Clear and cogent communication is a key to success in all of our relationships—and the instructor–student relationship is no exception to that rule.

Of course, communication in the classroom concerns more than just your lecturing; it encompasses all the ways you listen to, speak to, and interact with students.

How can you enhance or improve your communications with your students this semester? Review these suggestions, adapted from the Instructor’s Manual for Dr. Constance Staley’s FOCUS on Community College Success, Fourth Edition. These tips can help you communicate with students in a way that fosters and encourages their success in your course.

Communication with college students: Your keys for success

1. Be clear about how students can (and should) reach you. Can they contact you by phone, e-mail, text messages, social media, or course messaging? How quickly can they expect a reply? Include this information in your syllabus, and talk about it on the first day of class.

Also be explicit about your expectations from students. Mention that they should check their e-mail or course messaging system frequently (e.g., on a daily basis), in order to stay on top of any important notifications you might send. You might also consider sharing guidelines for e-mail etiquette, or, at the very least, describe what information should be included in a message when they reach out to you. You may include items such as the student’s name, a subject line that clearly indicates the topic of the message, a complete but concise explanation of the reason for the message, and the maximum size of any attachments they might include.

2. Look for opportunities to encourage and praise students. Have students done something that you find admirable or impressive? Have you seen progress in their work? Send a brief note or tell them in person. They will appreciate hearing that you’ve noticed their efforts and contributions. Likewise, your thoughtful comment may also motivate them to continue participating in a positive manner.

3. Respond to their inquiries in a timely manner. Yes, it’s unrealistic for students to expect you to answer all their questions instantaneously. However, if you can reply to an e-mail or voicemail when you receive it, it’s a good idea to do so. If you can’t respond at that time, do acknowledge receipt of a the message and then mention when the student might hear back with a more complete response (e.g., “Hello, student—I received your e-mail today. I’m looking into the answer to your question and you should hear back from me by tomorrow morning”). You never know: your timely response may make all the difference between an A and a C, or an assignment that’s turned in on time and one that’s submitted late (if at all).

4. Don’t give up on your students. If an individual hasn’t come to class in a while, reach out to him or her directly, and encourage a return. Your persistent and thoughtful attention may give that student the reassurance and confidence that he or she needs in order to keep pursuing academic success.

5. Become a keen observer of your classes. Watch your students’ behavior. If a student’s performance and attendance are inconsistent, or if his or her level of engagement dips over a period of time, you may want to check in to see if they need any help with the class. If the student is struggling, you might recommend that they see someone at the academic support center or at the student health services department for additional assistance.

6. Offer thoughtful (and actionable) feedback that helps students understand their progress. At the end of a long day spent grading, it may be tempting to simply provide a numeric score or letter grade on an assignment. However, when taken on their own, those measures don’t give students much insight into their particular strengths and weaknesses of their work, or how they might improve in the future. In addition to a score, provide some written feedback that describes which aspects of their work were successful and which could be improved upon.

When you distribute the assignment, also provide students with the rubric that you’ll be using as you grade. This way, students will have a better understanding of your expectations; once they receive their grades back, they will also have insight into why they performed as they did on an assignment. (Staley, pp xx-xxii)

Additional tips for successful communication with your students

Review our previous posts for more:

Make the Most of Your Interactions with Students

Building Rapport with Students (and Others)

Tools and Methods for Building Community in Online Courses


What are your tips for successful communication with college students? Add them in the comments.

Reference: Staley, Constance. 2015. Instructor’s Manual for FOCUS on College Success, 4th ed. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

© 2015 Cengage Learning.