Portland Community College Portland Community College | Portland, Oregon

Student Retention

110 Teaching Tips

Courtesy of Johnson County Community College (Kansas) Master Teachers Conference

Getting to know your students

  1. Use correct pronunciation of students’ names. Try to learn all the students’ names especially the international students, during the first week of class.
  2. Know your audience, their interests and experiences.
  3. Respect the knowledge of each and every student.
  4. In order to reinforce the importance of their attendance, take role aloud to learn students’ names, then, once learned, silently repeat names.
  5. A great way to encourage conversation is to have each student write out their responses to the topic at hand and then pass the sheet (that has no name on it) to another person to respond. Finally, after several have responded, create a dialogue – the last student reads from the sheet.
  6. Use a digital camera to take your students’ pictures at the beginning of the semester. You will learn their names faster and you will have a picture years later if they contact you for a letter of recommendation.
  7. Have students move around the classroom with different activities. Make the students welcome each other, let them be the teacher for a drill/repetition session.
  8. Have the student fill out a student information sheet. Write down their email address, nicknames and any concerns they have about the class. Find out their expectations.
  9. Show up early to class and stand in the hallway with your students. You will be surprised at what you see, hear and discuss with the students.
  10. Remember: Students are people, too.
  11. Realize that your students come to your class with other things on their minds beside your class. Help them focus.
  12. Behind every successful student are several good teachers. You can be one part of the success. Remember that and trust your instincts.
  13. Have students interview and introduce each other.
  14. Have each person tell three “truths” about him/herself, two of which are really true and one of which is a lie. Classmates try to determine which statement is a lie.
  15. Have students make name tents (folded cards) to display on their desks.
  16. Require that students find your office sometime during the first three weeks of class. Give them an “excuse” to come to your office.
  17. Have students keep journals that you regularly collect, read and respond to.
  18. Have students report on news articles and explain their own personal views or interests.
  19. Arrange desk/chairs in a circle or a U-shape to encourage interaction.
  20. At the beginning of the course, introduce yourself to the student, tell them a little about your profession and family background. It makes you more of a real person to them and not just the leader.
  21. For students who are not available during office hours, suggest email addresses for extra help.
  22. Be available to your students out of class; this means spending more than your required office hours on campus or give them your home phone number if you can’t stay.
  23. Speak personally to each student as often as possible about a non-course related subject.

Creating classroom climate

  1. When necessary, develop a “no-nonsense-tolerated” look and use it instead of raising your voice.
  2. Start each class period with five minutes of talking with students. We talk about news items, sports or extracurricular events. It seems to help students relax and feel more comfortable talking in front of others.
  3. Return students’ work promptly.
  4. Outline the class agenda on the boar. The three to four key points we need to cover help students with note-taking and keep me on track.
  5. Use humor directed at yourself; it puts the students at ease if you show you can laugh at yourself.
  6. Provide students with your grading rationale along with the assignment.
  7. Be prepared to make class fun. Smile – let them know you love learning and teaching.
  8. Show your “human” side and learn from mistakes.
  9. Check out the latest news in your subject area and bring it into your content.
  10. Ask a question and wait for at least 30 seconds for a response.
  11. Use PowerPoint, transparencies and handouts in your classrooms. They are much more visual and can make your class more attractive and interesting.
  12. Use color effectively in overheads and flip charts.
  13. Give quizzes and in-class journal assignments while passing back papers or taking role.
  14. Create energy, move around, vary vocal inflection, be animated and show enthusiasm.
  15. Incorporate videos, music or other media to give variety.
  16. Use short-term case studies for reactions and discussions.
  17. Break the lecture into meaningful units (approximately 10 minutes). Use a different teaching strategy for each.
  18. Establish a collection of cartoons and use them to make a point.
  19. On Mondays, discuss weekend activities that might relate to class.
  20. Don’t be afraid to say in front of the class: “I don’t know the answer to that; it’s a good question and I’ll get back to you on it”. (But do get back to them)
  21. Breakup lectures with examples, illustrations from life and problems.
  22. Be explicit with assignment instructions and what will be evaluated for a grade.
  23. After each class, sit down and write several possible test questions. That way, you’re sure that you test over material you actually discussed/presented in a particular class session.
  24. Begin class with a motivational thought and ask students to reflect on it. Use a bit of drama.
  25. Role play the wrong way to do something before presenting the right way to do it. This often creates in each student an appreciation for the importance of doing it right.
  26. Deliver a lecture from someone else’s perspective, maybe even dress in character.
  27. Be calm and confident – you’re the only one who knows what is supposed to be happening.
  28. Don’t try to be the expert on everything taught in your class.
  29. Have the students evaluate the course on what they like or dislike, what needs to be improved and ask for any new class activities.
  30. Don’t assume that the students understand something just because you lecture – observe.
  31. Give each student a note card to fill out with a question they have about the subject being presented. Collect the cards and review the questions.
  32. Have students write a legacy letter at the end of every semester to the new students who will take the class the following semester.
  33. At the end of a class session ask, “What were ‘keepers’ (ideas worth keeping) today?”
  34. Ask open-ended questions and listen to the answers. Have students give short oral summaries at intervals throughout the lecture. (Alert students to the fact that they may be called on at any time to summarize)
  35. Have students keep journals that you regularly collect, read and respond to.
  36. Always give feedback after the students take an exam. The feedback includes their weaknesses and strengths in order to improve their skills.
  37. From time to time, videotape yourself as you lecture and see yourself as others see you.
  38. Have a colleague you respect and trust critique your video.
  39. Be willing to try new ideas and share the results and outcomes with others.
  40. Listen to the students – not just what they’re saying, but what they’re not saying.
  41. Give a series of small weekly quizzes. It gets students more involved with the content and motivates them to read their text more. It seems to be more effective than giving only a few big exams.
  42. After the first exam, have students complete the following sentence, “I could have done better on this exam if…” Many will realize the answer is “study before the night before.”
  43. Have students write a one-or two-paragraph paper on: “What would you do differently if you had it to do over?”
  44. At the end of class, ask students to write an answer to the question, “What part of today’s class was fuzzy?” Use the results for clarification before moving on.
  45. Have students keep a journal about their progress in learning.
  46. Speak slowly and invite questions throughout your presentation.
  47. Put questions on the board before each class. The question should be a guide to the day’s lecture.
  48. Use games to reinforce “boring” recall types of information – charades or board games.

