A few possibilities for fostering a sense of community in your classes:
Set the tone on day one. Instructors have many favorite ice breakers to help students get to know each other. One technique is to distribute 3x5 note cards and instruct the students to spend a few minutes to fill out the card including: name, hometown, academic area of study, expectations for class, and a favorite movie, book or restaurant. Then have the students walk around the room and meet as many of their classmates as possible in a set number of minutes. Consider joining the activity yourself.
Use student names. Doing so can go a long way toward making students feel that they are recognized members of the classroom community. Some strategies for learning your students names include:
- Use a seating chart early in the semester and have it on hand.
- Hand back assignments and quizzes personally while making a mental note of names.
- Ask students to wear name tags or put a folded piece of cardboard as a name card in front of them. Sometimes instructors fear that this seems childish, but students usually respond well when fostering personal interaction is given as a reason.
- Use photographs. Take a picture of students in groups and label it with their names. Alternately, you could have students turn in pictures of themselves, labeled with their names and any other information you request, as the first homework assignment.
- Ask for reminders. In a large lecture hall, you can ask students to give their names before raising a question or making a comment. Use their manes when responding ("Thanks, Sheryl. Good question.") and, if possible, later on ("This relates to the question Sheryl raised earlier."). Even if you are not able to know and use all of their names, using some of names will create a more personable environment for all.
Share worthwhile information about yourself with your students. Bringing evidence of your own outside interests and experiences into the classroom adds a personal dimension to your role as an instructor. Aspects of your interests, research and work experience can also be used in generating examples for class.
Frequently let students know that you are available. Give students the opportunity to make an appointment to meet with you. Consider requiring students to have a get-acquainted visit with you. If you are teaching a large class you could talk to students in groups. You might also come to class a little early and stay after to encourage questions and informal conversation.