Teaching of Psych Idea Exchange (ToPIX) (2023)

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Honolulu Community College Faculty Development Center's Tips on The First Day

http://topix.teachpsych.org/w/page/54339452/Song%20List(See top of list: First Day of Class)

Here is a list that includes many icebreakers, including the 3 P's where students share something Professional, Personal (but not too personal), and Peculiar about themselves.

Here is a list of remote icebreakers.

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Other Ideas


Quick 10 second introductions, "stand ups" - instruct students to stand up if some descriptor pertains to them.

Hot Seat. Have students break into groups of three or four. Their task is to develop an anonymous list of questions about the course content, course expectations, instructor, etc. Anything they want to know about the course and/or instructor. Leave the classroom for five minutes to allow students to write out their questions and set them on the front table when finished. Answering their questions in this way makes reviewing the syllabus a more engaging activity. Students rarely ask inappropriate questions, but if they do, simply refrain from reading the question.

Scavenger Hunt.In this version of the scavenger hunt, you list characteristics that a person might have, and ask the students to find a person in the classroom that possesses that characteristic. For intro, I always try to select things that would introduce the various topic areas; for example, last year I included "has seen the movie "SpyKids 3D"; "has watched "The Apprentice"; "has a brother, sister, or child under 11 years old", etc. Then after the "hunt" is over, we go over that perception (specifically stereopsis as the basis for 3D movies) will be covered in the course; personality and problem solving will be addressed, and developmental psych. I try to change it up every semester to include as many topical things as I can. The overall hunt can also be used to discuss personality and problem solving... e.g., some students are visibly more extroverted than others, and how did you go about filling in your sheet? Did you approach people that you though would fit the characteristic by their looks (stereotypes can thrown in here as well), and did you add restrictions to solving the problem that weren't stated? (e.g., in the rules I state "find someone in the classroom".. very few people approach me, thus adding a "rule" that wasn't stated.. a classic impediment in problem solving). Anecdotal support for the success of the exercise is that some students mention it in the semester's end evaluation of the instructor, students mention it to me even after they've taken the course, and some students have mentioned it to my colleagues in the department. (Stephen Wurstvia PsychTeacher Listserv)

Bingo.Bingo game with the criteria printed in a 5x5 table (like a bingo card) with the center box a "free cell" for the student's own name. In large classes I add the rule that a person's name can be entered only once thus forcing the students to speak with a lot of other people. I give a prize for the first person who shouts "bingo" after filling in the entire card (not just a row or column). The prize is something that can be shared with the whole class (for example, sacks of bite-size chocolate bars). I never say anything about sharing but that's always what happens and that adds another dimension to the class climate. Just beware, It's a very noisy activity. (Bobbie Turniansky via PsychTeacher Listserv)


Anonymous Index Cards.I give each student one 3 X 5 card and tell them to write anything they want on the card, except their name. This can include something about themselves, a quote, lyrics to a song, something important, a word...anything. Students are usually surprised (in a good way) by the opportunity to express creativity and their personality during the first five minutes of class. As the instructor, I also participate and write something on my card. This serves two purposes: 1) by doing so I am modeling behavior for my students, and 2) students report that they feel more inclined to discuss subjects openly in class because my participation "creates a safe environment" (direct quote from a student). I ask students to all fold their cards in the same way (so that they are uniform) and demonstrate using my own card. Then I collect the cards, mix them up, and hand them out randomly back to the students. While redistributing the cards, I remind students that the cards are anonymous so even if you got your own card back, there is no way for anyone else to know. I take the last card left and begin the exercise by reading aloud the contents of the card, and subsequently each student takes a turn to read the content of his/her card. After all students have read their cards, I lead a discussion about the content of the cards: What are your initial reactions to the cards? Did any cards in particular stick out for you? Why? What are the similarities and differences among the cards? What do these cards tell you about your classmates? What do these cards tell you about human behavior and how the mind works? What did you learn from this exercise? Students are typically very surprised by the content of their classmates' cards, and because it's anonymous, they report that it is easier to discuss the contents of the cards without fear of judgment. Even if someone left the card blank, that still gives us a lot of information about that person. This exercise/discussion can lead smoothly into an introduction to psychology, human behavior, personality, etc. (Theresa Hornvia PsychTeacher Listserv)

Professor Impressions.This activity is both a good "ice-breaker" for the first class and an opportunity to generate some data for a discussion of impression formation. A basic principle of impression formation is that we form our opinions of others from very limited information (for example, physical appearance, tone of voice, age, occupation). In this activity, you'll have the students in your class share their inferences about you. At the start of the first class, enter the classroom and go through the normal routine of stating your name, the course title and number, and then go over the syllabus in detail. Immediately after discussing the syllabus, ask students to take out a blank sheet of paper and tell them that you are going to ask a series of questions about yourself in order to help them get to know you. Explain that it is their task to write down their best guess about what the answers are, and assure them that you will later give them all the "correct" answers. Then, proceed to ask them several questions that relate to concrete behaviors or characteristics or even about more abstract aspects of your personality. Although the questions may vary from class to class (and may depend on what you are comfortable revealing), potential questions include: How old do you think I am? Am I married? What kind of music do I like? What kind of car do I drive? What are some of my favorite TV shows? What are my hobbies or favorite leisure time activities? Do I like sports? Do I play any musical instruments? Am I liberal or conservative? Am I a Mac user or a PC fan? Am I a vegetarian? Am I an "outdoorsy" kind of person? Did I go to a large university or a small liberal arts college? (Patricia Giero via Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook Group).

