When I taught level 3 study skills for Foundation Studies, I became acutely aware of the need to establish a positive learning environment at the outset of the course. To help get students off to a good start, I employed several strategies that I wanted to share here.
On the first day of class, I stand at the doorway and greet students as they file in. On each desk are the class documents and an information form for them to fill out - it gives them something to do instead of just sitting there being nervous.
The first thing I do when addressing a new class is to congratulate them for making it this far. I go over the steps they've been through to achieve sitting in that desk on the first day of class, and I guarantee them success if they attend class and work hard. This brings expressions of relief to the faces of so many anxious students. And I think it also lets them know that I recognise and value the sacrifices they've made in their lives to make space for attending class.
Next, we usually play "Two truths and a lie". I demonstrate the game by telling the class three things about myself, one of which is a lie. As a class they're supposed to guess which is the lie. Because I'm old enough that some outrageous things have happened in my life, they rarely figure it out. After that they pair up and play the game themselves, usually to much laughter. When done, they share one thing about their peer with the class. (First they check to make sure it's okay to share.)
At the end of class, I give students a personal letter in which I introduce
myself. I ask them to write one back to me that night; usually I ask them to tell
me three things I should know about them. I save these letters in my
roll / grade book, and refer to them several times over the semester. It
helps me remember and understand my students, and the letter they write
also gives me a rough idea of their writing skills.
As I read back over this, I realise it sounds like I'm dealing with 12-year-olds. But the truth is, many of the students I had the joy of working with were school-leavers and had high anxiety levels around returning to an academic institution. They appreciated being greeted, having their presence recognised as an achievement, being reassured that they would succeed, getting to know each other, learning something about the lecturer, and being invited to share something of themselves with the lecturer. At the end of the semester, students oftentimes recalled that first day of class with fondness.
If others would like to share their first day routine, I would love to hear about it. It would be interesting to hear about the strategies used for different types of students.