participants with an opportunity to get to know one another and the instructor.
Time: Thirty minutes to one hour depending on the icebreaker selected
The method depends on the icebreaker selected. Instructors are encouraged to see the CTE’s Teaching Tip Icebreaker Activities for more ideas.
- Have students get into pairs or groups of four.
- Tell students to introduce themselves and then have the group members look in their purse/wallet/backpack to find something that is significant to them.
- Each participant then shares with his/her group or partner why the item is significant.
- This exercise continues until all group members have shared.
- The class then resumes and class members are asked to introduce their partners or one person from their group and tell something significant about them.
- For variation, as students introduce each other, they can also recall the names of the students previously introduced. This is an excellent way to learn everyone's name, but it is time consuming and therefore dependent on class size and time available.
*Note: At the conclusion of the icebreaker, introduce yourself and include how you wish to be addressed. Also, share your background and your philosophy on learning and teaching.
Benefits of Using Icebreakers
- Reduces student and instructor anxiety prior to introducing the topic.
- Creates an environment where the learner is expected to participate and the instructor is willing to listen.
- Conveys the message that the instructor cares about getting to know the students.
- Makes it easier for students to form relationships early in the semester so they can work together, both in and out of class.
Additional Icebreaker Ideas
- Have students draw a picture of a significant event that has occurred over the past six months and then have them share it with a partner. Following this activity students introduce each other in the same manner as mentioned above.
- Have students pair up and get to know one another and then switch partners every five minutes.
- Have students get into groups of three to five and get to know each other. Then have each group generate a list of five to eight questions that they have about the class. After this list has been generated, the instructor then hands out the syllabus and the groups go over it together to answer their questions. The class reconvenes and the groups ask any questions that were not answered by the syllabus.
- In a writing class, students could be instructed to spend twenty minutes getting to know each other by writing, not speaking.
Lesson 2: Problem Posting
Use Problem Posting to find out what students already know about a topic, to stimulate interest in the subject, and to clarify any misconceptions.
Time: Approximately ten to twenty minutes
- Before introducing a topic such as asthma, ask the students to first put in writing what they know about asthma. If it's the first day of class, ask instead what they know or have heard about the course.
- After approximately three to five minutes, ask for one or two volunteers to share what they wrote and post their ideas on the board. Then ask if anyone has anything different and add this to what is written on the board. Continue until there are no more volunteers.
- While writing the students' ideas on the board, gently clarify their perceptions and correct any misconceptions. By the end of this activity everything on the board will be correct.
- All students have an opportunity to participate during the written portion, and those who wish, can also participate in the large group "posting" portion of the activity.
- The instructor has an opportunity to find out what the students already know, as well as clarify any misconceptions and/or reinforce what is understood about the topic.
- Students can apply their life experiences and/or education to the topic.
- Problem posting helps establish an atmosphere where the instructor does not dominate.
- It conveys the message that instructors can listen, as well as talk.
- This technique helps students feel more ownership for the content and what they are learning.
Lesson 3: Creating a Positive Environment
- Arrive early to set the room up as desired.
- Seating arrangement is determined by the tone or atmosphere desired, as well as the physical limitations of the room.
- Check for the following: markers, erasers, lighting, room temperature, number of desks/chairs, etc.
- Write your name and the course code on the board. (This helps those students who might be in the wrong classroom.)
- Post the class agenda on the board.
- Greet students as they arrive.
- As students arrive have them fill out a 3 x 5 card with information that you desire, such as name, phone number, past educational experience, why they took the course, etc. If the class is not opposed, ask for a volunteer to type a class roster with names, phone numbers, and/or email addresses.
- 5 x 7 cards can also be provided and tented to display the students' names until the instructor learns all names.
- Use good human relationship skills, such as eye contact, active listening, smiling, etc.
- Provide a ten minute break every fifty minutes and let students know where food and beverage are available.
- Start on time and end on time.
Lesson 4: Course Policies and Procedures
- Take attendance or have students sign in.
- Review prerequisites for the course, if necessary.
- Post your office hours, office number, phone number, email address and any restrictions in terms of when they should not call.
- Review the course syllabus. Or, have students get into groups and identify questions or concerns regarding the syllabus.
- Review the grading system and your expectations regarding assignments, test taking, etc.
- Bring a copy of the required text and tell students where the text is available.
- Provide a class schedule, including dates and topics.
- Tell students to inform you after class if they have any special needs. (Versus waiting until the end of the semester.)
