Creating a Community for Active Learning on the First Day of Class

Written by Kelly A. Hogan, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Learning Outcomes:

– To make students feel more comfortable sharing during class discussion

– To demonstrate to students that active learning involves every person in the class

Activity Description: Students are asked to complete a few small tasks that involve meeting their classmates and practicing a few active learning techniques. These are designed for the first day of class as an icebreaker and introduction to an active classroom.

Time Needed: 20 minutes

Materials Needed: Students will need plain paper or 3 x 5 notecards they can pass to each other.

Activity Instructions:

  1. Have the students introduce themselves to their classmates. Encourage them to meet people beside them, behind them, and in front of them. In a smaller class, you might have them introduce each other. This is also a good time to introduce yourself and share personal information and maybe funny photos of yourself to the class.
  2. Ask students to write down the answer to the following question on their blank paper (without putting their name on it): “What would encourage you to participate in class discussions? Are there rules that I and your classmates should follow that ensure everyone feels comfortable? What would they be?” You may have an alternative question you would find more useful in your class on day one. The two techniques below work well with any question.
  3. Call on a reporter: After students have had time to complete the question, call on one person to share. Inevitably that person will feel uncomfortable as will the whole class. Now, let that person know they are not going to share their answer. They have a few minutes to gather group answers. They will simply become a “reporter” for surrounding students. This should take the pressure off the student. In the meantime, have the other students discuss with their group, explaining you might call on some of them too.
  4. Pass the Paper: After you discuss a few of the student answers, try another technique. Have the students pass their notecards randomly to a neighbor. Each student should exchange a notecard with neighbors several more times until the class responses are well shuffled. Now, ask if some students will volunteer to read an interesting answer on the card they have in front of them. Let students know that if they are comfortable, they can always share their own ideas. Shuffling is one way to make people less self-conscious about sharing.