I’d been planning on eschewing any usual spiel on the first day of school (which I usually do), but when the morning of the first day arrived, I wasn’t so sure. I had juniors who’d enrolled in Brit or American Lit last spring and were already asking me questions about why we combined them. (It’s a small town. I run into students EVERYWHERE).

Plus, I know that my student self thrives for seeing that syllabus and seeing what to expect in the coming semester.

In a last minute change, I decided to have students write questions for me, still allowing me to skip the typical spiel and just answer the burning questions they had. Each table group received 4 post-it notes, and they were responsible for writing a question for me on each one.

To give students a little schema about our upcoming syllabus, I created a visual one on Google Slides. In less than 5 minutes, I pasted images that represented some of units and topics we’d be encountering.

After each group wrote their questions, they put them into a bucket, and I pulled out 10 that I answered. A few were about the visual syllabus, but most of them were about me and our class protocols (perhaps this is a reminder that even students value relationships more than content).

Another worthy note: Not a SINGLE student asked about grades. None. Zilch.

After 10 questions, I gave the option of another activity or to continue with the questions. All but one class voted to continue the questions–and even that vote was a pretty even split.

Later in the day, the new teacher next door tried this activity after she’d tired of her spiel. The results: fantastic! Students asked honest questions about being a new teacher, and she answered them honestly, too. That’s some powerful relationship building.

It wasn’t a flashy first day activity, but an effective one.