With the beginning of the semester just around the corner, many instructors are strategizing about how best to start productive classroom conversations. Students who speak even briefly at the beginning of a class meeting are more likely to participate in discussions going forward, and a well-chosen icebreaker can help everyone join in. As quick, low-stakes, and often fun activities that involve students at the beginning of a session, icebreakers can be a good way to learn about who's in the classroom, reduce anxiety, and engage all students in thinking together about course content.  

CRLT provides examples of icebreakers and guidance for using them in the Handbook on Departmental GSI Development. We also recently polled our Graduate Teaching Consultants (GTCs) to gather a list of their favorites. Here are some good ideas we received when we asked the GTCs to "tweet" us a particularly effective icebreaker they have used, seen, or heard about: Read more »


To welcome new instructors to the University and help prepare them for their first teaching assignments at U-M, CRLT will be offering orientations for new faculty and new GSIs in the last week of August. These programs are all designed to help new instructors meet colleagues from across the campus, learn about the resources available for teaching, and hit the ground running when the teaching term begins. Our work with U-M instructors has convinced us that when teaching is going well, other aspects of faculty or GSI work life are more likely to fall into place. So we take great care to design orientations that make the best possible use of participants' time and cover the topics most salient to getting a good start in the classroom, lab, or studio.

All of us at CRLT are excited to welcome new instructors to campus and to help you get the tools you need to succeed. We look forward to meeting you! Read more »


Whether you're starting a course from scratch or revamping something you've taught many times before, careful planning is key to successful teaching. CRLT offers many resources to support U-M instructors in their course planning as the beginning of the semester draws near.

  • The resources on this Course Design and Planning page focus on course design. Do you tend to begin your course planning by asking, "What material do I want to cover?" or "What do I want my students to learn?" Research shows that instructors best promote student learning when they start with the second question, organizing course content, class activities, and assignments around a clear set of learning objectives. The Course Design and Planning resources explain this research and walk you through the process of applying it to your courses.
  • The resources on this Strategies for Effective Lesson Design page focus on preparing individual class meetings. This page outlines steps for developing learning objectives, structuring relevant learning activities, and checking student understanding along the way.  
  • CRLT Consultations are available for U-M instructors at any point in the course planning process, whether you want to explore new approaches to teaching the subject matter, brainstorm about integrating technology into a course, or apply principles of course design.   

Even small changes can produce big impacts on student engagement and learning. And whether it's enhancing a key assignment, tweaking a class activity, or introducing active learning into one lecture session, a well-planned shift can also fuel your own excitement about the new semester.


"I learned so much this semester!" This is the kind of student comment teachers love to read on course evaluations. But such statements can also leave many questions unanswered: What exactly did the students learn? How well did it match up with my goals for the course? And which teaching strategies were most effective in facilitating that learning? CRLT provides resources and assistance for faculty who are interested in pursuing such questions. The Investigating Student Learning (ISL) grant is one program designed to support instructors as they develop projects to assess what students are learning in their courses and how.

On Monday, the U-M community will have an opportunity to learn in detail about eight projects recently funded by the ISL Grant. The 2012 ISL winners will present their findings at a breakfast poster fair in the Michigan League, part of the plenary event for the Enriching Scholarship conference. Faculty in LSA, the College of Engineering, the School of Nursing, the School of Social Work, and the Medical School will present posters about their findings on a range of questions about student learning. These include:  

  • Do student teams work more equitably when they collaborate online? Robin Fowler of the College of Engineering's Program in Technical Communication used her ISL grant to implement and evaluate a teaching innovation designed to disrupt patterns of participation in which underrepresented students (in this case, women and non-native English speakers) contributed less. She shifted some team meetings from face-to-face environments to online platforms using the Google Apps suite. The online interactions resulted in more balanced participation, compared to the traditional in-person format.
  • What factors help students develop leadership skills in service learning courses? Leseliey Welch of Women's Studies pursued this question in a practicum course for WS concentrators. Along with CRLT postdoc Kris Gorman, Welch studied the ways student learning outcomes were affected by the structure of their semester-long service placements. The study revealed the importance of mentorship by organizational leaders as well as opportunities for independent projects for the development of students' leadership skills.  

Other 2012 grant-winning projects focus on evaluation in flipped classrooms, simulations in the health sciences, and teaching ethics and information literacy. To learn more about all of these projects, register here for Enriching Scholarship and attend the poster session 9am-10am Monday, May 6. The poster session will also feature winners of the Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize (more information about this year's awardees at this link), and a continental breakfast will be provided. The plenary panel following the poster fair from 10am-12pm will feature Michigan faculty involved with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) discussing another big question, "What Have We Learned from MOOCs?


As winter term wraps up, many U-M teachers are thinking ahead to their spring and summer courses. When teaching in a short semester with a limited number of class sessions, it's especially important to make good use of the first day. How can you use an initial meeting to do more than review the syllabus and begin to learn students' names?

CRLT provides many resources to help you quickly establish a productive learning environment in your courses. This page provides an overview of resources related to goals you might have for the first day, from building rapport among students to getting them engaged with the course material. You can also click on the links below for great ideas about:

As always, CRLT staff are available to consult with individual instructors about effective teaching strategies before, during, or after your course.