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Building rapport with online student

Student smiling after being greeted by online teacher

Building rapport with students is necessary for success in any classroom, and a significant challenge in an online setting. We are separated by thousands of miles, not able to shake their little hands, give them an encouraging pat on the back, or read their full body language.  We aren’t in a controlled classroom environment, and we don’t exactly know what the situation is like for the student on the other side of the world wide web connection.

How can we create a trusting and safe environment through the internet?  How do we establish a rapport with our students? During my online teaching career with ALO7, I have worked hard to convert my brick and mortar teaching skills into virtual teaching practices. Here are my top teaching tips for building rapport successfully:

1. Make eye contact with the students.   

When teaching, look directly into the camera as you speak rather than directly at your students’ images. Though it takes practice, the payoff will be worth it because your students will feel like you are paying close attention to them. Of course, sometimes you’ll be looking at their images to view items they show you and gauge their mood; however, the more “eye contact” you make with your students, the better. 

2. Learn something about your students’ interests and hobbies.  

I keep a notebook for all of my classes and jot down notes whenever the students reveal something new about themselves, whether it be a favorite video game or a new hobby. Before class, I review my notes so I can ask the students about their recent trip to Japan, their new baby brother or the latest novel they are reading. If the students are very young, I encourage them to talk about their favorite food or sport and then make it a point to discuss those things during future lessons. Don’t be shy about sharing your own interests, likes and dislikes, too. Doing so lets your students learn something more personal about you and may inspire them to ask you questions. For example, sharing your love of drawing and samples of your own artwork with students may inspire your students to show you their own drawings. 


ALO7’s Teacher Jan greeting a student.

3. Begin class with a greeting and a warm-up activity or game. 

Many of us have the tendency to follow the lesson script and clock so much that we forget to take time to greet the students and ask them questions about their day or week. A cheerful greeting shows the importance of the individual student to you, which establishes trust between you and them.  Be careful not to get so caught up in the process that you forget the individual student. Good communication between you and the student are crucial to building rapport. There are times I get frustrated when I ask, “How are you?” and the student replies with the expected answer of “I’m fine, and you?” For times like these, I refer to the notes I keep to spark a more in-depth conversation, or I ask completely random questions like, “What did you eat for dinner?” or “Which do you like better basketball or soccer?” I may also begin class with a warm-up game such as, “20 Questions” or the “How do I feel?” to help engage students. 

4. Be enthusiastic about your class, your students, and the lesson.

Let’s be honest,  when we teach the same course time and time again, showing excitement about the lesson can be a big challenge. Try to look at the material through your students’ eyes and keep the wonder of it all. If you are bored, it shows through to your students. For times like these, I suggest switching things up by adding new games, new props, or new songs. You can even try changing your personal home classroom or change from sitting to standing. Any changes you make for yourself can help generate excitement, which shows through to your students. Changes help fight the temptation for routine and help to keep lessons fresh. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when you model it for your students, they will reflect it back to you.

5. Don’t forget to smile.

It doesn’t matter where you are from, a smile is a universal sign of openness. To create a healthy environment in your classroom focused on building rapport, you must remember to smile. Relax and smile and your students will follow your lead. 

As we keep in mind our objectives as teachers, we must remember that for our students to learn they need to respect and trust us. Building rapport with them at the beginning of each class can create a healthy environment for respect and trust to thrive, allowing our students to reach their maximum learning potential.

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