How to Plan and Organize For Your Upcoming Semester

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As the semester approaches, our team often consults with faculty to brainstorm ideas and clarify uncertainties about the first day, syllabus design or planning meaningful activities in an on-campus or synchronous course. Since those to-do lists can quickly become overwhelming, we have collated a few of our favorite tools and resources to help plan for the semester.

This article is adapted from the "Getting Organized for the Fall Semester" and has been changed to accommodate for any semester

Create lasting impressions on the first day of class

While only a small window into the experience of a course, the first day of class is fraught with emotional significance and opportunity to positively impact students’ motivation within the course (Cavanagh, 2015; Sarang-Sieminski, 2018). The first day of a course highlights to students their future interactions with course instructors, how they will experience the course content, and their environment for the semester (Jafar, 2021). First days can therefore shape a student's engagement within the course, and even their continuation within the discipline. The following resources provide an overview of structuring the first day of a course to have a lasting impact.

  • James Lang (2021) presents four principles about the first day of a course. (Login with your UMID to access The Chronicle of Higher Education).
  • University of Washington's Center for Teaching and Learning provides a brief checklist.
  • Griffith University has an Active Learning Design tool to find strategies for different learning and teaching contexts.

Design your course using a weekly planning template

A weekly planning template can help educators plan a semester on a weekly basis, and consider what objectives, assignments, and in-class activities you may need to prepare. You can add detailed information or key milestones you want to achieve throughout the semester. Alternatively, you can use this template to journal changes or updates you make throughout a semester. Contact us for one-to-one guidance on how we use this!

We also recommend considering your class workload when planning the semester. Researchers and faculty at Rice University created a Course Workload Estimator that helps faculty estimate how long students would spend on assignments or activities.

Finalize your course schedule in your syllabi

The course schedule templates shared here include simple tables with date, topic, and assignment headings with key dates from the academic calendar. Use these to help structure your syllabus.

Prepare your Blackboard course before the semester starts

To prepare your Blackboard course for teaching your courses, our colleagues in the Learning Platforms team have shared a checklist to work through.


Barre, E. (2016, July 11). How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload. Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence.

Cavanagh, S. R. (2016). The spark of learning: Energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion (First edition). West Virginia University Press. 

University of Washington. (2021). Teaching the first day of class. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from

Griffith University. (2021). Active Learning Design Tool [Griffith University]. Retrieved August 2, 2021, from

Jafar, A. (2021). The Lasting Impact of a First Impression: An Exercise for the First Day of Class. Teaching Sociology, 49(1), 73–84.

Lang, J. (2019, January 4). How to Teach a Good First Day of Class. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Sarang-Sieminski, A., Coso-Strong, A., Michalka, S., & Woodard, J. (2018). Winning Day One: Setting Up Capstone Students for Success. 4.