Chunking the Syllabus

 Although the first days of school should be exciting, I have learned they can be tedious for both students and teachers.  Many schools require teachers to review policies in a school agenda on the first day.  And while establishing routines, reviewing rules, and learning procedures is certainly important, it can make the most dedicated student or teacher want to snooze.

In addition to perusing the school agenda, every teacher I know discusses her syllabus on the first day.  Some keep their syllabi brief, but often they simply read it to their students while the kids look at them with glazed eyes.  And really, can you blame the students?  Can you imagine listening to all of your teachers review a syllabus or agenda?

And I’m guilty of this, too.  Once upon a time, I routinely read my syllabus to my class; however, several years ago, I created a new method for reviewing my five page syllabus.  I use the reading strategy “chunking,” which breaks up reading into manageable sections.  Furthermore, my activity incorporates cooperative learning, so it gives me an opportunity to see how my students work (or don’t work) together.  The activity is always popular and gets my school year started positively.  Best of all, after my students complete the activity, I have posters of their work to display on the VERY FIRST DAY of school, which makes for happy administrators.


Here is how I implement my activity:

  1. Since my syllabus is five pages long, I number each page and divide my class into five groups. Each group is assigned a page to read and analyze.  I also give a poster-size construction paper and marker to each group.
  2. I tell the students to identify at least five essential details that the class needs to know from their assigned pages. They must also make an inference.  Typically, I give an example:  even though it doesn’t state it explicitly in the syllabus, we can infer from the course expectations that good attendance will help students be successful.
  3. Each group chooses someone with legible handwriting and writes the details and inference on its construction paper. They also decide on how to present their posters to the class in a way that involves everyone in the group.
  4. When the groups are ready, each one presents its poster to the class. This gives me a chance to check for understanding, answer questions, and elaborate on any points that are important.  Finally, I collect the posters for my display.

My students are involved and grateful to do an activity that’s different than the typical first-day lecture.  Best of all, I get them reading and writing, so I can meet curriculum standards right away.  The displayed posters serve as an excellent reminder of content, expectations, and procedures for the first week, too!


OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKim, the OCBeach Teacher,  is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition.  She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.
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