The First Tutorial
Tutorial session

Establishing Relationships

For students, the tutorial learning environment is a place where they can apply theory, practice skills, interact with and learn from other students, develop relationships with peers that support learning outside tutorials and receive individual attention in relation to their progress. In subjects with large numbers of students, the tutorial learning environment is often relied upon to counter a sense of anonymity that can exist in lectures. It’s therefore very important for you to treat your students as individuals and for students to get to know each other.

Stronge (2002) states an effective tutor knows the personal interests of students and sees them as individuals as well as students attending a tutorial. Your tutorials will benefit if you have an understanding of the level of skills the students are bringing to these learning experiences. Acknowledging students as individuals engenders a sense of belonging. Tutorials depend on the connecting of the diverse personalities of each of the people in the group – you and the students. Encourage the students to form both social and working relationships within the group as this peer support is an important element in developing their skills and understanding of subject content. Students may value drawing up a contact list of the members of the tutorial.

Using ice-breakers and remembering names are two ways of creating a supportive, friendly learning environment.


Ice-breakers can be useful in the first tutorial to reduce tension, to immediately create a climate of student participation and to help students and the tutor get to know each other. Chapple (1998) states that: “time taken with various ice-breakers is invaluable in producing a more-lively, co-operative and self-motivated group where students feel comfortable to enthusiastically contribute”. These activities are a time to practice learning and remembering students’ names.

Ice-breakers need to be simple to carry out and require little preparation and use of materials. When selecting an ice-breaker try to think through whether the activity has the potential to alienate or embarrass any of the participants. You may wish to incorporate an ice-breaker that connects with your subject material. Note that some ice-breakers can be quite time consuming, so your choice of ice-breaker will depend on what else you’ve planned to cover in the first tutorial.

Here are some videos showing an ice-breaker being conducted:

Remembering and pronouncing names

Getting to know your students by name can be challenging, especially for those who teach many students. However the effort is worthwhile, as you will then be able to call students by name when giving feedback or asking questions (see using students’ names). Your students will feel valued and respected by you. It is also much fairer if you need to assess class participation – a student may rightly wonder how you can give them a class participation grade if you don’t know their name.

There are many strategies for remembering names:

  • asking students to sit in the same place for the first few sessions and make a named plan of this seating
  • memorise a row or two tables of students each tutorial
  • asking students to say their name before speaking to the group
  • asking students to place nametags on the desk in front of them
  • having small photos of each student

Let students understand that you are trying to remember their names and ask for their co-operation and patience. Many icebreakers are designed to put participants at ease with each other and to learn each others’ names. There are tips on how to remember and pronounce names in the following video and resources: