Want to build relationships with students? Ask them about their favorite animal.

It's critical to build relationships with students.

If we're going to boost student learning with desirable difficulties such as retrieval practice, spacing, and interleaving, we need students to join us in the process.

Here's a quick (and fun!) strategy to build relationships with students: Simply ask about their favorite animal (I’m serious; keep reading).


What's your favorite animal?

Photo Credit:  Csaba Talaber

Photo Credit: Csaba Talaber


Yesterday, I emailed my college students a few reminders about class assignments. Here's the email I sent:

Notice anything unusual? Check it again. (hint: read the second bullet)

I asked students for a picture of their favorite animal. Why?

  • I know who read (and didn't read) my email carefully

  • My inbox gets filled with photos of cute animals

  • I build rapport by replying with a photo of my favorite animal

When you build rapport with your students, they will become more comfortable making mistakes and taking risks (download figures from Powerful Teaching). They'll be more comfortable exploring their metacognition, including questions like, "Rate your overall understanding of today's class" (download our Metacognition Sheet template).

You must facilitate conversations with students about learning. You can encourage retrieval and metacognition in subtle ways, too (including our Retrieval Warm Ups).

Punchline: The next time you email students with reminders, ask for a photo of their favorite animal. Or favorite food. Or favorite place to travel. The options are limitless!

Below are some favorite animals I received from my students. Try this for yourself! Comment below or tweet us with a photo of your favorite animal. Let's build relationships and boost learning – even via email.