Canadian classroom culture

Classroom culture at the University of Waterloo

The classroom culture at the University of Waterloo may be quite different than what you're accustomed to in your home country. First-year classes may be held in large lecture theatres with over 200 students. Upper-year and graduate seminars may only include 10 to 20 people in a small classroom. Preparing before classes, whether a lecture, seminar, lab or tutorial, will help you to follow along and contribute as necessary.

Tips to help you prepare for class:

  • Read the course outline to understand the expectations of the course
  • Complete assigned readings
  • Review your notes from the previous lecture
  • Review the PowerPoint slides for your upcoming lecture

Many students take notes on their laptops and tablets in class, while others prefer using pen and paper. You may find that your professor will provide PowerPoint slides to all students before or after class, generally through the course LEARN site. Even if the PowerPoint slides are provided ahead of time, it's still very important to attend all of your classes to take additional notes as the PowerPoint slides usually reflect only a portion of the content on a particular topic. You may also find that some professors will test you on content from what was discussed in class rather than covering only what is presented on the slides.

For more information on how to prepare for class, check out our success tips from instructors page. 


    In the classroom, everyone must be treated with respect: professors, students, teaching assistants and guest speakers. You can show respect by:

    • Muting all your electronic devices and refraining from chatting
    • Avoiding food that is noisy to eat or has a strong scent
    • Minimizing disturbances (e.g. if you need to leave class early, do so as quietly as possible)
    • Avoiding use of electronic devices for anything other than taking notes, or following the lecture 

    Treatment of professors and supervisors

    Your professors are important for your academic success. Here are some tips for making a good impression:

    • Hand in all your assignments on time
    • Come prepared for lectures, tutorials and labs by completing your required readings and any assigned pre-work beforehand
    • Arrive to class early, or on time, and wait to leave until the professor or TA dismisses the class
    • It's not required for students to tell their instructors if they're going to miss class unless participation/attendance is required/tracked, but it's your responsibility to catch up on the missed material if you were absent

    Tips for communicating with professors and supervisors:

    • Refer to your professors using their title (i.e. Doctor, Professor, etc) in email and face-to-face communications, unless they have told you otherwise
    • Make sure you're checking your Waterloo email account and the course LEARN site daily as your professors will typically contact you through one of these platforms if necessary
    • When emailing your professor allow for 24-48 hours for them to reply
    • Find out your professor or supervisor's preferred contact hours
      • Some professors will be available after class to answer questions, while others may require you to visit their office hours, or to book an appointment
    • When emailing professors, it's good practice to: 
      • Write a subject line that includes the course code  (e.g., Math 135 question)
      • Begin with a formal greeting (e.g., Dear Dr. Smith)
      • Be direct and to the point with your email
      • End with a formal sign-off that includes your name and student ID number (e.g., Sincerely, Student Name, Student ID)
      • Review a sample email

    Active participation in classes

    The University of Waterloo encourages students to participate in class discussions and share ideas around course topics. In some courses, participation may be part of your final grade. To prepare, review the lecture content and complete the assigned readings/assignments before attending class. This will help you participate and also prepare you for the types of questions that may be asked on exams or in assignments. 


    Every class will be evaluated differently. Some courses may have several assessments that occur throughout the term and some courses may only have one midterm exam and a final exam. Throughout each term, it's valuable to find alternative ways to review and test yourself on your course material. Some faculties or courses offer exam banks which make past tests, or test questions, available for students to complete as practice. If your course does not offer an exam bank, another good option is to join or create a study group with your peers.

    If you're struggling with your course(s) it's important that you book a meeting with your professor and/or academic advisor for support and to discuss your options. Your professor can help you with the course content and assessments, while the academic advisor can help you with making decisions about adding/dropping courses and your program in general.

    Final exams are held during the exam period, which is typically 2-3 weeks at the end of each term. Information about when and where your exams are scheduled and exam procedures can be found via the Registrar’s Office (undergraduate students) or the Graduate Studies Office (graduate students). 

    Every term, the Student Success Office offers resources to help you prepare for exams, manage stress and organize your time. Explore various learning resources or book a peer success coaching appointment to meet with a coach one-on-one. These are free services available to all full-time and part-time students at the undergraduate and graduate level.

    Group work

    Some courses may require you to work on projects with other students in small groups. Group projects could include writing a report, a research paper, an assignment or delivering a presentation. For most group work you'll be expected to coordinate independently with your group members outside of class time. Consider setting expectations around how your group will communicate and work together (e.g., communicating with one another digitally using social media or email).

    Group work is a great opportunity to get to know your classmates and to share your ideas. Group work will prepare you for various workplaces where teamwork and working collaboratively are highly valued and frequently expected by employers. There are resources on campus that can help you develop the skills to work effectively on teams. One example is the Student Leadership Program, which offers workshops such as Presentation Skills, Teamwork and Communication.

    It's important that you only work with others on assignments when the professor allows it. Working in groups to complete individual assignments can lead to severe penalties as it may be considered cheating depending on the expectations of the professor.

    Tips to help you complete group work:

    • Communicate openly: listen to others, ask questions, and share your opinion respectfully
    • Divide the work: assign and agree on clear roles for each group member based on their skills and strengths
    • Create clear expectations: decide how often you'll meet, how you'll communicate with each other and a timeline for completing the project

    Academic integrity

    As a student at the University of Waterloo it's important that all of your academic work and conduct is carried out with honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility in mind. It's your responsibility to understand how this applies to each of your courses, assessments or situations. For example, while one professor may allow you to complete assignments together so long as you list the other students that you worked with on it, others may not allow you to work with other students to complete assignments in any way.

    Other examples of integrity offences include:

    • Using someone else’s ideas without properly listing them as a source in the work. The Library's e-references can help you source your work correctly.
    • Using someone else’s iClicker for them if they're not present in class.
    • Modifying or making up research or results to better fit with your desired outcomes for your work.

    Academic integrity it strongly enforced across campus to help ensure that students are able to apply their learning at a high level in and outside of the classroom and to carry on the reputation of our university as an institution that creates the leaders of tomorrow. The Office of Academic Integrity lists several resources on campus to help you achieve academic integrity in and out of the classroom. If you want more information about the academic expectations of your professors, you can book an appointment with them, or visit your TA or professor’s office hours.