Rather than read aloud your syllabus on the first day, how do you lively up a boring syllabus? Clip art? More jokes? Perhaps even just one joke? A better method would be to adopt the idea of the "promising syllabus," a concept developed by Ken Bain, whose book (What the Best College Teachers Do, 2004). He doesn't claim to have originated the idea of the promising syllabus -- he discovered it, he said, from his review of the syllabi of outstanding college and university teachers, in which he found a common approach and some common features. "The promising syllabus," Bain wrote via e-mail, "fundamentally recognizes that people will learn best and most deeply when they have a strong sense of control over their own education rather than feeling manipulated by someone else's demands." A promising syllabus contains three key components.
The first day of class always creates some nervousness, even for seasoned instructors. It helps to have a mental checklist of objectives to accomplish so that you and your students come away with the impression that the course is off to a good start. The first class meeting should serve at least two basic purposes: a) to clarify all reasonable questions students might have relative to the course objectives, as well as your expectations for their performance in class. As students leave the first meeting, they should believe in your competence to teach the course, be able to predict the nature of your instruction, and know what you will require of them and b) to give you an understanding of who is taking your course and what their expectations are. These two basic purposes expand into a set of eight concrete objectives that will maximize opportunities in your first day.