Beginnings are important. Whether the class is a large introductory course
for freshmen or an advanced course in the major field, it makes good sense to
start the semester off well. Students will decide very early - some say the
first day of class - whether they will like the course, its contents, the
teacher, and their fellow students.
The following list of "101 Things You Can Do..." is offered in the spirit of
starting off right. It is a catalog of suggestions for college teachers who
are looking for a fresh way of creating the best possible environment for
learning. Not just the first day, but the first three weeks of a course are
especially important, studies say, in retaining capable students. Even if the
syllabus is printed and lecture notes are ready to go in August, most college
teachers can usually make adjustments in teaching methods as the course unfolds
and the characteristics of their students become known.
These suggestions have been gathered from UNL professors and from college
teachers elsewhere. The rationale for these methods is based on the following
needs: 1) to help students make the transition from high school and summer or
holiday activities to learning in college; 2) to direct students' attention to
the immediate situation for learning - the hour in the classroom: 3) to spark
intellectual curiosity - to challenge students; 4) to support beginners and
neophytes in the process of learning in the discipline; S) to encourage the
students' active involvement in learning; and 6) to build a sense of community
in the classroom.
Here, then, are some ideas for college teachers for use in their courses as
they begin a new semester.
Helping Students Make Transitions
Directing Students' Attention
- Hit the ground running on the first day of class with substantial
- Take attendance: roll call, clipboard, sign in, seating chart.
- Introduce teaching assistants by slide, short presentation, or
- Hand out an informative, artistic, and user-friendly syllabus.
- Give an assignment on the first day to be collected at the next meeting.
- Start laboratory experiments and other exercises the first time lab
- Call attention (written and oral) to what makes good lab practice:
completing work to be done, procedures, equipment, clean up, maintenance,
safety, conservation of supplies, full use of lab time.
- Administer a learning style
help students find out about themselves.
- Direct students to the Learning Skills Center for help on basic skills.
- Tell students how much time they will need to study for this course.
- Hand out supplemental study aids: library use, study tips, supplemental
readings and exercises.
- Explain how to study for kind of tests you give.
- Put in writing a limited number of ground rules regarding absence, late
work, testing procedures, grading, and general decorum, and maintain these.
- Announce office hours frequently and hold them without fail.
- Show students how to handle learning in large classes and impersonal
- Give sample test questions.
- Give sample test question answers.
- Explain the difference between legitimate collaboration and academic
dishonesty; be clear when collaboration is wanted and when it is forbidden.
- Seek out a different student each day and get to know something about him
- Ask students to write about what important things are currently going on
in their lives.
- Find out about students' jobs; if they are working, how many hours a week,
and what kinds of jobs they hold.
- Greet students at the door when they enter the classroom.
- Start the class on time.
- Make a grand stage entrance to hush a large class and gain attention.
- Give a pre-test on the day's topic.
- Start the lecture with a puzzle, question, paradox, picture, or cartoon on
slide or transparency to focus on the day's topic.
- Elicit student questions and concerns at the beginning of the class and
list these on the chalkboard to be answered during the hour.
- Have students write down what they think the important issues or key
points of the day's lecture will be.
- Ask the person who is reading the student newspaper what is in the news
- Have students write out their expectations for the course and their
own goals for learning.
- Use variety in methods of presentation every class meeting.
- Stage a figurative "coffee break" about twenty minutes into the hour; tell
an anecdote, invite students to put down pens and pencils, refer to a current
event, shift media.
- Incorporate community resources: plays, concerts, the State Fair.
government agencies. businesses, the outdoors.
- Show a film in a novel way: stop it for discussion, show a few frames
only, anticipate ending, hand out a viewing or critique sheet, play and replay
- Share your philosophy of teaching with your students.
- Form a student panel to present alternative views of the same concept.
- Stage a change-your-mind debate. with students moving to different
parts of the classroom to signal change in opinion during the discussion.
- Conduct a "living" demographic survey by having students move to different
parts of the classroom: size of high school. rural vs. urban. consumer
- Tell about your current research interests and how you got there from
your own beginnings in the discipline.
- Conduct a role-play to make a point or to lay out issues.
- Let your students assume the role of a professional in the discipline:
philosopher, literary critic, biologist. agronomist. political scientist.