Engaging students in learning

  1. Have students write five test questions, and use them for their review before the exam.
  2. Have students turn in papers using individual folders and then place graded papers in that folder. You never handle single or lose papers and you will reduce your chances for misplacing them.
  3. Ask students what they know, what they think they know, and what they want to know as a way to introduce a new topic. Write the answers on a paper and share them with the class.
  4. Establish in the mind of the student a foundation for realistic expectations.
  5. Create a “treasure hunt” for information related to the assignment.
  6. Let students choose their own topic and sell presentation methods in assigning an individual research project.
  7. Education should be thought of as self-service instead of full service. The student must be an active learner.
  8. Have students write a subject autobiography, detailing both positive and negative experiences they have had in detailing with a specific subject.
  9. Use opinion polls and student surveys to give students a voice.
  10. A teacher as a facilitator is not one who motivates but is one whose task is to find what motivates students. To encourage a lifelong interest in visiting art museums and galleries, ask students to send a postcard from their spring break travels from a museum indicating an artwork they particularly enjoyed. (Last March, I received 62 postcards).
  11. On the first day of class, ask students to write down their goals for the class. Then, have them write down how they plan to achieve those goals, for example attending class, doing homework, studying for tests.
  12. Give students positive reinforcement and keep the class focused by restarting student responses.
  13. Present a problem or situation and have students discuss their way toward a solution or answer.
  14. Give small group tests.
  15. Color code. Designate a color for each topic and print assignments on that color of paper. This alerts students to an important piece of paper in their notebooks and helps you give each class the correct assignment.
  16. Always do a “warm-up” at the beginning of class. The exercise should involve everybody in an active way, so that they feel engaged in the class.

Maintaining student involvement

  1. Hold three-minute “town meetings” to discuss an issue or concern.
  2. Have students role-play situations.
  3. Have students construct test items.
  4. Let students test each other.
  5. Group students and have them construct concept maps on transparencies; share them with the class.
  6. Invite students to write questions that need attention on the board before you arrive each day.
  7. Do activities or exercises at the beginning of class before “lecturing” instead of afterward. Doing it this way captures students’ interest and focuses them on the topic. The experience helps them want to understand it. Doing it first also makes the experience the priority.
  8. When teaching the same students for an afternoon, give them a break after every 50 minutes to an hour.
  9. If you want a class that is dynamic and involved, get students active early with icebreakers and opportunities to contribute to class using short presentations.
  10. Assign a pair of students to do an overview of a useful reference book and present it to the class.
  11. Break out the candy if your students look lethargic.

Building classroom teams

  1. Group students and have each group teach part of a chapter to the rest of the class.
  2. Encourage the formation of study groups; then give pointers on how to establish and maintain effective study groups.
  3. Use a “parking lot” flipchart for issues that are not central to the discussion material then follow up with each student.
  4. At the beginning of the semester, for planned small group or paired work, offer the option of working alone as some students may initially be uncomfortable with sharing their work with others.
  5. Use collaborative learning techniques to build effective learning groups.
  6. Have students exchange phone numbers with several other class members.
  7. Use positive interdependence principles in setting up collaborative groups, for example, “all for one and one for all” attitudes.
  8. Define and assign specific roles for getting group work accomplished, such as recorder, reporter, clarifier, cheerleader, checker, etc.
  9. Form “base groups” that stay together all semester to exchange information and provide support and assistance in mastering course material.
  10. Use cooperative reading pairs whereby students pair up to read to each other and discuss what they are reading.
  11. Assign group projects to be completed inside/outside class.
  12. Use students’ competitive instincts to foster informed debates in class on a course topic.