Blog Archive

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 course material? How can I set student expectations for active engagement in class?

Students in a classroomThese 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 links to many resources that can help faculty and GSIs think carefully about getting the most out of the first days. These include research on why classroom rapport is useful for student learning, and specific strategies for building relationships and communities in the early days and weeks of a course. Other resources provide suggestions for introducing course material and communicating expectations. Find more first days resources on this list, or click on the tags below for pages that include links to materials we use in our new teacher orientation programs. 

Other CRLT 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 pages 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.


TIP logo Are you aware of a U-M colleague who has recently developed an innovative teaching tool or method? Perhaps you've admired a faculty member's creative use of technology in the classroom, original approach to facilitating student collaboration, or new strategies for replicating the advantages of a small course in a large lecture hall. Or maybe you're proud of a teaching innovation you have developed yourself. If any of these is the case, consider submitting a nomination for the 2015 Provost's Teaching Innovation Prize (TIP). Up to five prizes of $5000 will be awarded. 

Now in its seventh year, TIP has honored a range of remarkable teaching innovations, from immersive off-campus experiences, to dynamic interactions in campus classrooms, to effective strategies for supporting independent student learning. In this 4-minute video, you can learn more about last year's 5 TIP winners.

You can find additional video and learn more about all of the past winners here. Complete information about the nomination and selection process can be found on the TIP page in the Grants & Awards section of our website. Nominations are due on February 2, and the awards will be announced in May at the annual campus-wide technology conference, Enriching Scholarship


GSITO participants talking in pairs

Before each fall and winter term CRLT hosts the Graduate Student Instructor Teaching Orientation to prepare new GSIs to teach at UM.  Our winter orientation will be held on January 6th in the Michigan League from 8:30 am-4:30 pm. The orientation provides opportunities for new GSIs across campus to think deliberately about how to engage and support the learning of every student in their classes. It features a range of activities and sessions that highlight resources and strategies to help participants succeed as teachers at U-M. These include:

  • Performances by the CRLT Players that invite participants to reflect upon challenges and strategies for including all students equitably in classes in every discipline
  • Concurrent sessions addressing the full gamut of GSI teaching responsibilities in and out of the classroom: e.g., facilitating discussions and groupwork, evaluating student writing, and teaching effectively with technology
  • Workshops on inclusive teaching in the first weeks and beyond 
  • Practice teaching with feedback from new GSIs in other fields.

This winter the Engineering and Central Campus teaching orientations will be combined into one event. For more information, see the GSITO registration pageRead more »


The unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri, are unquestionably on many students' minds--as they are on faculty's--as they go about their daily lives on campus. The civil unrest in Ferguson is a topic, like many other current events, about which people hold widely divergent and deeply-felt perspectives, often connected in powerful ways to their own identities. Even if you don't teach content related to such issues, unfolding current events are affecting your students' experiences of learning and being on campus. Given how polarizing such topics can be, how can you foster engaged dialogue among students that are meaningful and productive of learning? 

Group of students in a classroom

CRLT's website features guidelines for discussing difficult topics to support teachers in facilitating such conversations in classrooms across the curriculum. If you want to raise such topics in your classroom in order to explore connections between course material and contemporary events, here are some strategies for planned discussions of high-stakes topics (other sites around the web provide ideas for teaching about Ferguson specifically). Other CRLT resources offer you ways to prepare for and respond to challenging conversations that emerge when you haven’t planned for them

Some strategies highlighted on these pages--useful for either planned or spontaneous discussions--include: 

  • Create a framework for the discussion, using specific questions to guide student contributions.
  • Allow everyone a chance to contribute, but don't force students to participate in the discussion. Consider letting students write briefly about the topic to gather their thoughts individually before sharing or to provide a way to contribute ideas anonymously. 
  • Consider supportive ways to open and close such a discussion. You might begin by explaining the goals and relevance of the discussion to your class and explicitly welcoming a range of perspectives. To close a discussion, you can thank students for their contributions and indicate ways they can continue to explore the topics. 
  • Where possible, discuss links to the content of your course or discipline. Even in settings where you immediately see a connection to your topics, this is likely to be affecting your students and their ability to focus on your class. Acknowledging this can be a powerful way to facilitate their learning.

The final weeks of the term can be an especially valuable time to engage students in reflective thinking about their learning. Often teachers use the end of the term as a time to review content, but you can also use this time of final projects and exam preparation to prompt student "metacognition," or critical thinking about their own learning processes. When students pay attention to how they learn best and deliberately assess their own strengths and weaknesses, they can more intentionally and successfully plan their future approaches to learning. By helping students develop such metacognitive habits, you can help solidify their learning in your course, increase their ability to make use of it in future courses, and enhance their capacities as self-directed learners.

What are some effective ways to prompt metacognition in the final weeks of the term? Specific strategies include:

  • Invite students to analyze one of their first assessments of the term, considering how they would approach the assignment or test differently now. What knowledge, skills, or habits of mind they have developed that were not evident in the early part of the semester? 
  • Review your syllabus, reminding students of your learning objectives for each unit or assignment. Have them write a 'minute paper' assessing their mastery of each goal.
  • Collect advice from current students for future students who take the course. What were their most and least effective study strategies or writing practices? What were the most challenging concepts to learn and how did they (or could they have) overcome those challenges? 

Such activities not only help students solidify, assess, and plan their learning--they can also help you understand in greater detail what students have gained from your course. For additional ideas about teaching metacognition (including bibliographies of research about how it improves learning), check out these resources: