Suggestions for a Successful Start to a Semester

Getting to know your students  

Learn your students’ names:  

spiral ring notebooks
  • Ask students to create name tents. If they have a name that is frequently mispronounced, ask them to include a phonetic spelling with it.  (Viji and Hogan, 2019).   
  • Ask students to post a photo in D2L Brightspace in your course shell 
  • Take attendance in D2L Brightspace, copy the correct attendance register from the ETS Sandbox of Sandboxes, rather than having to create your own. (O’Meara, email, January 7, 2020) 

Model the sharing of pronouns:  

“On the first day of class or in your syllabus, share your pronouns and invite students to share theirs with you and with peers if they feel comfortable doing so. “ (Viji and Hogan, 2019).   

Let students know about the Preferred Name tool at Pellissippi State, so they don’t have to always tell instructors the name they prefer.

Have students write a page introducing themselves 

Ask students to write a paragraph or a page introducing themselves, stating what they hope to get from the class and any concerns they have about the class. This serves as an opportunity for you to get to know your students a bit and assess their writing abilities. This short introduction assignment also provides students a way to privately express any of their concerns about taking the class. You have the opportunity to follow up with students who may be comforted in meeting with you privately to discuss their concerns. For example, ELL instructor and PACE Faculty Fellow on Globalization and Diversity, Chester Needham in a 2019 presentation stated that English Language Learners typically need to be invited to talk with you. They will not seek you out during office hours. You don’t have to know all the answers to what concerns them, but maybe together through discussion and support from you and support for both of you from other departments, a solution can be found. If you have a situation and you don’t know where to reach out for help, please contact PACE and we will do our best to direct you. or 865-539-7335.   

Pair and share 

Another idea from Angel Hughes, Associate Professor of Communication Studies: Instead of having them introduce themselves, I pair students and ask them to spend a couple of minutes getting to know each other and then introduce each other. I usually also have them come up with something unique about the person they are introducing and something they have in common. You can also incorporate course content, like I could have my students discuss why they communicate regularly or a kind of communication they want to get better at.  

This checks a lot of boxes – I get to know my students and am more likely to remember their names, they know a classmate by name in case they have a question, and we are working on social belonging as they find that they share similarities with their classmates. 

Chunk your class into smaller time periods 

Cognitive resources are limited, so try chunking your class up into smaller time periods of 15 or 30 minutes, each with its own subtopic. Introduce each subtopic chunk with an ‘emotional hook’, which is a relevant story or activity, provocative question, current event, demonstration, case study, anything that stimulates interest and can be connected to course concepts. (Cavanagh, n.d.) 

Make sure students are familiar with the resources at the college 

Get brochures and links to: TRiOAccess and DiversityAcademic Support CentersPellissippi Pantry, Student Care and Advocacy,Student LifeStudent Recreation Center , Veteran’s services, along with the Academic CalendarAdvisingFinancial Aid, ScholarshipsCounseling and the Library. Check out the Important Contacts page for updated resources for students.

In addition, make sure students know about technology such as the free Microsoft Office suite, Wifi and the Navigate app. Here’s a handy IT FAQ for students. Add your suggestions in the Comments below.  

Early Feedback Strategies 

  • Give a non-graded assessment to students during the first week to help you understand where their level of learning is on your subject. Provide students resources to review past learning. Read more on this suggestion in the Teaching newsletter.
  • Have students work in pairs and ask questions throughout each lecture for partners to discuss and then ask for follow-up questions regarding need for more clarification. (Kronk, 2019) 
  • Students work with an assigned partner on responses to application questions through NearPod. Immediate feedback is provided to the whole class regarding responses to these questions. (Kronk, 2019) 
  • Set-up grade sheet so all students can see a current calculated grade based on required assessments for all class days. (This can be done by using a Brightspace gradebook. See ETS if you need help.) (Kronk, 2019) 
  • Exit Slip: Ask students to spend 5 minutes responding to a question on the day’s topic. Give a summary of the feedback and your response at the next class session.  (GW University Teaching & Learning Center, n.d.)  


Sathy, Viji ,& Hogan, Kelly A. (2019) .Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive. Chronicle of Higher Education . 

Cavanagh, (n.d.). How to Make Your Teaching More Engaging. Retrieved January 3, 2020 from 

Kronk, Ann (2019). Comment posted on PACE blog page on Early Feedback Strategies. 

GW University Teaching & Learning Center (n.d.) Sample Activities for Getting Feedback from Students. Retrieved January 3, 2020 from: