Teachers can struggle to connect with learners in person or in an online setting. But a virtual classroom brings additional challenges for building a positive learning environment with each learner. Yet, there are some effective methods for how to build rapport with students online. 

Make Time For Each Student

Strong rapport begins with connecting with your online students from day one. Distance learning does have some distinct advantages but for many students showing up, completing work, and being active in class is difficult. 

This is why taking the time to show interest in your students and make time for each one will help them feel comfortable and become more involved in the class. But this can also be difficult if you have a large student body or run an asynchronous course. Written or recorded feedback can bridge this gap when looking at their assignments or responding to them in a discussion or open forum. When you do connect, the learning improves. 

Say Their Name 

One benefit of an online classroom environment is that names are visible on the screen. So memorizing 100 names the first week of class is no longer a challenge. Hallelujah is what I say! So now it’s even easier to say individual student names to build rapport online. 

Students love it when instructors remember their names and can become upset if you forget their names. So make some eye contact and build rapport by using their name when you answer a question or praise them for hard work. You’ll be super excited by how effective this is for lowering the affective filter

Ask Follow-Up Questions

Keeping students engaged and building rapport is a classroom management tool, and one way to achieve this is to ask your students questions. The principle of “tell me more” is a great one to follow. For example, your student answers a question but gives a shorter answer. Instead of letting them off the hook, ask them to expand on their response by, yes, telling you more. 

It can be hard to follow this principle in a larger class or with a fast-paced curriculum, and students get bored easily online, and as soon as you’re not paying attention to them, they will find their phones. But asking questions shows interest and builds rapport with students online. 

Use the Breakout Rooms

Your teaching strategies for how to build strong rapport online should include utilizing the breakout rooms. In the breakout rooms, you can take the time to answer questions, expand on a critical point, and really get to know your students in a more profound way. In addition, spending a few minutes with each group helps you connect in an online teaching format. 

The breakout rooms also turn the classroom from teacher-centered to student-centered in an instant. The students have to work together to complete an assignment or discuss the material. Allow them to share their screen and take control. You can pop in and get to know them. 

Call On Each Student Equally

To create a positive online learning environment, you must allow each student to participate and answer questions. The online teacher needs to make sure she rotates who she calls on to ensure a nice balance. If you have a large class, you can put a tick by the person’s name each time you call on them to keep track. 

Also, rotating who answers a question, reads a passage, and comes to the board makes students accountable. They know that they will be called on, but they don’t know when. 

Personal Reminders For Camera On

Of course, you have to follow FERPA privacy laws, but giving reminders to turn on your camera makes for a better online environment. There’s nothing worse than instructing a bunch of black boxes. The lyrics “Hello, hello, is anybody in there” from the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd always echo in my brain. 

Teaching and learning are always better when you can see each other. If looking at yourself is distracting (like it is for me), you can click off “self-view” on Zoom. The students can still see you, but you can’t see yourself.  

The more students you can see, the better the class is overall. The students who don’t switch on their cameras get called on less and come up on another screen. Cameras on, even if you know they’re doing something else, helps build rapport with online students. 

Show Respect For Each Person

The key to any learning environment, in-person or online, is developing a space where the students feel comfortable and respected. Taking the time to learn about them, giving them individual attention, and asking questions, will naturally extend respect. But it’s also important to remember that respect is a two-way street. If you respect your students, they tend to respect you back. 

Add a Variety of Activities 

Your online course design should always include a variety of activities. Each student learns differently and may connect more to your videos or really need well-developed slides to refer to during class. You also need to be willing to respond to your students and change your curriculum or lesson plans. 

There’s this idea that if it worked for the last class, it’ll work this time. Building rapport with students is getting them to connect with you and getting them excited about the course and materials. 

The online classroom has become a familiar place for most instructors since the COVID-19 pandemic. But now, flipping the classroom is here to stay. While it may not be the most ideal place to create a connection with students, it is possible. Online communities do happen, and students will learn and connect with each other. It just may take more of a conscious effort on the instructor’s part, but now that you know how to build rapport with students online, you’ll be on your way.


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