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Today’s post will focus on tips for setting the atmosphere of your classroom in those few minutes just before class officially begins.

These quiet minutes are something I began to notice this semester, partly because my students are particularly reserved this time. The silence before class starts has become almost distracting–and since I like to arrive early, I’ve had to put some thought into turning those awkwardly silent moments into an opportunity for myself and the students to be as ready as possible for class.

In general, engaging your students in conversation is one of the best things you can do. The minutes before class starts are perfect for establishing more personal relationships than are always available in class itself. Feeling comfortable with the instructor is a significant factor when students decide whether to take advantage of office hours or even ask questions in class. However, sometimes you do face shy, quiet, or even tired students who are not interested in small talk. In those cases, here are some ideas to fill the silent moments before class begins:


  • Open with a question. Either on the projector or on the whiteboard, display a question for the students to ponder. This can be especially effective when it not only relates to the course in general, but when it applies to the day’s lesson in particular. With my own quiet students, I have had success asking absurd or silly versions of questions that pertain to our material, since it can elicit a chuckle or comments from kids who would otherwise be sitting in silence, staring at their books.
  • Open with interpretation. Instead of a direct question, another good method for sparking interest is to show the students an image, headline, or passage that requires some time to consider. If it’s an arresting image, it will grab their attention quickly and possible incite conversation in the room. Guide or encourage conversation before class by asking questions about what they see, getting opinions, and tying these contributions into the actual opening of class.
  • Open with a joke. You can also display something silly for its own sake, such as a joke or meme, just to lighten the mood and encourage responses. If your students enjoy this, maybe encourage them to submit their own memes about the class to be displayed when they walk in with their classmates.
  • If nothing else, choose a playlist for the semester and play music before class starts! Historical classes can use music from their time period, or you can choose songs which seem thematically appropriate and get the students to talk about why you might have chosen this particular piece.

These ideas are all based on the idea that students will do better in class and be more engaged if they are “warmed up”, so to speak before class starts. (For more on this theory see here.) No matter which method you choose, shaping the atmosphere of your classroom before you begin can make a world of difference to your class.

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