Activities to develop a positive classroom climate

This article first appeared in the teacher teacher March 21, 2017. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

A positive classroom climate can encourage students to participate, think deeply about content, and engage their peers in intellectual debate. Creating a classroom climate conducive to this type of expression can be difficult. Classrooms are filled with a diverse cross-section of our society representing multiple learning preferences and expectations. Professors aspire to reach all students and engage them in meaningful, content-rich examinations of subject matter, but peer relationships, personal struggles, student perceptions of course content, and even the novelty of the classroom university itself can all influence the classroom climate. The key to overcoming these variables is the teacher. The teacher is the one piece to which most students attribute their success or failure and their positive or negative experiences in a college classroom (Boesch, 2014).

The following describes a pilot project carried out in the fall of 2016 at a small liberal arts college:

After several classes in which I was dissatisfied with the frequency and depth of student participation, I designed two sets of opening activities for students to complete at the start of class. These beginners would act as an intermediary to develop a climate of respect, cooperation and emotional security (Matsumura, Slater and Crosson, 2008; Shuck, Albornz, Winberg, 2007). I believed that by establishing a positive classroom climate, students would be more willing to participate in content-based discussions and activities.

Class Beginners

Classroom starters, or bell ringers, are common in elementary, middle, and high schools, but are rare in college classes. Class starters are short activities designed to get students engaged in a topic independent of instructor interaction. In this case, the class starters included two activities, one Registration and Warm up. Each activity was created and displayed, one at a time, on a PowerPoint slide presented at the beginning of each lesson. The goal was for these quick classroom starters to break down students’ walls and insecurities and encourage them to focus and engage in class discussions and activities.

The Registration

The Registration the questions remained the same throughout the semester, and the Warm up the activity changed with each class. The Registration the questions were designed to be broad while the Warm-ups were content specific. The class first shared Registration questions, then moved on to the discussion Warm up.

The five Registration the questions were projected on a screen before the start of the course. The Registration happened right away – before any housekeeping or conference. The five questions were:

  1. What’s new?
  2. What’s exciting?
  3. What’s bothering you?
  4. What did you think of the last lesson?
  5. Describe your mood in one sentence (optional follow-up).

I introduced the concept of Registration at the first meeting of the semester. I explained that it was not graded and did not focus on readings or course content; rather, the activity was created to allow everyone in the class to share Something. Participation in the Registration was not optional. Everyone had to participate. I explained the rationale for ‘forced’ sharing by explaining: “Often the first time you speak up in a class is the hardest, especially if the topic isn’t your favorite topic. or that you have booked. These Recordings are designed to present a way to encourage you to speak in a non-threatening, non-academic way.

The rules for the Registration were simple:

  1. The instructor chooses one student to start, then all other students participate in a clockwise rotation.
  2. Everyone must participate.
  3. Select one of five choices and announce your selection and answer to the group.
  4. The answer can/should be brief. A single word or a short sentence is enough.

I modeled the wait on the first day and continued to model throughout the semester always selecting one of Registration questions and speak first.

The Warm up

After each RegistrationI revealed the Warm up part of the class starter. Warm up the activities were designed around course content, but presented in a more conversational way than textual or lecture-based. For example, for a lesson on social and emotional development in our Educational Psychology course, the Warm up was designed to draw students’ attention to the factors that influenced their personal development. Students were asked to “Identify someone who has contributed to your growth and development as a student, writer, accountant, teacher (or whatever your specialty), or just as a person. Share what you found important.

I listened and confirmed students’ responses with a nod or a simple “Thanks for sharing.” I kept my comments brief so as not to lose the students’ momentum of sharing. However, as we moved on to the lecture portion of the course, I incorporated some of the comments the students had made earlier. The personal connection to the course text and topic was invaluable to the students. “I liked the way the teacher used our words when talking about the chapter, it made the topics real and easy to understand,” said one student.

