First day of class tools

Strategies to use on the first day of class to help you get to know students and set a positive tone for the rest of the semester.


Tool #4: Introduction cards

Introduction cards are index cards submitted by students at the beginning of the semester, which contain their photo and describe their interests and career plans. This information can make you aware of students’ experience and concerns, and be better able to link your teaching approach to the make-up of the current student cohort.

Suggested procedure

  • Either give students blank index cards and provide the questions below in-class, or create your own cards using the template below on half-size pieces of paper.
  • Distribute the cards on the first class following the add/drop period and ask students to return a completed copy by the next class.
  • Collect all completed cards and consolidate the responses.
  • Consider explaining how the course content relates to the various areas of specialization and plans of students.

*NOTE: myCourses provides a class list with photos and students’ preferred name so you may not wish to ask for these items.

Sample card

Sample card

Adapted from Prof. Chantal Westgate, Desautels Faculty of Management

PDF icon Tool #4: Introduction Cards

Introductory student survey

The Introductory Student Survey is conducted at the beginning of the semester and asks for basic, simple responses to help you get to know your students. It can allow you to gather information from classes of any size.

Those with large classes may be find it efficient to use Polling @ McGill (Student Response Systems), which can be a very quick and thorough method of tabulating student responses to multiple choice and short answer questions. This activity will also allow students to become comfortable using Polling @ McGill, which may be useful for future course activities.

Suggested procedure

  • Determine the questions you would like to ask students.
  • Decide upon the method you will use to gather information (show-of-hands, print-based, electronic, etc.)
  • Provide students with the reason you are gathering this information.
  • Conduct the survey.
  • Review and/or synthesize results.
  • Report back to students on highlights and/or trends. Describe what you have learned and how you will respond.

Example from Prof. Ken Ragan, Intro to Physics (600 students)

Prof. Ragan conducts this survey at the beginning of the semester using a paper-based questionnaire so students can add drawings and doodles if they like. He summarizes the results in a few PowerPoint slides for one of the subsequent classes, including any off-the-wall, whimsical drawings and answers. He reports that students appear to appreciate this survey, in part because they see that their own worries are often shared by many of their classmates. Prof. Ragan repeats this activity at the end of the term to see if the attitudes of the students towards physics have changed.

Sample questions:

  • What is your background in physics?
  • Summarize your feelings on taking this course.
  • What does physics mean to you?
  • What can I do to help make this course go better?

More info

Garrett, Jennifer, and Mary Clement. “First Day of Class Activity: The Interest Inventory.” Faculty Focus, Magna Publications, 13 Aug. 2018, <>.

Hermann, A.D. and Foster, D.A. “Fostering approachability and classroom participation during the first day of class.” Active Learning in Higher Education, Vol 9, Issue 2 (2008): pp. 139 – 151. <>.

Student response to course outline

In a typical first class, you may read the course outline aloud to students or have them read it on their own and ask questions. With this strategy, you can use the outline as a conversation starter about expectations – both yours and students’.

Suggested procedure

  • Introduce the activity and provide instructions. For homework, ask students to write you a letter that focuses on selected aspects of the outline. Explain that the purpose of the assignment is to engage them more deeply with the course outline and get their feedback from the onset. This assignment is informal, meaning that it is neither required nor graded.
  • Review and/or synthesize results.
  • Report back to students on highlights and/or trends. Describe what you have learned and how you will respond.

Sample instructions

Write a short letter (500-800 words) in which you answer 3-5 of the following questions. Rather than an outline or a list of bullet points, write a letter in your own voice (don’t worry about perfect grammar or spelling).


  • What does my first section mean to you?
  • What do you think about my distinction between assessing and grading?
  • Pick one point in the outline you like. Pick one you don’t. Tell me why you selected these.
  • What do you think might discourage you from achieving the outcomes listed on pages 1-2. How, specifically can I help you reach them?
  • How might this course contribute toward your intellectual, personal or professional goals?
  • What do you think of the attendance policy? The late policy? Do you understand the reasons for those policies?
  • What do you like or find most reassuring about taking this course? The least reassuring?
  • Tell me anything you would like me to know about you as a student.

More Info

Hafer, G. Embracing Writing: Ways to Teach Reluctant Writers in Any College Course. San Francisco, CA: Wiley & Sons, 2014.

Classroom guidelines

As a complement to the course outline, Classroom Guidelines are mutually-agreed upon norms that help to establish a positive learning environment. Above all, the goal of the Classroom Guidelines is to foster an environment that promotes academic growth for all students and emphasizes the collective responsibility of instructors and students. They are best introduced at the beginning of the semester and revisited throughout the semester.

Suggested procedure

Explain why you are establishing Classroom Guidelines, emphasizing that all members of the classroom community, not only the professor, have the responsibility to hold one another accountable to the guidelines:

  • Provide a list of norms as a starting point for discussion (see Sample Classroom Guidelines below).
  • Give students 5 minutes to reflect on guiding questions such as:
  • Which norms would you like to keep?
  • Why? Which would you change? Why?
  • What norms, if any, would you like to add? Why?
  • Break up students into groups of three or four. Give each group sticky notes or cue cards to develop a revised Classroom Guidelines document. Allot a specific amount of time (e.g. 10 minutes) for this activity.
  • Collect the papers and write suggestions on the board. Consolidate all group norms and form the first draft of the Classroom Guidelines. Alternatively, collect the responses and synthesize them on your own for discussion during the next class.
  • Once the first draft is complete, open the guidelines for discussion and agree on the second draft of the document.

Throughout the semester, frequently refer back to the document, distributing it to students and making an online copy available. Learning may look different for each student, so when a student does not follow a guideline, it may be because they are engaging in a different way. Consider asking students if the guidelines are still fostering a positive learning environment for them or if any guidelines needed to be added or changed. You might ask students to contact you directly for their feedback if they don’t feel comfortable sharing it with the class.

Sample classroom guidelines

  • This is a living document and may be altered to fit the needs of all members of our classroom community. All members of this course, including Professor X, are expected to uphold the following norms, which have been discussed and agreed upon by the class.
  • Treat each other with respect.
  • Everyone has the responsibility to contribute to the class in the form they feel most comfortable (e.g. written, spoken).
  • Listen carefully while another person is speaking.
  • Respect all members’ right to speak and share their thoughts – one member should not dominate discussion.
  • Direct arguments towards opinions and ideas, not the individual stating them.
  • Students can ask questions at any time, but following a raised hand.
  • Begin on time and end on time.
  • Everyone may take a moment to step out of the classroom discreetly without explanation at any time.
  • Cellphones should only be used outside of the classroom in emergency situations.

More info

"Guidelines for the Use of Mobile Computing and Communications Devices in Classes at McGill." McGill University, 11 June 2010. Web. <>.


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