The Power Walk: Engage Students on the First Day of Class

What does Dr. LeGrand do on the first day of class?

LeGrandI was able to travel as a staff member to Duke Kunshan University in Fall 2015. I had the pleasure of visiting many classes and saw some great teaching ideas. I was impressed by the teaching of Dr. Sara LeGrand and I will be sharing a few of her techniques in a series of blog posts. In this first one, I’ll discuss a technique that LeGrand uses to build community on the first day of class

Dr. LeGrand teaches Duke students using well-designed teaching techniques and innovative technology to motivate and engage her students. She has traveled all over the world for her research, but teaching at Duke Kunshan University (DKU) was her first time teaching outside of the U.S.

On the first day of her “Social Determinants of Health: China and the World” class at DKU, after the usual welcome and introductions, she immediately launched into a class activity called “the power walk”.



The students were divided into groups. Each group portrayed a person with a distinct socioeconomic background, such as a young American dropout, a Ugandan woman, and a homeless man from St. Petersburg.

Each group selected a representative (a “walker”), who, after consultation with the rest of the group, took a step forward or backward from the starting line in response to directives such as the following:

  • “Take a step forward if you have easy access to clean water.”
  • “Take a step forward if you have adequate social support and have enough time to enjoy social activities.”
  • “Take a step backward if you face discrimination because of your gender, race, or ethnicity.”

At the end of the activity, the distance walked represented one’s power and access to resources. As Dr. LeGrand explained,

“This is called the Power Walk because these people that are farther up [from the starting line] have more power in the world and their societies, and this greatly influences their health outcomes.”

I was amazed to see everyone laughing, talking, and working in groups in a friendly atmosphere. On the very first day, the students had already connected with the content and with one another.


By opening with an activity that requires students to be fully engaged both physically and mentally, the instructor can quickly grab students’ attention and set the tone of active collaboration. Don’t miss the important opportunity on the first day of class, when students are keen to determine what peers and instructor they are going to be working with, what expectations are from the instructor, and what skills they are going to learn.

From the beginning to the end, the students loved her well designed activities. They enjoyed learning from the professor, their groups, and their group projects. It was not only a class, but also a wonderful experience.

Stay tuned for what Dr. LeGrand does for the first week of class, and the final week of class.

9 thoughts on “The Power Walk: Engage Students on the First Day of Class

  1. Avatar
    Robinsh Kumar

    Dear HAIYAN ZHOU, I was wondering how one can create a community just with a day ?

    As far as I know it takes time to relate the different personalities and then one could boost their emotions to create a community by combining different individuals.

  2. Avatar
    Schools in Kanpur

    I am very impress with Dr. Sara LeGrand profile. She is research professor at the duke global health institute and as you mentioned her teaching technique, it’s very impressive to engage students at their first day of college.

  3. Avatar
    Kelly Hilton

    Great site. Lots of useful info here. I am sending it to some pals ans also sharing in delicious. And certainly, thanks to your effort!

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