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by Kelly Hogan ( and Viji Sathy (, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Unstructured learning environments can lead to unfairness, feelings of exclusion, and collisions of students’ cultural backgrounds with the learning environment. Adding structure to learning environments can mitigate unfairness, promote feelings of inclusion, and promote student success.

Below are some practical tips and strategies you might use to add structure to your classroom. Different classes will thrive with different strategies – experiment to find which work best for you and your classroom!

Structure your course to help students succeed:

  • Have clear dates/deadlines specific readings, goals, etc. in the syllabus
  • Use colored boxes to provide clear instructions on structured activities. Giving expectations about timing adds structure.
  • For each lesson, provide learning objectives phrased as questions rather than statements (less “telling” and more “asking”), so students can learn what they know and don’t know.
  • Align class assessments with learning objectives.
  • Build in required (not optional) practice before, during, and after class.
  • Provide low stakes practice assessments to help the student practice high stakes assessments.
  • Give many lower stakes quizzes rather than 3 high stakes exams.
  • Collect assessment evidence from every student, every class.

Facilitate respectful classroom conversations:

  • Set “ground rules” that define parameters of respectful communication – solicit student input in defining the ground rules
  • Acknowledge that there will be differing views.
  • Reinforce appropriate communication and behaviors. Refer back to ground rules when discussions grow inappropriate

Help students prepare for discussion:

  • Choose “grounding” in-class content such as a video, audio selection, in-class reading that can be used as an anchor for discussion.
  • Select preparation reading that will be read by all—consider length, density, relevance.
  • Give a writing prompt to allow students to organize their thoughts outside of class, before discussion.
  • Allow students time in-class to write their thoughts before discussions.
  • Consider a “warm-up” writing prompt to take a view opposite of the student’s own.
  • Assign viewpoints to pairs to encourage taking others’ perspective.

Increase student comfort with discussions:

  • Allow students anonymous ways to participate (e.g. notecard shuffle). This can help students to build confidence that they belong with these peers.
  • Use technology or paper to collect answers.
  • Routinely use small groups rather than large all-class discussions.
  • Use think-pair-share, and make sure to allow quiet THINK time in the think-pair-share.
  • Develop and implement a case to discuss that is relevant to your students.

Ensure everyone has a chance to be heard:

  • Use “wait time” of 5-7 seconds before calling on students
  • Wait for multiple hands or call on parts of the room.
  • Monitor and vary who gets to share with class.
  • Use random calling to reduce bias in who is called upon.
  • Assign reporters for small groups so that one person does not consistently dominate

Suggested Resources: