How to Improve the Learning Climate in Your Classroom

Professor in empty classroom

Some tips to be more creative, optimistic, enthusiastic, approachable, and humorous.


  • Use name tents the first few days of class. After a few class sessions of use, ask students a question about themselves, the class, their concerns, any feedback, etc… on the inside of the tent and hand it in.
  • Use creative ways to assign students to partners: tell them to line up out in the hallway in order of: # pets, #addresses where they’ve lived, birthday month.
  • Tell class they can ask for one free answer on the test at the time they hand it in; this is also a great way to recognize muddiest point patterns.
  • Plan a class session or two during the semester that departs from the usual and covers something “amazing, controversial, leading edge, and thought-provoking” related to your content.
  • Never work harder than your students (not generally, just don’t put more effort into one student’s success than that student is putting into it).
  • Make any ice-breaker exercises related to the course content. These don’t always have to be done the first or second week of the semester.
  • Trade lectures with a colleague who enjoys or is more competent in a particular aspect of the class content.
  • As an assignment, have students write the multiple-choice questions for the next test. All students get a copy of all the questions. They get extra points if their question is selected.
  • Use as many props as possible to illustrate concepts.
  • Incorporate video clips from TV shows and movies.
  • Challenge students to “find my mistake” during the lecture.
  • Use story-telling and real-life examples as much as possible.
  • Use current events as a basis for class discussion or in-class writing.


  • Share the occasional vulnerable personal story that inspires students.
  • Explain that on the first day of class, everybody starts out with the maximum number of points possible and they just need to keep them.
  • Reframe the number of terms they will learn/memorize from being an overwhelming task to being a source of achievement and pride.
  • Invite a successful former student to come to your class and share what to expect and tips for success.
  • During the last day of the semester, pass around a sheet of paper titled, “Suggestions for my future students about how to do well in this class.” Read some of the answers to your subsequent classes.
  • Share past student success stories.
  • Assure students that the more they practice, the easier it will become.
  • On the day of the test, write on the board, “You are awesome!”


  • Send a Welcome email before the semester starts.
  • Meet and greet students at the door on the first day of the semester.
  • Begin every class with, “Good morning, class!” with the requisite response from the students.
  • Invite students to track you down and invite you to their graduation ceremony when the time comes.
  • End the class sometimes with “Good job, everybody!”
  • Smile! Use eye contact. Remember to animate your facial expressions.
  • Allow yourself to be yourself. Let your passion about your field show.
  • Walk around the entire classroom space.
  • Greet students as professionals in your field, “Good morning, Biologists!”


  • Hold court at a designated time and table in the cafeteria for students to drop by.
  • Set aside a small number of extra points for frivolous, playful disbursement.
  • Playful teasing is a great rapport builder.
  • Self-deprecating humor makes teasing them more acceptable.
  • Model patience especially while the class is watching interactions.
  • Tell them they are your favorite class, or tease them that they might be.
  • Decorate your office in an inviting way.
  • Write your syllabus in a way that is not entirely formal and legal; include a few conversational comments.
  • Give an opportunity to hand in the assignment one week late, but for fewer points. This shuts down pleas for exceptions.
  • Sprinkle some of your favorite quotes throughout your syllabus.
  • Tell students that you need at least five or six of them to occasionally smile and nod. Otherwise, you will unnecessarily keep repeating the same material thinking they don’t understand it. Nobody wants that.
  • Continually ask students if they have any questions. Tell them the goal is “no child left behind!” Controversial legislation, but a great catchy phrase.
  • Adjust your dress, body language, and posture to be a little less formal.
  • Have a pot-luck celebration on the last day of the semester. This is a nice opportunity to mention the important role of celebration in life.
  • Demonstrate compassion about students’ genuine personal crises and be open to special accommodations.
  • Share your mistakes, allow yourself to be vulnerable, apologize when it is called for.
  • Admit any language weaknesses you may have and ask for help from your native speaker students.


  • Sprinkle jokes related to your discipline in a few places on your syllabus.
  • Have a running joke with the class.
  • Arrive early on the first day of class and surprise students when you stand up to teach.
  • Share memorable or funny stories about past classroom experiences.
  • If you are not naturally very funny, and you want to develop in this area, do an internet search and use jokes, cartoons, and funny videos related to teaching and/or your content area.
  • Insert the occasional funny slide or cartoon in your otherwise dry PowerPoint.
  • Incorporate student names and running jokes in assignments and test construction.
  • Wear related clothing on holidays.

And finally,

  • Be prepared for your less “en-light-ened” colleagues who will assume that your style is not academically rigorous just because it values rapport and the “soft skills” of teaching. Invite them to check out the compelling research findings in the field of positive psychology and its applications to student learning.

Adapted from the 20-Minute Mentor, “How Do Master Teachers Create a Positive Classroom?” 2015.

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Adapted from the 20-Minute Mentor, “How Do Master Teachers Create a Positive Classroom?” 2015.