By Mei-Ling Chua

One of my favorite first-day-of-class activities grew accidentally from my attempt to encourage students to be more proactive and thoughtful about where and who they seek information from. It was intended both to curb students’ requests for information that was clearly contained in the syllabus, and to add a level of communication and interaction among peers.

This activity was one that I picked up from my advisor. It seemed like a helpful exercise that wouldn’t take more than a few minutes to do, so I adopted it—the practice of creating a space within the syllabus for students to write down the names and contact information of two classmates.

Although it might seem like a small thing, it turned out more impactful than I anticipated and was a great,  low-stakes, and concrete way to interact with a stranger—especially important, since the majority of the students in this class were new to each other, coming from different majors and years.

By having a clear reason to circulate, this one task allowed students to learn more about their classmates, and even though it wasn’t required, many did ask questions and initiate conversation. The need to ask for two names also meant they needed to keep the conversations relatively short, removing some pressure. This activity  was one in a series that was scattered among the typical first-day business of going-through-the-syllabus, making it less monotonous and helping the class to develop a sense of cohesion.

Mei Ling Chua is a TLC Fellow and a doctoral student in Environmental Psychology.