Create a Positive Classroom Environment with the Start, Stop, Continue Strategy


How to use the Start, Stop, Continue strategy to create and maintain a positive learning environment in active learning environments.

Here’s a teaching strategy that works well for both you and for your students.  It’s called “Start, Stop, Continue.”  I've used this strategy in a variety of settings including classrooms, meetings, training sessions, and professional development events. 

"Start, Stop, Continue" works well in active learning environments because you can assess how different teaching methods, policies, and procedures need to be adjusted. It's also an excellent strategy to use in any course because it allows you and your students to make adjustments together to create a positive environment that is conducive to learning. 

This strategy works best when you use it early to mid-semester so you have time to make changes and adjustments to the course before it's too late.

Students in active learning classrooms sometimes experience a shift in roles, responsibilities, and expectations. But, when you think about creating a positive classroom environment, you have to pay attention to the whole student experience, not just the learning outcomes. 

Students are not only intellectual but also social and emotional beings…these dimensions interact within the classroom climate to influence learning and performance.” (Ambrose et al, p. 156)

Students in active learning environments might feel anxiety or confusion, especially if this is new for them or if they've struggled in previous flipped learning environments. When you use the "Start, Stop, Continue" strategy, you open the forum for students to share what they're thinking, feeling, and experiencing in the classroom.

How to Facilitate the "Start, Stop, Continue" Strategy

First, during one of your class sessions, ask your students to take out a sheet of paper (or any device for writing responses) and divide it into three sections with the headings:  Start, Stop, Continue. 

Ask the students to think about their experience in the course so far.


Then, ask them to write down one thing they would like for you or their classmates to START doing to make the course more successful. 

For example, maybe they need for you to start using a larger font on your slides. Or, maybe they want their classmates to start setting up study groups a few nights before an exam. Or, maybe they'd like for the class to start using a Twitter feed to add to class discussions. Or maybe they feel overwhelmed with the weekly quizzes. 

Try not to place too many restrictions or limitations on the process unless you are trying to focus on one specific aspect of the course.

Once you give them these instructions, allow students a few minutes to write their response under the "Start" heading on their paper.


Next, ask students to write down one thing they would like you or their classmates to STOP doing.  For example, maybe they’d like for you to stop using red ink when writing comments on their papers. Or, maybe they'd like their classmates to stop using their cell phones during the lecture. Or, maybe they feel like you need to mix up the groups instead of keeping them the same.

Again, give them a few minutes to write their response.


Then, ask students to write down one thing they’d like for you or their classmates to CONTINUE doing.  For example, maybe the online discussion boards you’ve created for the class have been very helpful, so they’d like you to continue posting to those a few times a week.

Or, maybe their classmates have enjoyed working on projects in small groups, so they’d like to continue doing more collaborative assignments during class time. Or, maybe they'd like to continue the virtual office hours (to which you could respond by saying you will continue them IF students actually participate.)

Again give them a few minutes to write their response.


Finally, after everyone has had time to write, you can either use the remaining class time to discuss the feedback or take the responses back to your office for review.

And, it's also important for YOU to complete this exercise too and share it with your students. Maybe there are things you’d like them to “Start, Stop, or Continue” as well!

Once you have time to review the feedback, the next step is to make a plan together for how the course will proceed to ensure everyone is successful. The key is to make adjustments with students, not to come in and change everything all at once or turn the class time into a complaint session.

The goal here is to look for patterns of distraction or disruption that impede the learning environment and prevent student engagement and involvement. Every reasonable comment is considered, but not every comment is implemented.  Look for the ones with the most influence in shaping the remainder of the course.

Why does the "Start, Stop, Continue" Strategy Work?

“Start, Stop, Continue” works by flipping the organization and management of the course to the students for a moment and opening the floor for their voices to be heard. 

By asking them what needs improvement, you show you care, you value their ideas, and you are willing to do what it takes to make appropriate changes to ensure their success.

But, “Start, Stop, Continue” is a two-way street. You, as the instructor, get to share your ideas too. This opens up a conversation about what works and what doesn’t work from your perspective. It’s the perfect opportunity to make positive changes to enhance the learning environment.

“Start, Stop, Continue” also works because it gives students a voice in a space where they often feel like they don’t have one. Done appropriately, this can empower your students and encourage them to take control of their learning experiences.

Tips When You Use This Strategy:

Here are a few tips to make sure this strategy works well for you and your students.

First, don’t allow the discussion to turn into a whining or complaining session.

Keep the discussion under control, allow for the exploration of ideas, but realize that you are the ultimate decision-maker in the class, so you don’t have to accept every single idea. Listen to your students and respect their ideas, but don’t let them take over.

And finally, keep an open mind.  No, you’re not going to change everything about the course. But, you should listen to their ideas and look for common themes. If many students are repeating something you should “start” doing, then that probably means it’s time to take a closer look and at least consider alternatives.


Ambrose, S., Bridges, M., DiPietro, M. Lovett, M., & Norman, M. (2010).  How Learning Works. Jossey-Bass: San-Francisco. Strobino, J. (January 1997). “Building a Better Mousetrap.” The Teaching Professor. p.6.