Classroom Climate

Initial Publication Date: April 10, 2008

First impressions are lasting impressions, and you want to make a good one. To a large extent, your students' willingness and ability to learn depends on their feeling comfortable in your classroom (Davis, 1993). Much of what you can do to foster rapport is not overt—body language and communication style, for example—but many instructors choose to undertake some intentional activity to set students at ease. You can use the first day to establish a positive classroom environment in a variety of ways.

Activities can establish a positive classroom climate by

Focusing on inclusivity

  • Megan Jones surveys her students at North Hennepin Community College about how to structure her course so that all students feel included:

"One thing I do the first week of class is to hand out this short survey about inclusivity. I need to know what each particular group of students believes and thinks about what an inclusive classroom is like. When I get the surveys back I go through them and list what is true for the students. Then I present it to the class and tell them that this is how the class / classroom will function and they have determined 90% of it. If they have a suggestion that I am not implementing, I explain why not." (Read more.)

Addressing students' fear of science

  • Prajukti Bhattacharyya engages her students at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater in a forthright discussion of their attitudes toward science and addresses their concerns:

"I ask my students how many of them hate science and/or math. I usually get a significant show of hands. I then ask them to specify why they have such negative feelings about science in general. Sometimes a few students come up with reasons like they cannot understand abstract concepts. Whenever someone brings up a point like that, I address it directly and concisely: how we will use concrete examples and hands-on samples in earth science, or how we will talk about concrete observations and hypotheses based on those observations...." (Read more.)

"Breaking the Ice"

  • John Knox engages his students at the University of Georgia in a game he calls "earthball volleyball," involving an inflatable globe and questions from the first chapter of the textbook:

"I throw out an inflatable globe into the mass of students, have the students bat it around in the air, and I tell them periodically to 'catch it.' Then I pose the student who caught the globe with a question that addresses material in the opening chapter. The questions I use can usually be answered by looking at the globe, or by other students. I also ask each answerer to identify him/herself. This activity sets the tone for a participatory learning environment that is *fun* but does not skimp on intellectual content, and it also helps the students to begin to know each other." (Read more.)

  • Martin Balinsky has his students at Florida A&M University draw pictures illustrating themselves and their interests, then has students take turns introducing each other by interpreting the illustrations:

"In this ice-breaker the students creat their 'coat of arms' on a piece of paper. They divide the paper into four parts and draw pictures in each corner to represent their favorite place, their favorite activity, what they hope to get out of this class, and their name. I then tell them to crumple up their paper and throw them at me. This right away breaks the ice as it makes them laugh...." (Read more.)