Students in a First-Year Writing Seminar

First Day Checklist

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Indispensable Reference

First Day Checklist


No one forgets to prepare the substance of a course, but remembering other nuts and bolts types of preparation can be just as crucial for getting the course off to a strong start. Here’s a checklist of “things to do before the first class”:

  • Your scheduled teaching time: Find out–early– when you have been scheduled to teach (the administrator of your department knows). Don’t assume you got what you asked for: find out.
  • Your room: Find out–early–what room you are teaching in and look it over. If you need a table, and your room has chairs bolted into rows, you need to make a change. Earlier, not after the first day!

Find out whom to contact in case your room is ever locked or you have other physical plant difficulties (overhead projectors, DVD players, and so on). This is especially important if you have an early morning or evening class when other offices are closed. The contact list can be found at: https://

  • Your books: Order your books, including desk copies. Check with your departmental administrative aide about when and how to do this. Make sure you know the deadline for getting in the order.

If you are creating a course packet, start early. Check on the cost of the packet: copyright costs can be prohibitive, and you may need to change your mind about some selections.

Go to the bookstore a week before classes start to make sure the books for your course have come in.

  • Course materials: Find out how to get copies of materials made for your class and make sure you know the department’s regulations for using the copier. Practice using the copier.

Prepare all the necessary materials for the first day of your class at least a week or two early. Proof them. Wait at least two or three days, reread, and proof again—only then make copies for the class. Don’t wait until just before the first class to make your copies: everyone else will be doing the same thing, and you’ll be late.

  • Student questionnaire: Prepare a questionnaire that will give you helpful information about each student. Administer the questionnaire at the first or second meeting.
  • The first class session: Plan a really interesting set of activities for the first day. What happens on the first day sets the tone for the rest of the semester. If you do all the talking, you’ll set a pattern. Begin the course not just with rules and regulations but with a taste of the work you’ll be doing all semester. Have a relevant handout or text on the blackboard that will encourage conversation: students are eager on the first day of class, so build on that eagerness.

Please do not allow anyone who has not officially added your seminar to sit in on the class; and do not indicate that there is “still room” in your class. Even though your class may appear to have open spaces, other students may already have enrolled electronically. Check your roster frequently.

Most enrollment problems arise when students are allowed to sit in on classes in hope that a space will open up. Because of the electronic system, they may never actually be able to add; in the meantime, they feel they have earned a place in your course and have not found a different one. Students are guaranteed a FWS of limited size. Please help us to keep this guarantee by telling students that they can attend your seminar only after they have officially enrolled.

  • Attendance: Learn students’ names as quickly as possible; make sure they learn your name and each other’s as well. (It’s startling how often students don’t know the name of their instructor or of other students; it doesn’t speak well for the intellectual community of the course.) Small groups, insistence on students’ referring to each other by name rather than as “she” or “he,” naming games—use any approach that works for you. Treat preferred pronouns sensitively.
  • Syllabus: On the first day hand out a general syllabus plus a detailed calendar for at least the next three or four weeks. Keep several extra sets on hand for students who may add the course later.
  • Final grades: Check with the administrator of your department about how to enter final grades for your seminar and about the deadlines for submission of final grades.

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