Teaching first-year students can be both challenging and rewarding.  This website provides evidence-based advice, ideas and resources to assist you in easing your students’ transition to university teaching and learning.   It also provides an opportunity for you to hear from first-year instructors at Dalhousie who are sharing their own experiences of teaching in first-year classes, highlighting how they support students’ academic success.

Approaches and Strategies: Teaching First-Year Students

Engage Students in their Learning

  1. Use active learning techniques [See "Active Learning" tab]
  2. Tell stories and anecdotes; share real-world experiences
  3. Ask questions, and ask students for their questions
  4. Share and encourage diverse perspectives
  5. Ask students to share their experiences
  6. Provide in-class opportunities for interaction with faculty/TAs
  7. Provide in-class opportunities for student interaction
  8. Provide online opportunities for students to ask questions and engage in discussion through the Learning Management System
  9. Address different learning approaches by varying your teaching approaches - make use of video, images, text and spoken words, guest lectures, and movement, where possible and appropriate
  10. Share reading strategies with students, and vary the kinds of texts students are asked to read
  11. Explain the real-world relevance of your material, and incorporate opportunities for real-world learning and problem-solving
  12. Make appropriate use of classroom and online technology -  social media, student response systems, LMS, websites, and links

Facilitating Student Success

  1. Take attendance
  2. Learn students' names (where numbers make this feasible)
  3. Provide explicit strategies for successful learning in your discipline
  4. Use a "getting to know you" form – in class or in the LMS – find out who your students are, what they know about your discipline, and what they are expecting to learn in the course
  5. Be aware of, and direct students to, on-campus supports
  6. Provide your course syllabus and resources on the Learning Management System
  7. Hold office hours (f2f and/or online), and encourage students to visit with you
  8. Communicate with students about how to manage their time in your course
  9. Be aware that students are taking other courses and, where possible, co-ordinate due dates across courses in a program

Managing Large Classes

  1. Establish ground-rules on the first day – discuss classroom etiquette, respect for others, and professional conduct
  2. Share something about yourself with the students on the first day, and ask them to introduce themselves to the person beside sitting them
  3. Arrive early to class and stay late to increase opportunities for students to interact with you
  4. Convey your own interest in your material [See "Engaging Students in their Learning"]
  5. Be seen and be heard - wear a microphone and move out from behind the podium and move around the room, being conscious of students who may have hearing impairment
  6. Be clear, be confident, be prepared and organized – give students an overview of the class; don’t cover too much material in one lecture; highlight and repeat main points slowly and clearly; vary the pitch of your voice and your pace
  7. Post slides on the LMS and make sure your slides are visible from the back of the room
  8. Encourage students to take their own notes
  9. Post FAQs on the LMS to reduce student email and encourage students to check this site first
  10. Consider using lecture capture technology to make your lecture accessible after the class – this may be particularly important for students whose first language is not English and for students who learn differently or who have mental health concerns
  11. Active learning is possible – pair students up, use small groups, ask for a show of hands, use a student response system, provide quiet time to write and think [See "Active Learning Tab")
  12. Provide an overview of how the class performed on graded work or tests to give students an idea of where the class collectively succeeded and were challenged
  13. Ask for feedback during the term; ask for student volunteers to be Class Ombudspeople who connect with you a few times during the course; use Opinio or a suggestion box to discover what is working and what might need to change to ensure student success in your large class

Assessment and Feedback

  1. Provide early feedback on a low-stakes assessment
  2. Provide practice opportunities before evaluation
  3. Provide frequent feedback
  4. Provide opportunities for peer review and self-assessment
  5. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on graded work and incorporate feedback received into their next assignments
  6. Link assessments, so that they build on one another, scaffolding the learning process
  7. Provide a fair number and kind of assessment opportunities, so that students may demonstrate their skills and knowledge
  8. Be sure that your assessments evaluate what you plan for students to learn
  9. Provide students with guidelines and rubrics for assignments
  10. Use gradebook in the LMS and update entries in a timely manner, so students can check their grades in the course regularly
  11. Raise awareness and understanding of academic integrity in your discipline

Supervising TAs

  1. Hold regular meetings to discuss the syllabus, course content, assignments, and grading, and to discuss helpful approaches to the material in tutorials, labs, and office hours
  2. Clarify TA expectations at the first meeting (i.e. hours, nature, and amount of work)
  3. If work hours are available, ask TAs to attend lectures, so they are familiar with the material students are learning there
  4. Provide grading guides or rubrics for TAs grading student work
  5. Share key indicators of students who may need support (academic or personal) and highlight that serious student issues and concerns should be bought to the attention of the course director. [See Your Guide to Identifying and Responding to Students in Distress]
  6. Discuss issues of Academic Integrity with your TAs in relation to the kinds of assessments for your course [See Dalhousie's Academic Integrity website]
  7. Indicate teaching supports available to graduate students through the Centre for Learning and Teaching, including regular workshop and discussion series, the Certificate in University Teaching and Learning, and the Teaching Assistant Enrichment Program


Dr. Srinivas (Srini) Sampalli Professor, Faculty of Computer Science, Dalhousie University

Dr. Sampalli shares his approaches and techniques that he uses in his first-year lectures to engage students’ interest and support their learning. 


International scholar, Professor John Gardner, spoke to faculty and staff on high impact strategies for student success at Dalhousie University.  Town Hall, May 17, 2016.  John is an educator, university professor and administrator.  He also serves as president of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education (JNGI).