Getting started

Building trust and developing an environment for learning

An important component of tutoring, demonstrating or facilitating is building the relationships and trust amongst the group members. A positive and inclusive social environment will make the content and task-oriented focus of the session more effective and dynamic. Activities to help the group get to know about one another and learn each others’ names can start with icebreakers. Through positive interaction, the similarities and differences within a group of people can become the bases for building positive relationships that support learning. A group’s social, geographical, language and cultural diversity can be creative resources.

Two strategies for getting off to a positive start with your groups are icebreakers and learning names.

Fast Icebreakers

These are quick activities you can do to break the ice between strangers, and, importantly, give your students a chance to hear their own voices speaking in the room you're in.

  • Introductions: students introduce themselves for one minute and include something memorable about themselves.
  • "Find someone who" activity: Prepare a list of questions and ask students to match a person to the question. For example, find someone who plays a musical instrument.
  • True/False: Write three facts about yourself, one false. Ask students to do the same. Swap lists and guess true or false facts about each other.
  • Re-organise the group: Individuals are asked to relocate themselves in the room according to the following markers:

Slow Icebreakers

These are activities that take a bit longer, and sometimes require some preparation, and they're very worthwhile when you need to build strong peer and group relationships - for instance, when your class will be doing group projects.

  • Profile: Each student briefly interviews, then is interviewed by a colleague, and then presents a one minute profile of a colleague, including an “unofficial” or memorable detail about their colleague.
  • Name archaeology: interview a colleague and present their name story.
  • Decades: (Good where your class spans a large age group). Students form groups based on when they went to high school. Each group brainstorms a list of signature items from that decade, such as music, clothes, events, and social mores. Each group reports their lists, and together discusses insights from the activity.

For further icebreaking ideas, visit the incredible Teampedia wiki

One key to building productive interaction and active learning with your group is learning names and acknowledging all students on a first name basis, particularly those with unfamiliar or difficult to pronounce names. This needs to be accomplished at the start of the semester, and learning names can be part of the process of getting started.

Learning student names

  • What shall I call you? When you encounter an unfamiliar name – particularly if it is an international student’s name – check pronunciation with the student and ask them how they wish to be addressed. For more information on naming systems, download the PDF Guidance on Naming Systems from La Trobe University’s Cultural Diversity and Inclusive Practice Toolkit (2008).
  • Seating Chart: Draw yourself a rough plan of the room and write each person's name in the place he or she is sitting, and refer to this often while you're learning everyone's name. Or draw it on the whiteboard where everyone can see and use it.
  • Introductions: Use the Introductions or Profile icebreaker exercise to build familiarity with names.
  • Name Badges: Prepare pin-on name tags based on your class lists and give these out as people arrive. Use large fonts so that they are easy to read. Sticky labels can also be used as name badges. If you bring marking pens, students can make their own tags/labels.
  • Place cards: Have students make place cards on the first day of class that can display on the desk in front of them.
  • Who is talking? Make a group protocol that students give their name before they speak. This can be continued until everyone (both teacher and students) feels they know each other. Also try and use students' names as often as possible. Frequent use will speed memorisation.

See other posts in our Getting Started series: Working with the teaching team, Planning your session, and Setting ground rules

Like to learn more?

La Trobe Learning and Teaching (LTLT) provides advice and support to all academic staff seeking to develop their teaching practice. To find out more about LTLT induction activities for sessional staff, click here.

Log onto the La Trobe LMS (with your staff name and password) and search for ‘Learning Futures Programs and Services’ (LTLT-LF-PS) for access to a comprehensive suite of programs and resources to support your teaching.