How To Get Students To Talk To You, Each Other, & The Professor (contributed by Marc DelValle, Megan Funaro, Elizabeth Mashiak, Lauren Petersen and Nicholas Thomas)  


As a new peer leader, you may be wondering just exactly how you are going to get these shy freshman to open up to you and participate in the wonderful activities you have planned for them. As a warning, I should let you know that this is going to be difficult, especially when you show up to your first class. However, you must remember that all of your students will be adjusting to learning, and sometimes even living, in an entirely new environment and may not be as chummy as you may like them to be at first. Everyone is nervous when they are surrounded by new people, therefore it is up to you to help your students break out of their shells and share what they have to say. I promise that by getting your students to talk to you, to each other, and to the professor using these hints, and your own ideas, your students will be more responsive to your lessons and to your attempts at being their peer leader.


         Group activities

o   The most effective way to get your students to talk to each other and to you is through group activities. Whenever you have control of the classroom, you should try to stimulate discussion by having your students answer questions or perform a task in small groups. For example, my first lesson involved the students working in groups of three to create a schedule for a hypothetical student based on index cards with different activities that could be put on that schedule, which I handed out every thirty seconds or so. The students had to discuss which events to put on the schedule and how to fit each one in. This got the students working together to figure out a problem. The timed aspect of the activity and the humorous quality of some of the events I had on the index cards added a hint of excitement and fun to the task, which made the students more open to it. With this first group activity, some of the students were having fun joking with the other students and me about the activity. I made sure to walk around the classroom and look over the students' progress before I had them each present the schedule they created. Afterwards, I had them say why they chose certain activities to put on the schedule over others. As a result, I was able to stimulate conversation among the students themselves, and then with the professor and I.

         Learning names

o   It is imperative that you learn all of the names of the students in your FYE class. It will really help your professor if you can call attention to students who have their hands raised and have not been noticed by the professor. The professor, as well as the student herself, will be grateful that you know their name. It is the ultimate compliment when someone who is not quite your friend calls you by the correct name. If you know students' names you will also be able to call on them yourself in order to answer or ask questions. The students will definitely feel more comfortable answering questions if they are treated like peers and not like nameless people just trying to say the right answers. In order to learn these names, make sure to get a class roster from your FYE instructor. Also, you could request to do what my professor did and require each student to meet with you individually for five minutes or so during one of the class meeting times. This will help you put faces to names much more quickly than by just showing up to each FYE class hoping you do not call someone the wrong name. Another method is just to keep asking students to say their name every time you ask them a question, or you could do icebreaker activities, such as the name game (Word version).

         Showing up early to class and starting conversation

o   One of the best ways to get to know your students is to show up before class starts when it is most likely that the professor will not have arrived yet. Your students will be more willing to talk to you without the pressure of the person who grades them being in the room. They can bring up topics such as sex, drugs, and alcohol much more easily than if the person they see as an adult was in the room. Also, they will come to see you more as peer rather than an instructor. For example, I've had one student who always shows up early to class and likes to make conversation. We talk about events going on around campus, events going on in her academic life, and events taking place in the FYE class. By first talking about these topics before class started, she was more willing to talk to me during the class. Doing this with other students as well has led to the same result. I believe that if I had shown up exactly on time or late every FYE class, the students would not have been as willing to speak to me during the class because I would be seen as separate from them, rather than as a peer. As a result, it is up to you to not be shy and just start a conversation about anything with your students. You will be surprised at how chitchatting before class can surprisingly lead to effective discussion during class.

         Where you sit

o   In order to seem less intimidating to your students, and more approachable, it may be best not to stand in front of the classroom unless you are leading a lesson. You do not want to look like a lecturer or an overseer. Instead, it is best to sit either among your students or near them at the front in one of the chairs or desks in the room. In my classroom, the students, the professor, and I all just sat in chairs (not desks). The professor and I would sit in front of the students who would be arranged in a semicircle. This way I was able to help lead discussions, but not seem too much like a professor. Sometimes I would also sit in the half circle with the students when guest speakers arrived. When this happened I was further able to show that I am a peer and not a professor. For classrooms that are not setup this way, I suggest that you sit among the students, and perhaps choose a different seat to sit in every class in order to meet more of your students personally. You will seem less like a scary upperclassman if you sit among the freshman.

         Acknowledge  them outside the classroom

o   A great way to show your students that you actually do care about getting to know them is to acknowledge them outside of the classroom. You can do this in many ways. You could sit with them during meals at the cafeteria or student center, you could wave, you could say hello, or you could even meet them at an event on campus. They will like having you recognize them, and will be more willing to talk to you during class if you are willing to acknowledge that they exist outside of class. If you do not have classes with your students besides the FYE class, however, I suggest listening to what their major does outside of the classroom. If the students have to go to an event that has to do with their major, you should plan on going as well to show that you are interested in their academic and personal interests. For example, I went to a concert that many of the students in my FYE class went to as well. I was not required to go, but I decided to go in order to see my students outside of the classroom and show them that I have an interest in their activities. Showing an interest in their lives will most likely cause your students to be more open to sharing what they have to say because they know that you will actually listen to them.

I hope that you take some of these suggestions to heart and will try to talk with your students, rather than at them. You and your students will get the most out of your experience in the First Year Experience class if you are all active participants in the process. You will feel more necessary to your students if they actually feel comfortable talking to you, and they will feel more grateful to you for being there to listen.  A comfortable classroom in which there is open dialogue among all of the people inside of it is something to try and create during your time as a peer leader. Good luck!

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