Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Get to know your students as individuals

A number of studies have shown the value of getting to know your students and building rapport in the classroom, which includes increased student participation, student motivation about the class, and positive perception of the instructor (e.g. Frisby & Martin, 2010; Wilson et al., 2010). Furthermore, encouraging a sense of belonging increases cross-cultural interaction between international and domestic students, and positively affects international students’ performance (Glass & Westmont, 2014). Even in large lecture classes, it is possible to get to know a conspicuous number of your students, a few at a time. For students, it’s the effort that counts. Here are some strategies that can be adapted to any classroom situation:  

  • Have your students fill out a confidential background questionnaire in advance or on the first day of class. Make sure you ask questions that are appropriate to the course and that you share the same information about yourself in class. Here are some examples:
    • What name would you like me to call you? What is your preferred pronoun?
    • What is your previous experience with [topic of the class]? This can be informal or formal experience.
    • Have you taken any other classes in this discipline before?
    • What are you hoping to learn in this class?
    • What is a fun fact about you?
    • Is there anything else you would like me to know?
  • At the beginning of each unit or topic, assess students’ background knowledge and experience and connect it to the new material
    • For a lecture course, use an anonymous and/or ungraded survey.
    • For a lab or discussion section, spend at least a few minutes of class time brainstorming ideas about the new topic and gathering the collective knowledge of the classroom.
  • Consider requiring a visit to office hours at the start of the semester. This will allow you (or your TAs) to get to know your students, and will ensure they know they can come see you in office hours when they have questions or concerns.
  • When possible, arrive to class a little early and stay a little later to chat with students. This will also allow students who may not feel comfortable raising questions during class to approach you in a low-pressure way.


Frisby, B. N., & Martin, M. M. (2010). Instructor-Student and Student-Student Rapport in the Classroom. Communication Education, 59(2), 146-64.

Glass, C. R., & Westmont, C. M. (2014). Comparative effects of belongingness on the academic success and cross-cultural interactions of domestic and international students. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 38, 106-119.

Wilson, J. H., Ryan, R. G., & J. L. Pugh. (2010). Professor-Student Rapport Scale Predicts Student Outcomes. Teaching of Psychology, 37(4), 246-51.


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