- Conduct idea-generating or brainstorming sessions to expand horizons.
- Give students two passages of material containing alternative views to
compare and contrast.
- Distribute a list of the unsolved problems. dilemmas. or great questions
in your discipline and invite students to claim one as their own to
- Ask students what books they've read recently.
- Ask what is going on in the state legislature on this subject which may
affect their future.
- Let your students see the enthusiasm you have for your subject and your
love of learning.
- Take students with you to hear guest speakers or special programs on
- Plan "scholar-gypsy" lesson or unit which shows students the excitement of
discovery in your discipline.
- Collect students' current telephone numbers and addresses and let them
know that you may need to reach them.
- Check out absentees. Call or write a personal note.
- Diagnose the students' prerequisites learning by questionnaire or
pre-test ant give them the feedback as soon as possible.
- Hand out study questions or study guides.
- Be redundant. Students should hear, read. or see key material at least
- Allow students to demonstrate progress in learning: summary quiz over
the day's work. a written reaction to the day's material.
- Use non-graded feedback to let students know how they are doing: post
answers to ungraded quizzes and problem sets, exercises in class, oral
- Reward behavior you want: praise, stars, honor roll, personal note.
- Use a light touch: smile, tell a good joke, break test anxiety with a
- Organize. Give visible structure by posting the day's "menu" on chalk-
board or overhead.
- Use multiple media: overhead, slides, film, videotape, audio tape, models,
- Use multiple examples, in multiple media. to illustrate key points and .
- Make appointments with all students (individually or in small groups).
- Hand out wallet-sized telephone cards with all important telephone numbers
listed: office department, resource centers, teaching assistant, lab.
- Print all important course dates on a card that can be handed out and
taped to a mirror.
- Eavesdrop on students before or after class and join their conversation
about course topics.
- Maintain an open lab gradebook. with grades kept current. during lab time
so that students can check their progress.
- Check to see if any students are having problems with any academic or
campus matters and direct those who are to appropriate offices or resources.
- Tell students what they need to do to receive an "A" in your course.
- Stop the work to find out what your students are thinking feeling and
doing in their everyday lives.
Encouraging Active Learning
- Have students write something.
- Have students keep three-week-three-times-a-week journals in which they
comment. ask questions. and answer questions about course topics.
- Invite students to critique each other's essays or short answer on tests
for readability or content.
- Invite students to ask questions and wait for the response.
- Probe student responses to questions ant wait for the response.
- Put students into pairs or "learning cells" to quiz each other over
material for the day.
- Give students an opportunity to voice opinions about the subject matter.
- Have students apply subject matter to solve real problems.
- Give students red, yellow, and green cards (mate of posterboard) and
periodically call for a vote on an issue by asking for a simultaneous show of
- Roam the aisles of a large classroom and carry on running conversations
with students as they work on course problems (a portable microphone helps).
- Ask a question directed to one student and wait for an answer.
- Place a suggestion box in the rear of the room and encourage students to
make written comments every time the class meets.
- Do oral show of-hands multiple choice tests for summary review and instant
- Use task groups to accomplish specific objectives.
- Grade quizzes and exercises in class as a learning tool.
- Give students plenty of opportunity for practice before a major test.
- Give a test early in the semester and return it graded in the next class
- Have students write questions on index cards to be collected and answered
the next class period.
- Make collaborate assignments for several students to work on together.
- Assign written paraphrases and summaries of difficult reading.
- Give students a take-home problem relating to the days lecture.
- Encourage students to bring current news items to class which relate to
the subject matter and post these on a bulletin board nearby.
- Learn names. Everyone makes an effort to learn at least a few names.
- Set up a buddy system so students can contact each other about assignments
- Find out about your students via questions on an index card.
- Take pictures of students (snapshots in small groups, mug shots) and post
in classroom, office, or lab.
- Arrange helping trios of students to assist each other in learning and
- Form small groups for getting acquainted; mix and form new groups several
- Assign a team project early in the semester and provide time
to assemble the team.
- Help students form study groups to operate outside the classroom.
- Solicit suggestions from students for outside resources and guest
speakers on course topics.
Feedback on Teaching
- Gather student feedback in the first three weeks of the semester to
improve teaching and learning.