I made it through my first day of classes! I always dread syllabus day, because I feel like there is a ton of pressure to make a good first impression, give the students a fair picture of what the class is going to be like, convince them that the class does actually matter, provide them with all of the information they’re going to need, try not to overwhelm them, and try not to be boring.

It’s exhausting.

Of course, I’m not the only instructor who tries to come up with a fun, introductory activity to set off on the right foot. I think most of us try to find new ways to get students interacting and getting to know each other on the first day of class.

I wanted to do something along those lines, but also to introduce the apocalyptic theme. This is what I came up with:

I asked my students to imagine that we had just received word that some sort of catastrophic, cataclysmic event was going to happen in the next fifteen minutes. It could be a pandemic, a natural disaster, divine Judgment Day, a zombie invasion, aliens. Anything.

“If you had fifteen minutes to run to your dorm room and retrieve two items to help you survive whatever catastrophe is about to happen, what would those items be?” I asked.

They had a few minutes to think about this and discuss it amongst themselves. Then, in groups of four or five, they made a list of what their group would have if they pooled resources. Each group wrote their supplies on the board, and then we took votes on who seemed most likely to survive whatever event might be headed our way.

It definitely got them talking and laughing. I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the things they decided to bring and asked how they think their phones and laptops are going to help them at the end of the world. Some groups seemed a bit more prepared than the others, having decided to bring knives, car keys, jars of peanut butter, coats, and their medications. Other groups were stocked with electronics and Snapple Tea–I have less hope for their survival.

By the end of each class, the students were beginning to interact freely as a large group, which is what I hoped would happen. We also started to work on the earliest stages of developing a vocabulary for the genre of storytelling that we’ll be working with all semester. Plus, I collected their answers so that I can use them again for an activity later in the semester. I hope to show them just how much they’ve learned when they revise their supply lists to be more realistic and useful.