Classroom Challenge

What are effective ways to get to know my students and create a positive learning environment from the very beginning of the term? How can I pique students' curiosity about the subject matter? How can I set student expectations for active engagement in the course?

These are common questions as teachers prepare for the first days of class, an important time for setting the tone for what is to come in the term. CRLT offers many resources to help faculty and GSIs think carefully about getting the most out of the first days. These include tips for learning student names, activities for building community, and suggestions for ways to introduce course material and communicate expectations.

Other resources about inclusive teaching provide specific strategies for ensuring that you foster learning environments that include and enable all of your students, from the very beginning of the term. Inclusive teaching can begin before you ever walk into a classroom, as emphasized by these resources on course design and syllabus design.

As always, CRLT consultants are also available to work one-on-one with instructors. We're here to help you get your classes off to a great start.


At this point in the semester, many courses are building toward a midterm examination. As a teacher, how can you best design such tests to motivate and assess student learning?  How can you be sure that your classroom instruction adequately prepares students for the exam?  How, in short, can you make the most of exam time as a learning opportunity for your students?

The process of designing an exam can offer a great opportunity to ensure that your learning goals, instructional practices, and assessment techniques are all well aligned. Our website features several resources to help you thoughtfully design exams that reliably measure whether students have learned what you've been trying to teach them--and evaluate those exams fairly. These emphasize that effective exams  Read more »


It's a common challenge: A student answers a question in class. But the answer is wrong. How do you respond?

When there are definite right and wrong answers, it's important that instructors provide clear feedback on student responses so that the class knows which answers are right, which are wrong, and which are somewhere in between. Often, a wrong answer gives some insight into how students are thinking about the question, and provides an opportunity to lead the students to a better answer. Of course, you also want to communicate that the student's answer is appreciated, and maintain a safe space for students to contribute answers in the future. 

We've located some resources from teaching centers around the country with suggestions for how to handle wrong answers. Some of the best suggestions include: Read more »


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 »


End-of-term student course evaluations are important for a range of reasons, but they only provide useful information if a significant number of students contribute responses. How can you ensure a high rate of return from your students?

Theresa Tinkle, Associate Chair of the U-M English department, recently gathered data from her colleagues that helps answer that question. She polled instructors in her department who regularly get a response rate of at least 80 percent on standardized student ratings to find out what their secrets might be. As it turns out, there's not much of a secret. The best practices she's compiled are relatively simple:

  1. Telling students their feedback is important and can help improve the course in the future.
  2. Asking students to bring laptops to class and saving 15 minutes on the final day of class for them to fill out the ratings.
  3. During the evaluation period, checking the 'dashboard' on CTools to find out how many students have completed the ratings form—and then letting the students know what percentage still need to reply. A simple in-class announcement or email reminder encouraging more students to participate can go a long way. (For guidance about using CTools to collect course evaluations, see this link).

In short, if you let students know that you value their feedback and provide easy ways for them to complete course evaluations, they're very likely to respond. 

For additional ideas and information about student course evaluations, check out our resources on this page