I give each student and myself two small pieces of paper. They are to write one interesting fact about themselves on each piece without writing their names. The more interesting the better! Then I collect the cards, shuffle them, and hand them back out. I have them make sure that they do not have their own. Then they are to go around the room and find the original owners of the slips of paper that they have. After everyone has both of their papers back, we discuss first impressions.(Julie Carpenter via Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook Group).

See also Lyons (1981) here, and Lashley (1987) herefor articles discussing variations on these activities.

Introducing Course Content

Questions. Prepare a series of questions with True-False-I have no idea answer options that relate to each required chapter in your textbook. Students use "clickers" for answering, but hand raising may work well also. Create or select questions relating to topics for which general knowledge or "common sense" might lead to an incorrect answer. For many of these questions, the true-false distribution of answers often shows almost a 50-50 split. After each answer, I show students where, in the text, the answer is discussed. The almost 50-50 distribution seems to reinforce the importance of reading the text carefully rather than relying on preexisting knowledge while showcasing the broad topics that will be discussed throughout the course. (Pam Marekvia PsychTeacher Listserv)

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You can also do this with a quiz. These files contain (a) 64 True-False items about psychology (all false), and (b) the answers and rationales for the answers to those items. I hand it out on day one, and then we go over it in the next class, and students can refer to it as we take on each topic during the course of the term. I thought I had gotten them from OTRP, but don't see them there now. In any case, here they are.


Classic Studies in Psychology.("Imagine that you answered an ad in the paper..."). I use photographs of the equipment, but don't use any video (a decision I re-consider each semester; I think that my role in the song-and-dance is quite important, so I've stuck to an oral description). I tend to describe the reaction of the 'learner' as dramatically as possible--pounding on the chalkboard at 315 volts. Then the big question: what would you do? How far would you go? I have everybody raise their hands and instruct them to lower their hands at the point at which they believe they would stop administering shocks. I start at 0 and work my way up--watching the hands fall. Of course it never fails--by 200 volts I have 297/300 students with their hands down [and make the requisite joke about the three fellas (usually fellas) with their hands up]. I then have the "shock-level x % obeying" graphic and reveal, slowly, the data left-to-right. The surprise sinks in and I ask "how do you describe this?" Then, off we go... I've do this for a few reasons. First, I like to establish the perception that "this class is different" from many that they've had. I think that it is important to establish an expectation in the classroom that thinking, interpretation and analysis are going to be prominent. Second, I like to establish a norm regarding controlled discussion; this material is so discussion-worthy that students generally stay on-topic, have some interesting things to say and, critically, find themselves engaged in what others think. Third, I like to rid the student mind of the "psychology is all common sense" along with the "psychology is all about people acting weird" stereotypes. Finally, the single most important reason that I run my course this way is related to the idea of a hook. Few findings are more reliably interesting or more thought provoking than Milgram and by leading off with Milgram I get to put psychology's most interesting foot forward.(Scott Batesvia PsychTeacher Listserv)

"Can Science Answer This Question?"As I start each new course we do one activity as we delve into the first chapter discussing and learning about the scientific method- Can Science Answer This Question? PDF handout here.(Patricia Giero via Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook Group).

(Original content compiled from suggestions collected via the PsychTeacher listserv.)


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Case, K., Bartsch, R., McEnery, L., Hall, S., Hermann, A., & Foster, D. (2008). Establishing a comfortable classroom from day one: Student perceptions of the reciprocal interview. College Teaching, 56 (4), 210-214. (Available here)

Clement, M. C. (2007). Ten things to make thefirst day (and the rest) of the semestersuccessful. The Teaching Professor, 21(7),1,3. (Available here)

Handelsman, M.M. (2011).First-class first classes.In R. L. Miller, E. Amsel, B. M. Kowalewski, B. C. Beins, K. D. Keith, & B. F. Peden (Eds.), Promoting student engagement (Vol. 1, pp. 211-214). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/pse2011/vol1/43.%20First%20Class.pdf

Henslee, A. M., Burgess, D. R., & Buskist, W.(2006). Student preferences for first day of class activities. Teaching of Psychology,33, 189-191.(Availablehere)

Hermann, A. D., Foster, D. A., & Hardin, E. E. (2010). Does the first week of class matter? A quasi-experimental investigation of student satisfaction. Teaching of Psychology, 37, 79 - 84. (Available here)

McGinley, J. J. & Jones, B.D. (2014). A brief intervention to increase student's motivation on the first day of class. Teaching of Psychology, 41, 1158-162. doi:10.1177/0098628314530350 (Available here).

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Perlman, B., & McCann, L.I. (2004, January). The first day of class. APS Observer, 17(1). (Available here)


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