Here are some tips on how to create a positive classroom atmosphere early in the session:
- Introduce yourself to your class. In addition to telling students how you wish to be addressed, say something about your background: how you first became interested in the subject, how it has been important to you, and why you are teaching this subject and class. Genuinely convey your enthusiasm for teaching the subject.
- Give students an opportunity to meet each other. Ask students to divide themselves into groups of three to five and introduce themselves. Or go around the room and ask all students to respond to one question, such as “What’s the one thing you really want to learn from this class/grade?” or “What aspect of the curriculum seems most appealing to you?”
- Ask students to fill out an introduction card. Have students indicate their name, home address, telephone number, and electronic mail address, year in school, and major interests and hobbies.
- Learn students’ names. By learning your students’ names, you can create a comfortable classroom environment that will encourage student interaction. Knowing your students’ names also tells them that you are interested in them as individuals.
- Ask students to interview each other outside of class. If your course has a writing component, you might ask students to write a brief description of their partner. The class could agree on the interview questions beforehand or each student could devise his or her own items.
- Divide students into small groups. Give groups a small task, such as a brainstorming exercise, and then place responses on the board for discussion and interpretation.
- Encourage students to exchange phone numbers. If all students agree, ask them to write their name, telephone number, and electronic mail address on a plain sheet of paper and make copies of the roster for them. Encourage students to call their classmates about missed classes, homework assignments, and study groups. Or have students complete index cards and exchange them with two or three classmates.
Here are some tips on how to personalise the large lecture class:
- Let students know that they are not faces in an anonymous audience. In large campuses, students often think that their classroom behaviour (eating, talking, sleeping arriving late, etc.) goes unnoticed. Tell students that you are aware of what is happening in class and act accordingly.
- If your class has extra seating space, ask students to refrain from sitting in certain rows of the classroom. For example, if you teach in a room that has rowed seating, ask students to sit in rows 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8 and so on so that you can walk through the audience where there is an empty row.
- Recognise students’ co-scholastic and co-curricular accomplishments. Read school news letters, scan the results put up on bulletin boards, pay attention to all competitions, and let students know that you are aware of their achievements.
- Capitalise on outside events or situations, as appropriate. Relate major world events or events on campus both to your class and to the fabric of your students’ lives outside the classroom.
- Arrive early and chat with students. Ask how the class and studies are going. Are they enjoying the readings? Is there anything they want you to include in lectures?
- Seek out students who are doing poorly in the course. Write “See me during my office hours” on all exams graded C- or below to provide individualised feedback.
- Acknowledge students who are doing well in the class. Write “Good job! See me after class” on all exams graded A1 or above. Take a moment after class to compliment students who are excelling.
- Schedule topics for office hours. If students are reluctant to come, periodically schedule a “help session” on a particular topic rather than a free-form office hour.
- Talk about questions students have asked in previous terms. Mention specific questions former students have asked and explain why they were excellent questions. This lets students know that you take their questions seriously and that their questions will contribute to the course in the future.
- Listen attentively to all questions and answer them directly. If you will cover the answer during the remainder of the lecture, acknowledge the aptness of the question, asks the student to remember it, and answer the question directly when you arrive at that subject.
- Try to empathise with beginners. Remember that not all of your students are as highly motivated and interested in the discipline as you were when you were a student. Slow down when explaining complex ideas, and acknowledge the difficulty and importance of certain concepts or operations. Try to recall your first encounter with a concept – what examples, strategies, or techniques clarified it for you? By describing that encounter and its resolution to your students, you not only explain the concept but also convey the struggle and rewards of learning.
Adapted from Tools for Teaching by Barbara Gross Davis.
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