It’s not always the most fun part of the first day of class, but we often need to review the syllabus. Students need to know the rules, how their grades will be calculated, and the outline of the course. If you don’t go over it in class, they won’t read it on their own. Even if they do review it on their own, they may have questions! But if you lecture at them, they tend to get bored, get distracted, and forget. If you pep up your syllabus review with jokes and personal stories, they remember those stories forever. Not so much the important stuff. This is why I love the Syllabus Scavenger Hunt!

I don’t think anything engages the brain and helps students memorize more than making them do the work, and making it fun. A Syllabus Scavenger Hunt does just that! Instead of reading the syllabus and having students follow along, maybe interrupt with questions that you were about to answer anyway, in a Syllabus Scavenger Hunt, you hand out the syllabus and a sheet of questions. You might also format your questions as unfinished notes. Be sure the questions highlight the most important information students need to know about your class.

Typically students need to know:

  • How their grade is calculated
  • Due dates for large projects
  • Dates of exams or big tests
  • Lateness, absence, and sickness policies
  • Any unique expectations for your class

You may also think about questions you’ve gotten in the past or situations that commonly occur. When I used to teach a class first thing in the morning, students would often be a few minutes late. So I was sure to set a clear policy on how late was late and I added that to my syllabus. There were also questions about whether they could eat and drink in class. I had to institute some rules because kids were bringing in greasy egg sandwiches or claiming they couldn’t take notes while they ate! Another IEP I worked at had a lot of Saudi Arabian students. There were always questions about Ramadan: Is Eid an excused absence? Can we ask other students not to eat or drink in class during Ramadan?

You can also Google “syllabus scavenger hunt” to find examples and get ideas. I particularly like this one, this one, and this post with example questions as well as tips.

Students then read the syllabus and fill in the answers themselves. Because they are doing the work themselves, they are more likely to be engaged and to remember. And when they are done, they will have a cheat sheet to your syllabus, a one-page summary with the most important information clearly marked (It may seem a bit crazy that students need this, but remember, they are language learners. Some syllabuses get pretty dense with all that text, and boilerplate language from the administration).

Variations on syllabus scavenger hunt

As an alternative, you can put students in groups to work together and help each other. This is particularly good for lower-levels or very dense multi-page syllabuses (I’m looking at you, university classes). You can even assign each student one question and then put them in groups to tell each other the answers. You could make it a relay race, where students must run across the classroom to get each new question. Or even turn it into a timed race and see which student or group can answer all the questions first.

However you run the Syllabus Scavenger Hunt, be sure to go over the answers and make sure everyone is on the same page. And be sure to take questions after. Hopefully at this point the questions will be things NOT on the syllabus already. And if a student does ask a question such as, “What if I get sick while I’m on vacation, but the vacation wasn’t an excused absence, and the next day is the first day of spring break?” they have a place to jot down the answer.

Download an editable syllabus scavenger hunt

Download an Editable Syllabus Scavenger Hunt (DOC) from this resource page for Classroom Community Builders by Walton Burns. It’s based on one I used at an IEP. You’ll have to change it to reflect your own syllabus, which is why I let you download it as a Word Doc.
And find more first day of class/back to school advice including creating your own DIY Classroom Community Builders and even warmers for online classes!

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