TEACHING NOTES: Starting semester right

The first day of teaching tends to set the tone for the rest of the semester and for some students, the rest of their course! So, it’s vital we get it right. Most students and staff will feel some degree of anxiety, uncertainty or even excitement at the beginning of semester. The FYSS supports provide ideas on curriculum design and help you ensure you have built in the right sorts of student supports, no matter what year you are teaching. But what about once everyone arrives in class?


What about for online students you may never see?

As discussed on the FYSS site ensure you:


  1. Welcome

An appropriate ‘Welcome’ and introduction can really set the scene for the remainder of the topic. Think about what the first student contact with the topic will be:

  • Is it in FLO, via email, in class (e.g. lecture, tutorial, lab, clinic room)?
  • Who is it with (e.g. topic coordinator, tutor, teaching assistant, lab demonstrator) and are they aware this will be their responsibility?
  • What sort of welcome and topic introduction have you planned? (e.g. FLO has a ‘Welcome’ block as well as spaces to include a topic introduction and explanation of how the topic will run – this will be especially important for online students; will what the students are told be consistent with what they see in FLO? Will they be welcomed at all?)


  1. Let’s get to know you

Once everyone is in class (or even beforehand) there are a myriad of ways you can all get to know each other. Groupwork is a fundamental tool in our teaching and students need to get to know each other at least a little before they will function effectively as a group and for many, before they contribute comfortably in class. For online students, social presence is an important contributing factor to successful engagement in their learning. So, what have you got planned?


  • Padlet is a great alternative to the usual discussion forum introductions. Students record and upload a brief video introduction to the padlet wall where everyone can view. Consider giving them a relevant question or two to include (e.g. Something topical – strangest food eaten; expectations for topic; most interesting geographical feature etc).
  • Discussion forums are used a lot but think about renaming them as a ‘postcard’ or ‘chitchat’; something to differentiate its purpose from the usual forums and again, design in something interesting or relevant for the students to include in their introductions.
  • Ice breakers are often used in-class. They can be short which is essential when you have a lot to get through but are worth the effort for the camaraderie they will create. Try:
    • bingo (e.g. using a range of inclusive and/or topic relevant questions)
    • speed dating (e.g. name and share one interesting/surprising thing about themselves)
    • rounds (e.g. name and something fun such as If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why? Resources and discussions on how to do these, in both blended and online contexts, are all available on the FYSS resources site)


  • Plan for early ‘low stakes’ group activities where students can get to know some of their peers without the stress of it being part of a significant assessment piece.
  • Use in-class strategies like ‘think, pair share’, rounds and rotating group roles (e.g. scribe, timekeeper, speaker etc) so that students need to engage with each other and the larger group.


  1. Keeping in touch

After the first couple of weeks you will need a way to keep on the pulse of where your students are at, especially if you have a large numbers or off-campus students.


Consider the Touchpoint tool in FLO – you can place it wherever you like in the topic, rewrite the questions to suit yourself and its anonymous! Many teaching staff are using this as a convenient way to get in touch with where students are at in their topics and adjust accordingly. Remember to let the students know what you do with their feedback though so they know their responses were worthwhile.


Starting the semester right makes both the teaching and learning journeys through your topic smoother for everyone.


For help and more ideas, you can contact the academic developers in CILT and for assistance with FLO, your local eLearning teams.


Written by

Cassandra Hood

Lecturer in Higher Education – CILT

Posted in
Teaching Notes

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