Classroom Environment Strategies

"The dynamics of the classroom, the tone, the interpersonal forces at play, and the nature and structure of communication patterns all combine to either support or inhibit the students’ motivation to pursue a goal" (Ambrose, 2010).

Your classroom environment is a blend of the social, emotional, and instructional elements of your class. Research shows that many aspects of your classroom environment can affect student motivation and that students who are more motivated, put more effort into learning activities (Ambrose, 2010).

The way you manage and organize your classroom is important. Below, we describe a few things you can do to build a warm and inclusive classroom where students feel like they belong and can do their best work.

Try This

Goals, Setting Guidelines

  • Make your course goals clear to your students so that they can focus on the essential information. Tell your students how you expect them to reach those goals.
  • Establish guidelines to ensure your classroom is inclusive, respectful, and conducive to learning (Ambrose, 2010). Use clear guidelines to create a safe learning environment that ensures respect for student ideas and viewpoints.

Creating a Sense of Belonging

  • Help students get to know each other by using icebreakers
  • Connect with your students: Share something about yourself; also learn their names and something about them
  • Encourage participation
  • Let students know how to get help (e.g., office hours, help centers, etc.)
  • Be aware of your verbal and non-verbal cues and what they’re communicating to your students (e.g., folding your arms creates a barrier between you and your students; making eye-contact helps to establish trust)
  • Come to class early and talk informally with your students as they arrive

Instructor & Course Organization

Regardless of your course style, there are strategies you can use to create a supportive, positive environment to reduce student anxiety and stress.

  • Align your learning objectives, assessments, and instructional strategies, and provide a clear course structure
  • Prepare your students for what they need to do within and outside of class to succeed
  • Provide early opportunities for feedback, and continue with targeted, timely feedback during the course
  • Use active learning strategies and have students work together regularly
  • Give students opportunities to practice and reflect upon what they are learning
  • Be clear about the material covered in quizzes and prelims, and how these assessments will be graded
    • If you will have multiple graders, state how you will ensure fair, consistent grading
    • Use rubrics to grade assignments and prelims (where applicable) and communicate these rubrics to students as early as possible

Leading Discussions

  • Begin by setting discussion guidelines or having students create their own rules for civility, respect, etc.
    • Ask students to think about learning environments in which they felt most comfortable speaking up and listening closely to others
    • What conditions do they need to feel confident participating? What is acceptable or unacceptable behavior?
  • Convey your respect for all opinions and encourage participation
  • Allow space for everyone to participate
  • Model active listening behaviors (McKeachie, 2014)
  • Address difficult or uncomfortable topics directly
  • If your class uses discussions to talk about potentially sensitive or charged topics, use the LARA method

A learning climate develops whether or not you are intentional about creating it. Be transparent about expectations, especially grading. Regarding classroom behaviors, what are your expectations for classroom participation, discussion, questions? What are ways every member of the course can help foster an inclusive community? How should students contact you or raise concerns?

See our building inclusive classrooms page for ideas and strategies around creating and sustaining inclusive classrooms.

Cornell students come from around the world. Speaking clearly, explaining references and acronyms, and making an extra effort to include everyone can go a long way.

Get to Know Your Students (Undergraduates and Graduates)

  • Every group of students is unique, and class interactions can vary from semester to semester. It is always important to get to know your students and build a positive rapport. Connecting with students helps develop a classroom dynamic that can support learning in multiple ways, including promoting student engagement, expression, and openness to intellectual challenges.
  • Simple actions such as learning students’ names, sharing information about yourself, and asking students about their background or experiences can foster a positive classroom climate. On the very first day, asking students to complete a survey about themselves, and facilitating an icebreaker can set the tone.
  • Throughout the semester, set standards for respectful discourse and take action to include more students in class discussions or activities. Several times during the course, check in with students about their experience in the course. This resource about establishing ground rules provides some examples of setting expectations.

Selected Resources


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. w., Lovett, M. C., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. 2010. How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.