Effective communication

Encourage participation, build rapport with students and establish your credibility with the class.

Classroom communication pointers

  • Don’t be afraid of silence – take a moment to think before you talk
  • Use clear and precise terms
  • Know your students
  • Listen carefully
  • Be sensitive to student behaviour
  • Promote equity in your classroom or laboratory
  • Use humour appropriately

Ways to encourage student input

Make time

  • Encourage student questions during class. Often one student will ask a question from which many will benefit.
  • Encourage students to respond to each other by inviting them to comment on a remark a classmate has made.
  • If you do not have time to answer a question during class, make yourself available directly after class. Some professors let students out two or three minutes early in order to give them time to pack up their materials and approach with any questions they have about the class.
  • Being present a few minutes before class also gives students a chance to talk with you.
  • During the teaching period, you might consider taking a one-minute break to see if anyone has questions in regards to the material you are discussing. Try and wait 30 seconds after you have asked for questions to give students adequate time to reflect.
  • Make sure you keep at least one or two hours designated office hours a week so students know they can come and talk to you outside of class.

Be positive when someone asks a question

  • Listen to what students say without comment. Use eye contact, non-verbal cues such as a nod, and facial expression to indicate your interest.
  • Don't dismiss student comments with a vague phrase such as "uh-huh" or "okay."
  • Write insightful responses or comments on the board to emphasize the value of student contributions to your class.
  • If you are not sure what a student is asking, ask some questions which will help you clarify what the student is asking. Don't say, "I don't understand what you mean."
  • Never try to capitalize on students' confusion by ridiculing or joking about incorrect responses. "Humour" of this kind is bound to backfire and create the very kind of inhospitable climate you are trying to avoid.
  • Never deter questions by saying, "Well that was really straightforward. I don't suppose there are any questions, are there?" You can bet there won't be.
  • See Formative assessment for additional ideas.

Teaching large classes: Generating student participation

Question and answer techniques

Questions and answers are essential components of teaching and learning. You will ask questions of your students and answer questions from them. Asking a good question will help you motivate students' curiosity about the topic, and it will help you assess how well they understand the material.

Considerations when asking questions

  • Ask only one question at a time.
  • Wait at least 15 seconds for a response--more, depending on the difficulty of the question.
  • If there is no answer, rephrase the question. Asking a different question will confuse the students.

There are two kinds of questions: closed and open

A closed question is usually used to check student comprehension. It requires a factual answer and allows little opportunity for differences of opinion. The answer is either correct or incorrect. For example:

"What does 'x' equal in this equation?"
"Which of Henry VIII’s wives survived him?"

An open question offers the students much more opportunity to speculate, draw inferences, extrapolate from data, or contribute their own opinions. For example:

"What do you think would happen if we reduced the temperature by 25 degrees?"
"Which of the two short stories provides the best description of adolescence?"

Open questions are frequently the springboards for lively class discussion where students begin to formulate and ask their own questions about the topic.  If during a discussion a question is asked for which you do not know the answer, it is better to be honest than to give an inaccurate answer. Invite the questioner to find the answer and report it at the next class. In this way you are inviting the student to become a member of your research community. Or commit to finding the answer and report back at the next class.

Further considerations when answering student questions

  • Take a moment to think carefully before you respond to student questions.
  • Listen to the question carefully. It may indicate the student is having difficulty with the material. You may wish to answer with another question until you discover where the student's misunderstanding begins.
  • If the question requires a very lengthy response or demonstrates the questioner has missed some classes, you may wish to ask the student to stay behind after class or come to see you at another time to get the answer.