by Randy Rebman and Elisabeth McBrien

In this blog post we provide some ideas on how to make use of the first week of classes. We share icebreakers as ways to build classroom community, techniques for reviewing the syllabus and methods of conducting a needs analysis. Hopefully this post will give you some new ideas for the first week of classes or help you dust off some old ones.


  • One of my favorite icebreakers to get groups mingling is a snowball fight. This activity gets students moving around quickly and talking to everyone right away. I find that the playful nature of a snowball fight helps overcome some of the shyness and awkwardness of those first class meetings. Make sure to have students shield their eyes when the snowballs start flying! I often use this after going through a name game activity.
  • Building on the name game, a fun twist on that can be to add an alphabet game to it. This memory/alphabet game works for level 2 and above. Students start with “Yesterday at the store I bought…” and then they name something according to the letter of the alphabet. For example, “Yesterday at the store, I bought Apples.” The next student says, “Yesterday at the store, Elisabeth bought Apples, and I bought Bananas.” Students start out naming regular grocery items, but it’s fun when things get a bit silly, and someone says, “Yesterday at the store, Elisabeth bought Apples, Randy bought Bananas, and I bought…. a Camel (or Car or Castle or something like that).”
  • Two other icebreakers that gets students laughing are Two Truths and One Lie  and Find Someone Who.

Reviewing the Syllabus

  • Quizzes and scavenger hunts can make going through the syllabus fun and memorable.
  • No time to write a syllabus quiz? Have students develop their own questions in class about the course and syllabus before you hand out the syllabus:

1) Students develop 2 or 3 questions about the course/syllabus in pairs or small groups. You can also say, “Use a gerund in one of your questions,” or “Write one easy question and one difficult question,” or add other limitations that force your students to get creative as they write questions.

2) Students add their questions to the board or Feel free to add your own bonus question to the board about a point in the syllabus that you want to emphasize or have students read and understand in particular. If it’s a listening/speaking class, you could skip the writing on the board: Have your students say their questions out loud to the class to practice listening and speaking.

3) Instructor hands out the syllabus and has the class find the answers to their questions from the syllabus. Review anything important that wasn’t covered from students’ questions.

Needs Analysis/Classroom Contract

  • Part of building a classroom community involves building students’ trust in you as their teacher. This trust can be built by showing that you care about their own individual needs as learners and adults. Below are two ways that can easily be implemented during the first week to address students’ goals.
    • Needs Analysis Survey–Use Google Forms or Survey Monkey to create a brief survey to solicit information from your students. Some of the information you can consider requesting includes L1 background & L1 literacy skills, educational background, goals, support, barriers and other factors. Be sure to taylor your questions towards the skills that are to be addressed in the course. Post your survey link to Canvas and ask that students complete it during the first week of classes. Follow up on the survey results by explaining to students what needs and goals will be addressed or not addressed in the course so that they feel that the course is designed towards meeting their needs.
    • Classroom Contract–Creating a classroom contract during the first week of class helps students understand that they are responsible for helping create the classroom community that will help them achieve their learning goals. This process can be empowering for students, especially for many of our international students who have come from predominately teacher-fronted classrooms.

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