Introduce Yourself and Get Your Students Talking
It is important to share a little bit about yourself, let students have a story to go along with your pedagogy, add value and insight to how you came to be standing in front of them, and create an environment of openness and familiarity. If your students know a bit about you and want to learn more about what you have worked hard to be able to share. Tell them things like where you’re from, what your education/teaching background is, what some of your interests outside the classroom are, why you teach, and what keeps you in the classroom. Tell them things like where you’re from, what your education/teaching background is, what some of your interests outside the classroom are, why you teach, and what keeps you in the classroom. If you feel ambitious, put together slides or a video with images, prompts, and quotes--the more vibrant, the better.
Keep in mind during the first week of the term some students may be ‘shopping’ for classes, adding and dropping courses as they please while looking for the right fit. If they invest in you and your story, they are more likely to stay enrolled. Your introduction to yourself and your course provides a good model for students to open up about themselves, to be more inclined to participate in class, and to ask for help when they need it. Students want to have a community in class and encouraging them to talk and interact with one another as soon as possible will foster this dynamic, so don’t hesitate to ask them questions about themselves.
Here are some cool ideas:
Mapping it out: If it is a geography/history/humanities class, have the students come up and place a thumbtack on where they are from on a big map at the front of the room, this will stimulate talks of diversity and differing world perspectives. If there’s time, ask them to pin a place on the map where they’d like to go, and ask why.
Brick wall exercise: Give your students a notecard when they enter the class and provide them with a brief window of time to decorate their card with their name and whatever they want to visually or textually include about themselves. Then, have the students pin up their square/rectangle cards onto a designated wall in the classroom to mimic a brick wall. Keep this wall up all semester so the students have a reminder of the diversity and togetherness of the class. If the classroom is not yours exclusively, you can do this virtually in a shared Google slides presentation! Have each student add a slide on their own and scroll through the slides to see the diversity of the student body. You can store this within Cafe Learn so students can view it throughout the whole semester.
First day graffiti: Place large flipcharts around the room with one of the below phrases on each and markers in different colors. Invite students to walk around the room and write responses, chat with each other and the teacher as they do. After there are comments on every flip chart, the walk to each one and talk a bit about one or two of the responses. If you run out of time, you can conduct the debriefing during the next session.
Note: This can also be conducted within Café Learn using hashtags to each sentence stem and students answer the prompts electronically via the chat feature.
- I learn best in classes where the teacher _______________.
- Students in courses help me learn when they ___________.
- I am most likely to participate in classes when __________.
- Here’s something that makes it hard to learn in a course.
- Here’s something that makes it easy to learn in a course.
Best and worst classes: At the front of the class, whether on a projector, a whiteboard, or within Cafe Learn’s chat feature post: “The best class I’ve ever had” and underneath it “What the teacher did” and below that “What the students did.” On another section write, “The worst class I’ve ever had” and then the same two items beneath. Ask students to share their experiences, without naming the course, department or teacher, and begin filling in their responses based on what they call out. They can do this within Café Learn using the hashtag feature. If there’s a lull or not many comments about what the students did in these classes, add some descriptors based on your experience with some of your best and worst classes. In 10 minutes or less, two very different class portraits emerge. Move to the best class section of the board and tell students that this is the class you want to teach, but that you can’t do it alone. Together you have the power to make this one of those “best class” experiences.
Simple Ice Breaker Activity:
- Have the students introduce themselves to their classmates. Encourage them to meet their seat neighbors. In a smaller class, you might have them introduce each other.
- Ask students to write down the answer to the following question on their blank paper (without putting their name on it): “What would encourage you to participate in class discussions? Are there rules that your classmates should follow that ensure everyone feels comfortable? What would they be?” You may have another question you would find more useful in your class on day one. The two techniques below work well with any question.
- Call on a reporter: After students have had time to complete the question, call on one person to share. Inevitably that person will feel uncomfortable as will the whole class. Now, let that person know they are not going to share their answer. They have a few minutes to gather group answers. They will simply become a “reporter” for surrounding students, and this should take the pressure off the student. In the meantime, have the other students discuss with their group, explaining you might call on some of them too.
- Pass the Paper: After you discuss a few of the student answers, try another technique. Have the students pass their note cards randomly to a neighbor. Each student should exchange a notecard with neighbors several more times until the class responses are well shuffled. Now, ask if some students will volunteer to read an interesting answer on the card they have in front of them. Let students know that if they are comfortable, they can always share their own ideas. Shuffling is one way to make people less self-conscious about sharing.
Have Your Students Review the Syllabus
Too often an instructor passes out the syllabus and expects the students to read it on their own. In reality, they do not. Or, often the instructor wastes valuable class time dictating the terms of the syllabus while the students read along. Instead, give your class a purpose to read it! Group students into teams and give them a few minutes to read the syllabus together. Then, using Café Learn’s assessment feature, or a hard copy quiz, have the groups race to complete the quiz. The first group who completes it with a 100% score can receive public recognition or a fun prize…whatever fits your style!
Let us know what activities you’ve used in the past that have proven to build great learning environments, we’d love to share them with the Café Learn community.