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Strategies for Getting Your Students to Read The Syllabus

A well-designed syllabus tells your students that you have invested in your course, that you understand their needs as learners, and that you are well prepared. Getting your students to read this document and refer to it, however, can be challenging. To that end, consider the following strategies:

  1. During the first class, ask students, either in groups or individually, to develop questions they have about the course. Then, distribute the syllabus and have them review it individually or in groups to locate the answers to their questions. After this activity, address any questions not answered by the syllabus.
  2. Assign a discussion question, which they should be prepared to address after reading the syllabus. For example, "Compared to other courses you have taken, do you expect this one to be more or less difficult (or require more or less time), and why?" (Nilson 40).
  3. Make a list of questions students should never ask you because the answers are in the syllabus (40).
  4. Create a scavenger hunt and have students use the syllabus to find the answers to your questions. Award a prize to whomever answers the questions the fastest and most thoroughly (40).
  5. Assign a review of the syllabus as homework, and give the students a list of questions to answer for the second class session. This could be followed by having them sign a statement such as the following: "I have read the assigned syllabus and understand its contents, as well as the grading and attendance policies" (40). Thereafter, if there are disputes regarding your policies, refer them to their signed statement.
  6. Assign a review of the syllabus as homework and give a quiz on it in an upcoming class session. While you could ask questions related to how many points something is worth, according to Nilson (41), it might send a stronger message to ask questions such as the following:
    • "Which of the learning outcomes of this course are most personally significant to you and why?"
    • "Of the three papers assigned, which one are you least looking forward to writing and why?"
    • "Which of the grading criteria for the presentation speak most to your strengths and why? To your weakness and why?"

While many of the above suggestions may sound time-consuming, they save you valuable class time in the long run.


Nilson, L. Teaching At Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2010. Print.

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