The first few days of school can be exhilarating and terrifying for both students and teachers. What both parties want is for the classroom to be a safe and encouraging place for teaching and learning. However, this comfort and ease doesn’t happen organically; cultivating a healthy classroom community at the beginning of the year is crucial.
Here are three tips to help you build a strong community in your classroom.
Tip 1: Stimulate interesting conversations.
Watching students get acquainted with one another can sometimes be a harrowing experience. Try lessening the awkwardness by planning a few activities to break the ice for them.
One way to do this is by creating a Getting to Know You Scavenger Hunt where students have to find people in their classroom based on following a list of traits. For example, some traits could be finding someone who shares the same birth month as you or finding someone who is left or right-handed.
Regardless of what the traits are, this activity gets students out of their seats and interacting with each other. It’s also great for teachers to participate in as well, as it better acquaints the teacher with the students, and it allows the teacher to encourage those who may be too shy to immediately go up to their peers.
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Tip 2: Have each of your students express themselves in the same way.
When get-to-know-you activities have to be finished, building a strong classroom community doesn’t have to end. Planning community-building lessons during the first few days can help build the classroom community you want to have.
One way to create a lasting sense of community in a classroom with a lesson is by creating hand-made portraits and poems. Have your students first create a self-portrait. Then, have the students write a poem describing themselves on the back of the portrait. Have the students share their poem and picture with the person next to them. When everyone is done with their projects, you can display them around the classroom for everyone to admire.
Having everyone complete the same task will bring your students closer together, but how each student chooses to complete their self-portrait and write their poem will accent the diversity in your classroom. Hanging the projects around the classroom is a great way to remind students about who is in their class.
Tip 3: Encourage community with team-based games.
Lesson plans are not the only way to encourage a strong classroom community. Playing a game is a one way for students to get comfortable with each other while still having fun.
For example, one game that can help your students work as a team is by playing The Balloon Bop. This game’s objective is for students to see how long they can keep a balloon afloat by using any part of their body except their feet. The only catch is, the students must stand in a circle and hold hands with each other the entire time.
Start by demonstrating how to go about keeping the balloon afloat; then, have students practice in small groups before forming one large, unified circle. Once in the circle, students will soon learn that by moving as a group the task of keeping the balloon afloat will be much easier.
Have students encourage each other during the game, using first names instead of generic terms. Communication is key in building a classroom community; by keeping a running dialogue throughout the game, you are reinforcing students’ names and teaching your students the importance of encouraging each other.
These are just a few ways you can build a strong classroom community that lasts throughout the entire school year.
It’s important to pick activities that are tailored to your classroom and the curriculum that you use. However, the benefits of building a classroom go way beyond just the first few days. These benefits create a positive classroom experience that goes with students for the rest of their lives.