Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students don’t participate in discussion.

The physical environment is not conducive to discussion.

Features or characteristics that may impact learning include, for example, seating arrangement, noise level, lighting, temperature, and technology.


Visit the classroom.

Arrive early.

Articulate ground rules.

Visit the classroom.

Prior to the course starting, visit the classroom to make sure that the physical environment supports the discussion.

  • Is it large enough?
  • Is it equipped with the appropriate technologies (e.g., black/white boards, internet connection, audio/video)?
  • Are the desks moveable to allow a circular or semi-circular arrangement that facilitates student interaction, if this is what you want?

If you believe the classroom is not appropriate for a discussion class, contact your departmental administrator immediately.

Arrive early.

Go to the classroom a couple of minutes before each class to assure that the room is ready. For example, do you need to adjust the temperature or the configuration of the desks, close or open windows, or locate chalk/markers? Is the equipment you need functional and/or does it need to be turned on a few minutes before actual use?

Articulate ground rules.

Define your policy in your syllabus for a distraction-free environment. Each faculty member is free to define his/her own policies given that there are no university policies concerning this issue. For example,

  • Tell students if and when they can use laptops.
  • Direct students to turn their cell phones off and take off their earphones.
  • Inform students about what happens when they come to class late or leave early (e.g., sit in the last row which is for latecomers; lateness is counted as an absence).
More on Ground Rules (PDF)

This site supplements our 1-on-1 teaching consultations.
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