How do I persuade my students to prepare for class?

Class time is precious, as there is never enough time to cover all the interesting content of your course. For large- and small-scale teaching, lecturers often expect their students to come to class prepared, typically, by having read the literature or viewed the assigned videos (often referred to as flipped classrooms). If students spend time outside of class preparing, it means there is more time for in-depth discussion or challenging application of the course material during class.

Unfortunately, this does not always happen, leaving the lecturer with a difficult decision: start with explaining what should have been prepared or focus on the students that have prepared by taking the preparation as the starting point?

Getting started


  • Consider why students do not come prepared: perhaps the preparation was not challenging, or it was too difficult, too much or there was not enough time?
  • In the course syllabus, write explicitly that class preparation is expected and assumed for classes.
  • In the course syllabus, write explicitly the lecturer will build upon the preparation and that if students have not prepared they will easily fall behind and that it is their responsibility.
  • Use the first lesson to reinforce the same message about the assumed and expected preparation.
  • Ask your students what they expect about their own role and your role. For example, by asking: what do you think the lecturer should do if some students have not prepared? In this way an open discussion can take place in which the lecturer can steer the students towards the expected behaviour.
  • If students have to prepare an assignment or read literature, be clear about expectations. It could be helpful to ask a colleague to check your assignments on clarity. With regards to reading in preparation for class, explain what is expected of students, e.g. what they need to find out and/or what they should focus on (instead of just saying read chapter 11). This way students know what they need to focus on (e.g. finding the main (counter)arguments, or the research method(s) used).


Persuading students to come prepared:

  • Expect that the students come to class prepared and design lessons accordingly. When lecturers (implicitly) assume students do not prepare, this is typically reflected in the lesson design, for instance by starting with a recap of the preparation. This in turn stimulates students to not prepare, since preparation essentially becomes obsolete.
  • Organise your lesson in such a way that the preparation is used in a relevant way. Instead of repeating what students should have done, you can ask the students to give a summary or a presentation.
  • At the start of the lesson, ask who has prepared. After, you can start with a question that can only be answered after having done the preparation (“what is the main argument of X?”). Added value is that the lecturer also gets an impression of the students’ understanding . The advantage of knowing the students’ preparation at the start of the lesson, is that you can adapt your lesson to the level of preparation of the class. (You can also do this with an interactive quiz)

When (some) students do not come to class prepared:

  • In essence, students who have not prepared should notice it is not acceptable if they have not prepared. In small groups, telling students individually (during breaks, or before or after class) that their preparation is not sufficient, can be very effective.
  • If a few students have not prepared, stress that it is their responsibility to prepare and that you cannot adapt your lesson to this because you have counted on (and explicitly mentioned) their preparation.
  • Those who have not prepared could be asked to leave the classroom and catch up quickly, for example, by finding arguments for and against the issue(s), to be used during the discussion that will take place
  • Another option is to let unprepared students participate as much as possible, as a punitive approach may lead to a negative atmosphere leading to even more lack of preparation and could contribute to a decline in teacher-student relations and rapport.



See also

Tip on flipped classroom (to follow)