Setting and Clarifying Expectations and Goals in the First Week of Class

January 9, 2018 | Claudia Stanny

Setting and Clarifying Expectations and Goals in the First Week of Class

Consider beginning your class by asking students why they are in your class and what they expect to gain from their experience in this class (Benjamin, 2005). Instructors may be surprised to learn that students in their course have different goals than the “official” course goals. An activity that identifies and clarifies instructor and student expectations and goals can benefit both students and instructors. A discussion that compares student and instructor goals creates student buy-in to the course and provides an opportunity to explain why you use certain teaching strategies, activities, and course assignments. Instructors can also explain how the course fits into the overall curriculum for the discipline and describe the skills students can expect to acquire that will benefit them when they enroll in subsequent courses and engage in professional activities post-graduation.

A first-week think-pair-share activity that establishes common goals and expectations

Think and written reflection
Ask students to write down their goals and expectations for the course by asking the following questions:

  • What do you expect to learn in this course?
  • How do you think this course is related to other courses in your major? (or, for a general education course or other service course – how is the course related to other courses in your degree program?)
  • Why are you enrolled in this course?
  • How do you expect this course to prepare you for additional work in this discipline?

[Based on Barnett, 1999]

Immediate pair-share activity
Ask students to work in groups of 3-4 and compare their goals.
Share the group’s goals and expectations with the class as a whole.
During this discussion, the instructor should identify his/her goals and expectations, highlight those goals that are shared with students, and describe the role of the course in the larger curriculum. When possible, discuss how student-generated goals might be attained within the context of the overall course goals.

Instructors might get some insights into student motivation from this activity.  Sometimes, we will discover opportunities that allow us to meet unanticipated student goals by making minor adjustments without compromising the primary goals of the course. Benjamin (2005) argues that this activity allows instructors to publicly respond to student interests without necessarily making major changes to their courses. The discussion sets a collaborative tone at the onset of the course, improves student motivation, and enhances overall satisfaction within the course. Similarly, Barnett (1999) reports that students are more understanding of the need for the quantity of work demanded during the course when the instructor explains the role of assignments for developing skills at the outset.


Barnett, M. A. (1999). On the same wavelength? Clarifying course expectations and goals. Teaching Concerns. Newsletter of the Teaching Resource Center for Faculty and Teaching Assistants, University of Virginia.

Benjamin, Jr., L. T. (2005). Setting course goals: Privileges and responsibilities in a world of ideas. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 146-149.