Ideas to Create a Welcoming, Engaging and Inclusive Classroom

The teaching-learning process is an inherently social act. Throughout the learning process students interact with the instructor, their peers and the course content, often simultaneously in a classroom setting. All of these interactions help shape their success in the course. Instructors can support student success by being mindful of the social and emotional dynamics in their course and ensuring the learning environment is one that is welcoming, engaging, and inclusive.

In preparing to teach a course, consider specific actions you might take to create a positive learning experience. It can be small simple things, or more involved and mindful actions you take throughout the semester. In the spirit of getting the semester off to a great start the list below is intended to give you some ideas to get you started.

Create a welcoming atmosphere

  • Early in the semester find out more about your students by having them provide information on an index card. (Where are they from? Do they have a second major or declared minor?)
  • Arrive to class a few minutes early and engage students in conversation.
  • Start your classes on time.
  • Provide supplemental study aids: on library use, study tips, supplemental readings and exercises. Or, post these on the course website.
  • Think about holding an “out of office” office hour in the Memorial Union or other student-friendly location.
  • Seek out a different student each day and get to know something about him or her.
  • Share your philosophy of teaching with students.
  • Make an effort to learn students’ names.

Set a positive tone

  • Explain why this course is necessary, important, exciting; tell about your current research interests and how you got there.
  • Set high expectations and be explicit about what they are.
  • Have students write out their own expectations for the course and goals for learning; follow up in class summarizing some of the key goals students listed and how the course will help them achieve these.
  • Tell students how much time they should expect to spend on the course outside of class time; share effective strategies for success.
  • If appropriate, describe what make good lab practice: completing work to be done, procedures, equipment, clean up, maintenance, safety, conservation of supplies, full use of lab time.
  • Encourage your students to assume the role of a professional in the discipline: philosopher, literary critic, biologist, agronomist, political scientist, or engineer.
  • Use a light touch: smile, tell a good joke, and break test anxiety with a sympathetic comment. Encourage students to be successful. Be available to students before or after class and join their conversation about course topics.

Encourage students to be prepared for class, keep up, and do well

  • Make learning goals explicit for each assignment; explain clearly what students are to do and how it fits into the course as a whole.
  • Explain the difference between legitimate collaboration and academic dishonesty; be clear when collaboration is appropriate and when it is not.
  • Begin a class session with a quick summary about “last time”; end each class with a quick forecast of “next time” the class meets.
  • Elicit student questions and concerns at the beginning of the class and list these on the board to be answered during class.
  • Have students write down what they think the important issues or key points on the day’s lecture will be.
  • Have students write down at the end of class three “big ideas” from that day’s material.
  • Give a pre-test (ungraded or self-graded) on the day’s topic.
  • Give students plenty of opportunity for practice before a major test.
  • Consider giving group quizzes, perhaps as preparation for an exam.

Encourage active learning

  • Move around the room to engage students and to discourage behavior such as chatting or newspaper-reading (use a lapel microphone if necessary).
  • Start a lecture with a puzzle, question, paradox, picture, or cartoon on a slide to focus on the day’s topic. Use multiple types of media during the class: overhead, video or audio clips, models, and/or sample material.
  • Stage a figurative “coffee break” about twenty minutes into the period: tell a story, invite students to put down pens and pencils, refer to a current event.
  • ‘Chunk’ a lecture into 10-15 minute segments. Between segments engage students with active learning (discussion, problem-solving, informal quizzes, etc.)
  • Stage a change-your-mind debate, with students moving to different parts of the classroom to signal change in opinion during a class discussion.
  • If you show a video, think about doing it in a novel way. For example, prepare and distribute questions for students to think about while viewing; pause the video for discussion; anticipate the ending; hand out a critique sheet; discuss or write answers to the questions handed out before the viewing.
  • Conduct a role-play to make a point or to present issues.
  • Give your students time to answer questions; count slowly (and silently) to 10 after you pose a question before you rephrase it.
  • Invite students to ask questions and wait for other students to respond.
  • Ask follow-up questions to student responses and comments.

Provide support for students

  • If possible, be aware of students who are frequently absent. Call the student or contact the student’s advisor. You can learn who the student’s advisor is on AccessPlus by clicking the “More” button next to the student’s name on your class list.
  • In addition to information on your syllabus about access for students with disabilities, announce or read the statement at the beginning of class and let students know that you are available to discuss any learning difficulties they may face. Visit the Disability Resources Office for more information.
  • Direct students to the Academic Success Center for help on study skills.
  • If Supplemental Instruction is available for your course, encourage students to use it.
  • Hand out study questions or study guides for each major section of the course.
  • Repeat yourself. Students should hear, read, or see key material at least three times.
  • Allow students to demonstrate progress in learning: summary quiz over the day’s work, a written reaction to the day’s material.
  • Provide structure for visually-oriented students by posting the day’s “menu” on the board, overhead, or screen.
  • Use multiple examples to illustrate key points and important concepts.

Adapted from “101 Things” by Joyce T. Povlacs, Teaching and Learning Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.