Building Connections

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What Is Building Connections?

According to interest theory (Harackiewicz & Hulleman, 2010), students’ motivation to learn course topics is secured and maintained when students perceive usefulness and relevance of their courses to the students’ identity and goals. Building Connections is an activity that elicits students’ value-related beliefs by encouraging students to find relationships between course topics and their interests, hobbies, and personal goals. It could be simply implemented by asking “why is it important for you to learn this topic?” at the beginning of a class. A common mistake made by instructors is that if students are calm, instructors tend to provide answers to this question from their perspective. But, the answers provided by the instructors might not link to every student. Thus, it’s better for an instructor to encourage students to make connections through a writing prompt. The following information provides evidence-based support to Building Connections and describes how to implement it in classrooms.


The importance of value-related beliefs in academic performance is explained by expectancy-value theory (Eccles et al., 1983). It proposes that people choose tasks based on beliefs about the self and the value of the task. Especially, utility value, as the most amenable to external influence, has received attention from education researchers because of the potential for interest interventions (Harackiewicz & Hulleman, 2010).

Students’ engagement level in class increases when they are motivated (Hulleman and Barron, 2013). They are motivated when they see the value of class content (Brophy, 1999). Similarly, students’ interest, which is a powerful motivation, was found to be enhanced by contexts evoking prior individual interest (Harackiewicz et al., 2016). In other words, if students see the relevance of course content in their life or future career, they are more likely to be motivated to engage in class and learn. This leads students to work harder, perform better, persist longer, and complete their degree programs (Hulleman et al., 2008). In the experimental study by Hulleman et al. (2010), one group wrote a short essay that describes the potential relevancy of a class topic to their own life or the lives of college students in general, the other group did not. The students who wrote the essay perceived the class topic as useful in everyday life and in the future. Those students also showed higher interests in class topics and performed better in exams and assignments compared with the group that did not write the essays.

Reviewing the connections students make regarding the content can help instructors connect with their students and assist with future course offerings. It is challenging to connect with each student and stay up-to-date with what is cool and interesting to college students. By having students do a building connections activity throughout the semester, instructors gain valuable insight into who they are, their interests and what is important to them.


Preparation: Think about the purpose of building connections. It can be to build connections between a specific class topic and personal interests, between the course objective and personal interests, or between the university life and personal interests. Depending on the purpose of connections, it might be different when or how often an instructor implements this activity. The following instruction is developed for a connection between a specific class topic and personal interests.


  1. After covering major topics of each chapter, review and summarize what students learned in class.
  2. Ask students to think about their interests, hobbies, and personal goals, and write them down.
  3. Ask students to briefly summarize the topics they have learned in the chapter.
  4. Ask students to think about connections between the major topics in the chapter and their interests. Depending on topics, it can be done in groups or individually.
  5. Ask students to make a short sentence that describes the connection. For example, in food science class, “(personal interest: exercise) and (a class topic: vegetables) are connected because (I do exercise to stay healthy and knowing health benefits of vegetables help me keep my body strong).”
  6. Ask students to elaborate more on the connection by making a long sentence describing how the topic impacts their life. For example, “(vegetables) could be important to my life because (in order to fuel my body to keep going during exercise, I need various nutrients from vegetables).”
  7. Review and share remarkable connections with students, and provide additional information, such as connections among the courses in the curriculum.


Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When can I use it? It is recommended to use after covering class contents, rather than before so that students have understanding of the contents and can create meaningful connections. Also, it can be used on the first day of class after reviewing the syllabus. Students might have enough understanding of what topics will be covered and be able to make connections. This can also provide you insight into what they think the topics are, what they are interested in, and where they may have some misunderstandings.
  2. How often can it be implemented? It can be by chapter, topic, week or few weeks each chapter; it is really up to your purpose and what makes sense with your topic. There is a balance of doing it often enough but not too often where it loses value. Also, it can be used once on the first day of class to build connections between the course objective and personal interests.
  3. How long does it take? Depending on the prompt, it can take a few moments or more than 10 minutes.  The example provided usually takes 5-10 minutes to complete.
  4. What if students have difficulties in making connections? It would be helpful to provide examples and enough time to reflect. Please refer to the examples of the Character LAB (2020).
  5. Could this be a group activity?  Yes, it could be a great way for students to share their personal connections and build community with their peers. It is recommended that if students work in groups, they are prompted to make their own connections before meeting with their groups to ensure all students have thought about the prompt. They could turn their initial ideas in as a ticket to enter and the group product as a ticket to exit.
  6. Would it be good to share students’ connections in class or not? Some students may be reluctant to share personal information but it can help build community and help students identify more relevant connections. After students complete their writing prompt, ask them to pair and talk with nearby classmates, and then maybe share the ideas with the whole class voluntarily. To see more information about Think-Pair-Share, click here.
  7. How do you motivate students to be involved in the activity? Instructors can collect students’ writing prompts and provide points as a part of course requirements (e.g., in-class activity points).
  8. Is it for all students or primarily for certain years of students (e.g., freshman)? It can be used at any level of standing. It will be great to be used with freshmen to make connections between their personal interests or goals with majors or general university life. For more experienced students, making connections to their careers and how it makes them a better applicant may be more appropriate.
  9. Can the connection be linked to the world around them, not necessarily to personal interests? This might be an alternative way of making connections from the instruction provided above. It will be useful especially when students have difficulties in making connections to their personal lives. For tips on this alternative way, please refer to the resource from the Chronicle of Higher Education (Lang, 2016).

Other Resources

Jordt, H., Eddy, S.L., Brazil, R., Lau, I., Mann, C., Brownell, S.E., ... & Freeman, S. (2017). Values affirmation intervention reduces achievement gap between underrepresented minority and white students in introductory biology classes. CBE-Life Sciences Education, 16(3), ar41.

Lang, J.M. (2016, February). Small changes in teaching: Making connections. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Watanabe-Crockett, Lee (2019, February). This is why making strong learning connections matters most. Global Digital Citizen Foundation. Retrieved from


Brophy, J. (1999). Toward a model of the value aspects of motivation in education: Developing appreciation for particular learning domains and activities. Educational Psychologist, 34, 75-85.

Character LAB. (2020). Build connections for classrooms. Retrieved from

Eccles, J.S. (1983). Expectancies, values and academic behaviors.

Harackiewicz, J. M., & Hulleman, C. S. (2010). The importance of interest: The role of achievement goals and task values in promoting the development of interest. Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 42-52. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00207.x

Harackiewicz, J.M., Smith, J.L., & Priniski, S.J. (2016). Interest matters: The importance of promoting interest in education. Climate, Motivation, and Emotion 3(2), 220-227.

Hulleman, C.S., & Barron, K.E. (2013). Teacher perceptions of student motivational challenges and best strategies to enhance motivation, presented at the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research, San Francisco, 2013.

Hulleman, C. S., Durik, A. M., Schweigert, S. A., & Harackiewicz, J. M. (2008). Task values, achievement goals, and interest: An integrative analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 398-416. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.100.2.398

Hulleman, C.s., Godes, O., Hendricks, B.L., & Harackiewica, J.M. (2010). Enhancing interest and performance with a utility value intervention. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 880-895.

Illeris, K. (2005). A comprehensive understanding of human learning. In P. Jarvis & S. Parker (Eds.), Human learning: An holistic approach (pp. 87-100). London: Routledge.

Cite this resource: Lee, K. and Chae, Y. (2020). Building Connections.  Kent State University Center for Teaching and Learning. Retrieved
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