At one of my favorite philosophy blogs, Philosopherscocoon (a blog devoted to early career types), there is a discussion on how to make the first day work. Why not join in there?
Here's what I do:
- I always teach a full class.
- I make enough copies for all students of a text related to the theme of the course (or the second session).
- I then ask a random student to read it out aloud. Before I let him/her start reading, I always make a point to ask for the student's name, and some other identifying stuff (year, major, birth-place, and a few unrelated factoids--favorite sports-team, pizza-joint in town, etc) that may allow for some small-talk. I explain that I do so because that way I will have a better shot at remembering their names [I try to remember names no matter how large my course--I always print out enrollment-sheet with pictures]).
- If the student has a clear reading voice, I praise it; if -- as is more likely -- the student reads too quickly or in a way that confuses the rest of us, I interrupt and explain what's going wrong. (I sometimes ask the student if s/he has idea what the text that has just been read means.)
- I then start probing the read text with the class -- via a Socratic method; each time I call on a student I repeat step 3. Along the way, I let students experience how much of their readings and interpretations are really a product of their culturally laden assumptions or their relying on background knowledge or their lack of experience in probing the logical and conceptual structure of texts, etc. (I want them to experience how hard it is to read a text closely.) Ideally, students start a conversation with each other and to stop expecting 'the answers' from me, and I just keep discussion going as long as it is focused on the text.
- This (2-5) works really well with the Introduction to Hobbes' Leviathan, Locke's Preface to the Essay, Spinoza's introduction to the TTP, Hume's Introduction to the Treatise, Nietzsche's intro to Genealogy of Morals, etc.
- I go over the syllabus either just after break or at the end of the class.