To taste Warm up exercises

Composition Warm-ups directly related to course content can be challenging. The easiest way I found to do this was to find icebreaker activities and use them as a framework. By keeping the structure of activities in place and adding course content, creating the Warm-ups was manageable. Examples of ways to create Warm up activities for any class include:

  1. The M&M Icebreaker. Provide bowls of M&Ms and tell the students to grab some (but don’t eat them…yet). Once everyone has their M&Ms, ask them to explain part of the lesson reading or topic for each color of M&M they selected; green = explain ______’s theory, red = say something that was difficult about the reading/topic, yellow = rephrase one of _________’s key ideas, brown = say something you would like to know more about.
  2. The three truths and an icebreaker lie. Challenge students to pair and describe three statements from the reading (two true and one factually inaccurate). Everyone must take turns identifying what the misrepresentation is.
  3. The receiving line. Divide students into two groups and have them stand facing each other. Each person talks to the person in front of them until they are signaled to move. The person at the end of a line moves to the other end so everyone has a new person to talk to. Topics (class/reading main points) can be provided or students can be assigned to talk about a surprise and question they had about reading.

Back to strategy

As part of an independent project, two faculty members from outside my department observed this course. Independently of each other, each observer commented on the Registration and Warm up Activities.

  • “I’ve never seen a university course start like this. It created a warm feeling that I haven’t seen in other courses.
  • “You share a lot of yourself with the students. I never considered doing that. After seeing how the students react, I might try some of these ideas next semester. »
  • “Departments don’t teach you how to teach. I know my subject, but the ways to present it and the ways to engage students in learning are left unsaid. It gave me ideas to try with my students.

At the end of the semester, I asked students to anonymously write down their thoughts on the Registration and Warm up class beginners. All responses were positive, and students reported feeling more comfortable in class and enjoyed the sense of camaraderie that developed throughout the semester. Here are some of their comments:

  • “I admit that the first two classes were uncomfortable for me because the atmosphere was incomparable to any other class I had taken. However, my first moments of discomfort when asked to share turned positive and impacted my view of the class. I believe it helped me learn more content than any other course. »
  • “The Warm up and Registration created a comfortable and safe environment for our class. As a senior, I’ve never been one to talk so much in class. Although I doubted this exercise at first, it really gave me the confidence to actively participate in class discussions. »
  • “I love this part of the class. Even though I don’t know everyone’s names, I still feel quite comfortable approaching them for help on something and working with them in groups. It’s a great way to feel comfortable in class, speak up when questions arise, and make it easier to present in front of the class.”
  • “The Warm up and Registration is something I look forward to doing every class. I feel like it brought me closer to my peers and my instructor. It helped me feel more engaged and involved in the class, which made it easier to work in groups, answer questions, and present material to the class. I feel like if more classes did this, more students would feel more connected and comfortable in class and would benefit more from going to class.
  • “I really enjoyed the Warm-up/Registration. I am an introvert. I don’t like to talk usually, but these Warm-ups really allowed me to make connections and answer questions in class. In my other classes, I don’t speak at all. These activities helped me learn more about those around me and that we are not as different as we seem.

While students are ultimately responsible for their actions and how they participate in class, it is my hope that by striving to break down some barriers, I will create a place that will support and nurture students and, in turn, will guide them to become more involved in class. .

Melissa Parks is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Education at Stetson University.


Boesch, B. (2014). The importance of the professor in the university classroom climate for immigrant students. Quarter College, 17(4), 2-21.

Matsumura, L., Slater, S. and Crosson, A. (2008). Classroom climate, rigorous teaching and curriculum, and student interactions in urban colleges, primary school newspaper, 108(4), 293-312.

Shuck, B., Albornoz, C. and Winberg, M. (2007). Emotions and their effect on adult learning: a constructivist perspective. In SM Nielsen & MS Plakhotnik (Eds.), Proceedings of the College of Education’s Sixth Annual Research Conference: Urban and International Education Section (pp. 108-113). Miami: Florida International University.

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