Hey gents.  This fall, I'm teaching my first (college) freshman composition course, and I'm thinking about what I'll do to introduce the course.  Any ideas or experiences?

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Begin by going over your syllabus/course outline. That way your expectations are clear from the beginning. Getting and giving contact information is important too. Since you teach outside my field of expertise, I'm not sure where you'd go from there.

Right, I'll of course go over the details of the class and the syllabus, etc.  I was just wondering if anyone had a certain way of introducing the class, i.e. a poem or short story.  I'd like to do something a little more interesting than simply read through the syllabus.  What field to do teach and what level?

No longer, but I once taught biology courses at a community college, mainly Microbiology. After taking care of business, I would talk about Microbiology in general and then go into the history of the science.

Nice.  I'm considering opening the class with a poem or something.  Still thinking things through.

have them write simple poems

If you use Haiku they are short I have used them to help 2nd graders write poetry.

Maybe you can do something with reading some and then having them try and share what they wrote in sm groups or to the class.

Congratulations on getting into the classroom. Enjoy it--the job can be exhausting, but it's also really rewarding.

What approach does the department take to freshman composition? Is it taught as personal writing for part of the year and then academic writing the second part? Is it strictly composition or do you have any "Writing about X (comic books, zombies, whatever hot pop culture topic students are interested in)" courses?

Depending on the type of course, there are all kinds of ways to introduce the class. Along with the business end of things (syllabus and expectations), you can do different ice-breakers or some kind of writing game just to get people loosened up.

When I taught freshman comp, I usually had people talk a little bit about their attitude toward writing and their goals for the class. Letting them get invested right from the start seemed to help keep them engaged throughout the semester, which can be tough because the class is required for all majors and the bulk of the students will, at first, say they fear or don't like writing.

A little natural humor always helps in the classroom.

make them sweat just kidding

I hope the class goes well

just share your passion for writing

and make them want to write

I've been teaching freshman composition for 25 years, but I remember those first classes well.  I've developed a "first day" process that I use to some degree each time.  Of course I go over the syllabus and important information, although I now tend to put a copy of it up on the screen and provide it online for them to print themselves later (or not, as the case may be). 

However, the main thing I do is actually ask them some things about themselves--where they live, what they're studying, what other classes they are taking, etc. The students don't understand why I do that, but I tell them at the end of the class that I specifically try to learn a little about them so that I will know better where they are coming from.  Building trust (and showing your sense of humor) is important during day one. 

In short, while writing a poem or reading/discussing a piece of literature is a good idea, personally I think the focus is better served getting to know them a little and giving them a picture of who YOU are.  They are typically nervous, and they often have high anxiety about their writing (and about the person who will be evaluating their writing). So showing them that you are a regular person, respect them as people, and have a sense of humor (or drama, or whatever) goes a long way to establish a good foundation for what often proves to be a rewarding but challenging relationship. 

Best wishes as you begin this important work. Evaluating writing is a sometimes thankless job, and the progress for most writers is incremental at best.  Good teachers learn to manage expectations for the students and for themselves, including how long it actually takes to mark and grade student papers.  I've been doing this a long time and I love it (usually).  If I can help in any way, let me know. 

Best wishes!


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