Creating a Positive Classroom Climate

What an instructor does in the first few class sessions sets the tone for the rest of the semester. We know from research on teaching that classrooms in which students can be actively involved in the learning process are more effective for student learning. What can instructors do to create a climate in which students are willing to be active participants?

  • Learn students' names. Faculty can ask students to introduce themselves the first day and then have them say their names when they talk during the first few class sessions. So instructors write a few notes about students to remind them of the names. I have a peer that takes a digital class photo that he annotates with the students' names.
  • Make sure that the classroom is set up in a way that fosters the appropriate climate. Asking students to come to the front of the room so that students are close to each other encourages more participation than an arrangement with students scattered around the classroom. For a small discussion section, it may be useful to arrange chairs in a circle or a U shape. If class sub grouping is to be used chairs can be moved into small semicircles.
  • Tell students the first day of class what your expectations are. Let students know that questions and discussion are welcome and expected. It is also useful to write ground rules for discussions and add them to the syllabus or to the online component of your course. Students can be encouraged to help develop these ground rules. Ground rules may include:
    • No personal attacks
    • One person talk at a time
    • Everyone has a right to his/her opinion
  • Come before and stay after class to talk to students. This time can allow the instructor to build individual relationships with students. These small contacts can create a warmer, more involved climate. Students may feel freer to ask questions on an individual basis.
  • Create a safe environment for student participation. Instructors foster a safe climate in two ways. They:
    1. Make sure they never ridicule a student's questions or remarks. It take only one or two instances of "That's a stupid comment. Haven't you done any preparation?" to discourage participation. It's possible to state that you disagree with a student without attacking the student personally (e.g., As I see it...).
    2. Confront students who attack other students. (e.g., John, state what you think rather than attacking someone else...)
  • One way to encourage participation is to provide verbal and non-verbal encouragement of student participation. Making frequent eye contact, moving around the room saying "good" or writing student response on the board, flip chart or screen are all ways to acknowledge contributions.
  • Begin teaching the subject matter the first day of class. It is tempting because your class roster is not stable the first day of class, to do little more than administrative housekeeping. Remember, however, if you do not take the subject matter seriously, neither will your students. If you want a classroom where students come to work diligently, you need to begin teaching that the first day of class.