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5 tips to create a positive learning environment in your classroom

Looking for new ways to improve your classroom environment? As an educator, I’m always asked this question at teacher meetings. Although teachers keep up to date with pedagogical tools and classroom management strategies, trying to create a positive atmosphere is still a big challenge in practice.

Having taught for so many years at different educational levels, I’ve learned many techniques and strategies for dealing with behavioral issues and creating favorable conditions in the classroom for all my students.

Let’s take a look at some of these pedagogical tools that may help you deliver more engaging lessons.

How to create a classroom environment that promotes positive behavior

A speaker on a table with a white wall behind

1. Play background music in class

Music is a powerful educational resource when used properly — it helps students intellectually because it stimulates creative thinking and supplements their learning process. Music can also help to reduce stress and improve behavioral issues as well as students’ frame of mind. This is especially true among students who frequently worry about their academics or personal life matters, in that case, playing classical or relaxing music, in particular, can really calm down students’ minds.

Don’t believe me? The power of music is backed by science.

Teacher sitting with her laptop showing something to a student with a tablet

2. Change your classroom seating arrangement

Some teachers like to arrange students in rows because it contributes positively to written tasks and individual exams, and it also helps them keep the classroom organized. Unfortunately, this type of teacher-centric seating arrangement isn’t too effective because it limits meaningful peer-to-peer interactions, which are essential for collaborative learning. You obviously don’t want students constantly chatting with their neighbors, but you also don’t want to deprive them entirely of peer discussion opportunities.

It’s a good idea to mix up your seating arrangement from time to time — you don’t necessarily have to stick with one configuration for the entire term. Ultimately, whatever seating arrangement you pick depends on your creativity as a teacher. For example, you may choose to group your students in a horseshoe seating arrangement, this would allow you to walk down the center as you teach and face all students at once. But it would also allow students to see both each other and you as they listen to your lecture. Of course, you’re encouraged to experiment and find a seating arrangement that works for you and your students.

a round table of students working in team on an assignment with scisors on the table and the teacher in the background

3. Get your students thinking about difficult questions

The influential philosopher René Descartes once said that “doubt is the origin of wisdom.” And he was right. Learning isn’t just about taking notes and handing in exams — the most effective learning happens when students are confronted with difficult questions that challenge their beliefs or understanding of the material. If you want to see your students blossom academically, you need to ask them the right questions in class — both to make sure that they’re following along and to help them get out of their comfort zone.

For example, if you’re a science teacher introducing students to the atom, you might ask challenging questions such as the following:

  • Who can guarantee the existence of the atom?
  • How could we affirm that atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons? How were these discoveries originally made?
  • What role do atoms play in our physical world? Does it matter that we can’t see them?

When you expose your students to creative questions like these that don’t merely have straightforward “Yes” or “No” answers, you’ll awaken their curiosity and desire to learn more. In the end, you don’t want your students to be regurgitating whatever they learn in class — you want them to become great critical thinkers.

teacher in front of her students sitting on the floor showing a cardboard

4. Use storytelling

For many years, storytelling has entertained children and adults alike. Nowadays, it’s just as effective an educational resource as ever and, when used right, can improve student performance in your classroom. The best part? Storytelling can be used in any academic subject because it develops the essential skills of creativity, linguistic communication, and critical thinking.

Here are some tips for good storytelling in the classroom:

  • Be sure to pick a story that’s both entertaining and related to the subject you’re teaching. An off-topic story is likely going to be ineffective.
  • Change the tone of your voice accordingly to emphasize certain aspects or messages of the story.
  • Use different facial expressions. This will make your story more entertaining and interesting for students.
  • Use gestures and body movements. This helps students to visualize the story in their minds.
  • Make eye contact with students to ensure they’re fully engaged in your delivery.
  • If possible, try to use technology and digital tools to enrich stories.

On that last note, if you’re looking for some storytelling inspiration, be sure to check out our quests of the month. Quests are personalized, self-paced, choose-your-own-adventure lessons for students.

A video on a projector of 2 students disguised as astronaut and reporter

5. Humanize your content

As teachers, we’re tasked with passing on our knowledge and theories to students, but we rarely talk about the lives of the people behind those ideas. Information you impart about math, chemistry, history, or any other subject should have a face to it. But what exactly does this mean?

It means you need to humanize the content and make it more relatable to the real world — to tell the story of the scientists who presented the theories and knowledge that are taught in school. Consider discussing the environment they lived in while they were conducting their research and how that may have affected their outcomes. What difficulties did they face? What can we learn from their experiences today?

For example, suppose you’re a history teacher and are doing a unit on inventions or discoveries — the most famous of which is arguably the incandescent electric light bulb invented by Thomas Edison. The theory is good, sure, but I encourage you to go beyond the content of the curriculum and provide your students with more relevant information about the life of the inventor. Why not mention that Edison had a traumatic childhood and education as well as health problems (hearing difficulties)? Or perhaps that he was a hyperactive child prone to distraction? He would’ve surely been diagnosed with ADHD in modern times.

For students in your class who face similar life difficulties, this historical context would show them that you can do great things despite the challenges you face. More importantly, humanizing your content makes it more engaging and motivates students to learn.

It’s possible to create a positive classroom atmosphere

It may seem like a challenge, but it isn’t. Don’t get discouraged if you put these tips into practice and don’t see immediate results — changes in education take time! I hope these simple but effective learning strategies lead you to create an engaging, inviting, and empowering classroom environment.

Photo credit: Laurie Sullivan; Paul Esch-Laurent / Flickr.com; Unsplash.com

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