By Elizabeth Decker
Many students enter our classrooms on the first day overwhelmed by the emotional or logistic obstacles of the new semester. I believe they remember much less of what I say, and much more of what we do. For this reason, I do some form of the following two activities on the first day of my English or Composition courses, both of which reflect my pedagogical beliefs:
Establish community with the name-game: This activity is usually met with more than a few eye-rolls. But, community learning and a de-centered authority are fundamental to my pedagogy, and a way to demonstrate this practice is by not only introducing myself, but giving equal space for everyone in the room to do the same. Beginning to immediately learn, and use, all of the student’s names is key for student buy-in to this activity.
Write it out: Free-writing is an activity that takes places in every single one of my class meetings, so why make the first day an exception? Given the topic of the course, students are given a direct but open-ended prompt to respond to, with the instruction that they will not have to share all of their response, but that they need to include at least two sentences they would feel comfortable reading to the class or a peer. For example: in a recent course on “Literature and Place,” students were asked to reflect on a place of particular meaning to them, and to describe the place (as opposed to its significance). This prompt not only moves the class towards our learning objectives, making them aware of temporality, setting, and point-of-view, but encourages them to make connections between their lived experiences and academic lives.
Of course, these activities work best in smaller classes (twenty-five students or less), but could be re-imagined for larger sections.
Elizabeth Decker is the TLC Program Assistant and a recent graduate of the Ph.D. program in English.