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Professor and student sitting on a bench talking at Oakland University.

“Chat with Your Professor” Builds Instructor-Student Rapport

Mon May 17, 2021 at 07:30 AM

Studies show that building a positive rapport with students is critical for effective teaching. Indeed, in The Courage to Teach, Lowman (1998) argues that “the ability to stimulate strong positive emotions separates the competent from the outstanding college professor.” I have created an after-class activity called “Chat with Your Professor” that gives me an excellent chance to build rapport with students. I share a Google doc sign-up sheet with each class in which students select 15-minute appointment slots to chat with me after class. Chats with students enable me to learn about students’ interests, goals, and struggles, and they give students a chance to ask my opinion about various issues related to their learning and future careers.

How It Works

  1. Create a Google spreadsheet with the date of each class when you are available for a chat. Share the spreadsheet with your class using each student’s OU e-mail address. 
  2. Discuss the purpose of the chats with your students and show them the Google sign-up sheet. Email students a link to the sign-up sheet and include an introduction to the chats in the sign-up sheet.
  3. Place a link to the sign-up sheet in the current module of your course and move the link each time you change to a new module to ensure that students will remember the activity.
  4. In large classes, ask students to sign up in the Google doc on their own. (You will be surprised how quickly the slots fill up!) In small classes, assign each student to a date randomly and tell students they can change their date if needed. In the Google doc, highlight the name of the student whose turn it is to chat that day to emphasize that it is their day to chat with you.
  5. Send each student a reminder to let them know you are looking forward to talking with them. This also indicates that you genuinely want students to participate in the activity.
  6. If you need to cancel a chat, let the student know ahead of their chat time and proactively reschedule their chat for the next available day on the schedule. 
  7. Before each student’s chat, read the student’s class member questionnaire from the beginning of the semester so that you have some chat topics ready to start the chat and put the student at ease.

Additional Comments

  • I initially used this activity in my General Education courses. It was so successful that I now also use it in my undergraduate courses for majors and in my graduate courses. I suggest you implement this activity starting from the first week of the semester or after the add-drop period.
  • When I have chats with students, I want them to be relaxed when they talk with me. I make sure to sit down for the chat, and I ask the student to sit down as well.
  • I do not initiate a discussion of students’ course performance during chats. I reserve that discussion for office hours. Rather, I focus on unique points from the student’s questionnaire to learn about each student as an individual.
  • I assign all students in small classes to the schedule in random order. I use an online randomizer tool to create randomized lists of names. (Reminder! Never enter full names into the site to be randomized.) I let students know that their names have been placed in random order. If there is time in class, I even show students the randomizer tool for fun.
  • If the schedule has empty slots, I remind students that they should sign up for a chat and that I would welcome an opportunity to chat with them a second time. 

References and Resources 

Palmer, P.J. (1998). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

List Randomizer

Save and adapt a Google Doc version of this teaching tip.

About the Author

Helena Riha is a special lecturer in the Linguistics Department and the International Studies Program. Helena has taught linguistics and international studies at OU since 2008. She has taught over 2,500 students to date in 12 different courses, and she is currently developing two new online courses. Helena is the 2016 winner of the OU Excellence in Teaching Award. This is her sixth teaching tip. Outside of the classroom, Helena enjoys watching Lego Star Wars videos with her son.

Photo by Oakland University. Tip originally published on April 15, 2019. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NC.View all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips. Follow these and more on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.