Increasing Syllabus Use: It's Not Just for the First Day

As a learning guide and manual for a course, the syllabus communicates requirements, expectations, recommendations, strategies, resources, and more for a successful course outcome. An engaging syllabus tends to be perceived by students as user-friendly and helpful and as a comprehensive learning aid. With an effective syllabus students are motivated to do well in the course and are even incentivized to enroll in subsequent courses with their teacher. Encourage students to refer back to the syllabus often throughout the term, and not just at the beginning of the course.

First Day Syllabus Activities:

  • Syllabus Contract – prepare a document for students to sign
  • Syllabus Scavenger Hunt – create a worksheet with clues for F2F or online activity
  • Syllabus Online Escape Room – build a series of meaningful syllabus puzzles using LMS adaptive release.
  • Syllabus Re-Write – make space in the syllabus for students to (re)write specific sections of the syllabus based on their questions, needs, or interests with learning, such as course policies, netiquette, calendar, and/or assessments

Ongoing Syllabus Activities:

  • Discussion Board responses for student FAQs: “It’s in your syllabus.”, “Where can you find this information in the syllabus?”, “What does the syllabus say about ___?”
  • Question Prompts: “How does [concept/topic] connect to SLO ___?”, “How do you anticipate this assignment will help you to achieve the lesson and course objectives?”, “Which assignments will help you prepare for the [assessment]?”, “What else should be included in the syllabus to help you accomplish ___?”
  • Exit Tickets: “Which learning outcome(s) tie directly to today’s activity?”, “What is due next?”, “How should I prepare for the upcoming [assignment/assessment]?”
  • Game-based Strategy on Online Assignments/Assessments: Lock low-stakes assignments/assessments with a passcode that can only be answered by referring to the syllabus. “What is the next assignment that is due in this course?”, “What is the word that is found on page #2, paragraph #3, word #15?”, “What is the word limit for this assignment?”, “How many multiple-choice questions will this quiz have?”
  • Course Evaluation – instruct students to have their syllabus handy when completing

Last Day Syllabus Activities:

  • Syllabus Walkthrough – summarize what was accomplished in the course
  • Syllabus Contract Review– revisit the Syllabus Contract and discuss how students abided by the contract; celebrate successes
  • Syllabus Reflection Discussion/Activity – have students reflect on their experiences in the course


  • Grunert, J. (1997). The course syllabus: A learning-centered approach. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  • Iannarelli, B. A., Bardsley, M. E., & Foote, C. J. (2010). Here’s your syllabus, see you next week: A review of the first day practices of outstanding professors. The Journal of Effective Teaching, 10(2), 29-41.
  • Midland College. (2017, January 18). “It’s in your syllabus” [Video]. YouTube.
  • Palmer, M. S., Wheeler, L. B., & Aneece, I. (2016). Does the document matter? The evolving role of syllabi in higher education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 48(4), 36-46.

Felicity Cruz Grandjean, Ph.D.
Instructional Designer
Dallas College