Tip 6: How to Get Students to Talk to Each Other

Why this is important

According to Tinto, student retention is significantly improved by academic and social integration.

Academic integration includes identifying with one’s role as a student (such as in Tip 5’s suggestion to have students sign a paper stating they agree to abide by class rules.)

Social integration includes personal contact with academics, making friends at school, and being comfortable around campus.

The issue of social integration is the focus of this post, specifically the section on making friends at school. Many students, especially at non-residential colleges, don’t really have any means of getting to know other students outside of class. I realize that the classroom’s main purpose is not to allow students to make friends; having said that, however, I believe that we can encourage our students to stay in school by giving them an opportunity to meet other students.

Introduce each other.

This is why, as in Tip 5, on the first day of class I have them get in small groups to meet each other and then have them introduce one another out loud in class. It breaks the ice for the students and it lets them know if and where similar students in the class are.

Have them respond to questions.

Again, as in Tip 5, ask the students questions and have them answer them on the first day.

Favorite restaurants as a question lets me know where the students hang out, lets them know if there are others with similar tastes, and is (generally) a fairly innocuous question. Even with students from severely limited socioeconomic status, there are usually still favorite restaurants.

Another question I ask is what is the farthest distance the student has traveled. This could be a bit odd if one student has never been anywhere, but I could easily discuss the fact that such a thing is more common in England and that, in fact, folks from New York City don’t usually move around or visit. If I felt they were very embarrassed, I would use this to segue into a discussion of how hard 9/11 was for people who never left town and didn’t know anyone outside the city. In addition, this question allows me to recognize and thank our veterans.

Have students move around the room in a mixer.

I have done this a couple of ways.

One is a fill out the questionnaire game. In this I come to class with a list of questions that I think someone in the class will match. Then the students have to go to people, introduce themselves, and ask the person a single question (if you have lots of time) or if they fit any of the criteria (if you don’t). This gets them talking to each other.

Sample lines from the questionnaire would be:
I have at least three siblings.
I was born here in Houston and have never lived outside of Houston.
I am married.
I am a business major.

Another way is to have the students stand up. Then give each corner of the room a number. You call out a question- How many kids are in your family?- and have people move to the corner that matches. (Obviously the fourth corner could be four or more.) Then people have to meet everyone in their corner. Then you go to the next question.

This idea is a bit messy. Some classes don’t like it. And it can get loud.

But it does get the students introduced to each other, which is the point.

Use collaborative work.

I do not like collaborative work much. It’s too easy for one person to do all the work.

But I still have group work in class so that students will have a reason to talk with each other. It is usually to answer questions from a reading we did in class, since that way I know they have all done it.

I’m all for keeping our students in college. And if it helps keep them in my class, it’s a blessing to the class as well.

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