Have you ever taught a course so many times that you bore yourself in the classroom?  Or perhaps you have found yourself faced with teaching a course for the first time, and you are just not sure what to do with the material and information so that it connects with the students. Either of these situations, as well as many others, can cause frustration and anxiety to a conscientious instructor who is trying to create an effective and satisfying academic experience for her students.

Then, to increase your unease and frustration, you look across the hall and see a classroom and professor with wide-awake, interested, and engaged students participating in dialogues and activities with the teacher and each other.  You wonder what he is teaching and what he might have done differently or how she has approached the material to create this environment and achieve these results.  Are there some secrets to creating a successful classroom that he knows and you haven’t found yet?

Maybe there are.  Perhaps there are a few areas that you could examine that could help you make your course more like the course of that professor’s across the hall.

  1. Set the stage.  Students can get frustrated and perhaps even shut down at the very beginning of a lesson if they do not see a clear direction, if they don’t know what and how much will be covered this day, or if they don’t feel connected to the material that you want to teach them.  You probably know where you are going, but that doesn’t mean that they do unless you tell them, and often.
  1. Create structure.  A course and a lesson should have some structure, logic, and direction to it.  Although flexibility is important to build in as well, many students feel more comfortable when they know what to expect in their assignments from you and when they walk in the door.  This structure can guide your students and remove worry about the unknown of what might be expected, covered, or done in today’s class.  (Yes, students do worry.)  And once they have the structure and general expectations of your classroom down, their minds are then free and open to focus on participating in the course and working toward what you want them to achieve in your course.
  1. Finish strong.   Be sure to have some logical end point or conclusion.  Know where you are going and where you want to finish when you begin your class.  Plan and use some type of concluding activity for each class session.  It can be a culminating activity that builds upon and uses the content that you are teaching that day, or it can be some type of short review or restatement by the student.  By paying such attention to the end of your class session, you help to bring closure (and more structure) to the material and the lesson.


Obviously, each one of these three areas, beginning, middle and end, can be explored in more detail.  However, hopefully in this short space, I have been able to give you some direction and ideas to help modify or improve your course and classroom structure and design.  Go ahead – explore and create!

Looking for more information on this topic?  Please join Robert for a one-hour virtual workshop at 1PM ET on Thursday, April 03, “7 Secrets to Successful Classroom Structure and Design.” Register for the virtual workshop at the TeamUP Professional Online Development Portal. 


Robert Onorato is a Senior Professional Educator with Cengage Learning’s Peer-to-Peer Faculty Development and Consulting team, and he teaches for Fordham University New York. See some of Robert’s other projects at www.cengage.com/myteamup and discover additional faculty development resources at the TeamUP Professional Online Development Portal.