Classes in American schools are usually one of two types: lecture or seminar. Lecture courses are usually quite large and the professor speaks most of the time while students take notes. Seminar courses are smaller and more focused on discussions between the professor and students or among students. Exactly how people behave in the classroom will depend on what school you attend, what you are studying, and whether you are attending lecture or seminar courses, but certain guidelines will help you work more effectively in the classroom environment.
In lecture courses:
Attend regularly. This is always a good idea, of course, but because of the amount of information that your professor will cover in a class period it is essential that you are there to take notes.
Be prepared to take many notes on the subject. Lecture courses are designed so that the professor can often speak for most of the class period, only taking student questions at key times or at the end of the class time. Your notes will allow you to ask good questions, and this will help with your grade much of the time.
In seminar courses:
Attend regularly. This is even more important in seminar courses than lecture course because the professor will get to know each student very quickly.
Take notes on everything. Even comments made by other students can be very useful in understanding the material, and by paying attention to them you can learn the material faster (even if you disagree with what they say).
Be prepared to speak up. Even if the professor has not directly asked you to respond to a statement or question, your ideas may be just what the class needs to get the discussion started or get it moving in a new direction. You can get the professor's attention by raising your hand above your head and waiting for your professor to call upon you. (Note: sometimes you may be in classes where students will start talking as someone else is finishing what they are saying. Don't be afraid to get into conversations in this way if you see it happening in your class.)
Outside of the classroom, you have many opportunities to learn from other people. When you get your syllabus at the beginning of the class, your professor will probably include his/her office number, office hours, and a telephone number and email. Don't hesitate to contact your professor if you have questions about any aspect of the class. Professors are there to help you learn, and they will assist you in any way that they can.
Also, many classes form informal study groups—small numbers of students who get together regularly to review class discussions and compare ideas for papers and projects. Starting or joining a study group is a great way to get help from your peers, and you can learn about American culture while making friends!