Lesson 5: Introducing the Content
- Provide an overview of the course.
- Describe how you propose to spend class time.
- Give your students ideas on how to study and prepare for class.
- You might want to give an ungraded pretest to find out what students already know about the first topic.
- You could use problem posting and ask the students to list what they know about the first topic.
- Give an (ungraded) assignment for the next class meeting.
- At the end of the first class meeting, ask students to anonymously write their impressions and any questions or concerns they have regarding the course. Begin the next class session by addressing any concerns or questions.
Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Print.
Johnson, G.R. First Steps to Excellence in College Teaching. Madison: Magna Publications, Inc., 1995. Print.
Silberman, M. Active Learning: 101 Strategies to Teach Any Subject. Needham Heights: Allyn and Bacon, 1996. Print.
Weimer, M. Improving Your Classroom Teaching. Newbury Park: SAGE Publications, 1993. Print.
Weimer, M., and Rose Ann Neff. Teaching College: Collected Readings for the New Instructor. Madison: Magna Publication, Inc., 1990. Print.
All of the above reference materials are available on a lending basis in the Center For Teaching Excellence (TLC Room 324).
Suggestions for Ending a Course
Self-Paced lessons for ending a course on a high note
Lesson 1: Suggestions for Ending a Course
"One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feelings." -Carl Jung
- Review the syllabus as a way to review concepts covered in the course.
- If students set goals at onset of class, have them revisit these goals and share in dyads or small groups how well they accomplished their goals, how they did so, and the outcome. Or, they can write their observations to you in a letter or email.
- Share what you learned about teaching and/or the subject matter with your students.
- Provide self-addressed envelopes and ask students to write you a letter in a few months telling you one or more things they learned and actually used. Or, send your students an email few months after the class has ended asking them to share one or two things they have applied.
- Ask students to write a letter to someone who will take the course, describing strategies that were worthwhile, those that caused problems and give advice on how best to succeed in the course. (Share their advice with subsequent classes. Or randomly give these letters to participants of the next class.) Students tend to hear advice from each other better than from the instructor.
- Ask students to bring to class magazines they are willing to cut up, scissors and glue. In groups, have them create a collage that depicts the main ideas covered in the course. Have each group explain their collage to the large group.
- Ask students to write a self-evaluation and have the students reflect on their performance
and behavior in the class. Reassure students that this will not count towards their
grade, however it is required to complete the class. Questions to ask might include
- How has your approach to the subject matter changed during this course?
- How do you feel you have performed in this class?
- What would you do differently if you had a chance to do this all over again?
- What advice would you give a best friend if they had to take this course to help him/her do well?
- How has this course helped you develop as an emerging professional?
- What strategies, activities, assignments, etc., best fit your learning style and helped you learn the most?
- Have the students pretend that the class was a movie. Have each student (or in small groups) title the movie and write a review.
- Use a game such as Jeopardy or Hollywood Squares to review for the final exam.
- Provide them with a scenario such as the following: "Your best friend has approached you and states that she has to take this course. She can't take the class from anyone else and she needs the class to graduate. What advice will you give your friend to help her succeed in this class?" (For more inf. on this see Cooperative Learning and College Teaching, 6.1 (1995): 11-13. Print.)
- In a physiology course (or other applicable course), a week or so ahead of the last class, have groups of students randomly pick out of a hat or box, slips of paper with different organ systems. On the last day, have them perform a skit using any props they wish which represent their organ system and have the other students try to guess what organ system they are portraying. Or, have the students make a game of "physiology pictionary."
- On the first day, pose a question such as "What is philosophy?" Give the students approxiamtely five to ten minutes to answer the question in writing. Provide them with an envelop and ask them to put their response in the envelop, seal it and write their name on the outside. On the last day of class, ask the same question and provide time to write their answer again. Hand them back their original response and have them compare, in groups, what they had learned and how their views changed during the semester.
- Have each student write a letter to you. Provide questions for them to answer in the letter. Respond in-kind with "a letter to the class" telling them what you learned from their letters.
- Have students call out topics covered in the class and list these on the board while the students also write them down. Have students discuss with a partner what the most personally valuable topics were for them and why. If time allows, have pairs join other pairs and share their responses. Students can also share with the large group their most valuable discoveries/rediscoveries and what changes they would recommend for improving the course.
"How to End Courses With a Bang" 1995. The Teaching Professor, Vol.9, No. 5
From Better Endings: "What to Do on the Last Day of Class"