Class Cancellations Resources

Did a wintry mix of snow and bone-chilling temperatures unravel your plans for the first week of class? You’re certainly not alone, and CATL is here to help us think through this teaching challenge. While your instinct may be to cut ice-breakers or community-building activities that aren’t tied directly to your assessments, we encourage you to find other ways to tackle the issue at hand. These introductory activities promote students’ sense of belonging, which is closely linked with their academic achievement. Below you will find ideas for how you might move some of common elements of first week classes into the digital environment, along with off-line suggestions for how you might condense your face-to-face course in the wake of the winter storm. 

For a quick article on the importance of engaging students on the first day, including ideas for online icebreakers, see James M. Lang’s “How to Teach a First Day of Class Advice Guide” on the Chronicle of Higher Education Website.

How are you surmounting the challenge of lost class time? Feel free to contribute to the community of knowledge by commenting below!

When in doubt, look to your outcomes…

Losing one or two days of in-class meeting time likely means culling something from your course. As you weigh what to condense or cull, consider what content, activities, and assessments are absolutely essential to those outcomes. Trying to cram everything in will be stressful for you and your students. Clearly no one has unnecessary fluff filling valuable course time, but it may be possible to still help students meet those outcomes:  

  • With less content (e.g. are there slides, content knowledge, readings, in-class activities that are less vital to the course?). 
  • With online assessments (e.g. moving face-to-face exams to D2L or Canvas). 
  • Abbreviated assignments or activities that meet the same outcomes.  
  • By moving learning into the online environment (see below for strategies and caveats).

Consider involving your students:

If you will have to adjust your course because you can’t condense your plan easily, perhaps this is a perfect opportunity to engage students in a conversation about the learning outcomes and goals for the class. Engaging students in course design fosters an environment of respect, reciprocity, and responsibility that supports deeper levels of engagement. Whether you’re struggling to find ways to cut content, re-think assessments or activities, or move course work online, asking students to help you decide what may work best can deepen their motivation to engage in your shared solutions. 

For example, you may ask students if they think you should consider: 

  • Moving a face-to-face exam to D2L or Canvas to use class time for learning over individual assessments. 
  • What content you might cull and still meet your learning outcomes/program outcomes. 
  • How they might be able to help you summarize missed content.  
  • How learning outside of class may tie into your course’s objectives. 

For example, if you ask students to review, comment on, or annotate your syllabus as suggested above, you could also ask them where they see room to condense or cull materials.

Moving materials online?

If you’re thinking about moving some content online to help orient your students to the course, or even facilitate some of that very-important community building that normally happens during the first week of classes, you have several tools at your disposal for conducting class interactions online: 

Syllabus Review:

One way to use time efficiently is to turn your syllabus overview into an activity. 

Syllabus Annotations

Consider making a copy of your syllabus available for comments via Office 365 (One Drive at UWGB) (Here’s how to do so in Canvas and how to do so directly from OneDrive if you don’t use Canvas) so that students can add comments and questions to the draft; or provide a link that allows students to annotate a Google Document

Syllabus scavenger hunt 

You may wish to create a scavenger hunt quiz that encourages students to comb through your syllabus for important pieces of information. (Create a quiz in Canvas or D2L). 

Syllabus discussion 

This is a variation on the “muddiest point” style of discussion where the instructor places a link to the syllabus in a discussion thread and asks students to post their questions about the syllabus. (Discussions in Canvas or D2L) is a web annotation tool that allows instructors to upload a document – such as a syllabus – and have students annotate it with their questions. This would be used best if both the instructor and students are comfortable with technology.

Syllabus quiz:

instructors might choose to create a short syllabus quiz for students, that students can take multiple times to ensure they know what is expected of them. Check out how to make a quiz in D2L or Canvas.


Building community in your courses is paramount to providing an environment in which students feel welcome. In online classes, some instructors offer a few techniques for engaging students early.

Not sure how to create a discussion? Here’s how to do so in D2L and Canvas

A few ideas for Ice-Breaker activities are available below…


“Flipping” Materials

When you want to “flip” some of your course lecture, think about chunking up your lecture into about 10-minute chunks so that students will be able to space out the material. It is also good practice to consider the “drop-off” rate for students watching videos, which is about at 6-7 minutes.  

Synchronous Sessions

Consider too, making an optional “synchronous session” that allows you and your students to communicate and view materials at the same time. This is possible via the Blackboard Collaborate Ultra tool, available via D2L, Canvas, or the MyUW System Portal. 

1 Comment on "Class Cancellations Resources"

  1. Great ideas and very good resources! Since I teach MW, my class hasn’t met yet as classes have been cancelled and we’ve lost a week. So opting not to go over the syllabus is a good idea that will help me recover a little bit of time. But I agree, getting to know the students and having them introduce themselves face-to-face is important.


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