Ten Tips for Building Classroom Community
Start the school year on a strong note with one or more of these ideas for fostering camaraderie in your classroom.
By Noel Woodward
The first few weeks are exceedingly important in setting the tone for the school year, especially with regard to classroom community. I have compiled a list of ideas to help you initiate a positive classroom community, which in turn, will contribute to a successful school year. Adapt these activities to any grade level, and watch as your class takes the beginning steps toward building a healthy learning environment.
1. Groups and Spectrums
Explain that this game is nonverbal. Pupils will need to organize themselves into separate groups or a line based on prompts from you. Start off with something easy and low-risk. For example, you might ask class members to organize themselves into groups based on shoe color. This way, they are still participating, but only have to look at their feet. Move on to more complex pairings. Organize class members into groups by eye color, or spectrums by hair color or height. Finish off by asking your class to get in chronological order by birthday. Again, this is nonverbal, so this will be quite the test!
2. My Name
Use the vignette "My Name" from Sandra Cisneros' book, The House on Mango Street, as inspiration for a name-sharing activity. First, read through the vignette together, pointing out her use of figurative language to represent her name. Next, have some brainstorming time. What do your pupils think is unique about their own names? Where did their names come from, and what do they mean? For a less formal assignment, have learners draft brief paragraphs in class and then share with a partner or small groups. For a more formal assignment, allow a few days for students to polish their work. They can then share in pairs, small groups, or in front of the class before turning in their work.
3. Four Fun Facts
Start the class by handing out note cards to your class. Ask each individual to write their name and four fun facts about themselves on the card. Make sure learners understand they should write facts they would be willing to share with the whole class. Collect all of the cards and play the game immediately. Have everyone stand up. Choose a card at random and tell class members to stay standing if the fun fact also applies to them. In order to make more facts apply to each individual, you can make the facts more vague. For example, the card might read I have three brothers and two sisters, but you say, "Stay standing if you have at least one brother and one sister." Start with the least-unique fact on the card and finish with the most unique. By the fourth fact, there should only be one or two kids left standing. Have the individual whose card you read introduce themselves briefly. It helps to ask them a question about one of their fun facts. Repeat the same procedure using a new card. This game is a great filler activity if you have a few minutes left in class. Students will beg to play this game.
4. Hopes, Fears, and Expectations
Allow your class some time to write quietly about their hopes, fears, and expectations for this school year. Specify whether you want them to write about your class, or the school year as a whole. Once class members have had some time to write, ask them to share with a partner or small group. Come together as a class and share out hopes, fears, and expectations. You might take a poll with each shared-out idea to show learners how much they have in common with one another. Consider taking notes for each class and saving them to revisit later.
5. Introduction Letter
Write a letter of introduction to your class and read it to them on the first or second day. Provide a hard copy so they can take it home, read it again, and use it as a model for their own introduction letter. This is a great way to tell your class about yourself and to find out about each individual. When class members bring in their letters, have them share their work with a few other classmates before turning it in to you.
6. Partner Interview and Introduction or Mini-Biography
Before assigning partners for an interview, brainstorm interview questions as a class. Each member should write down at least one question that they can share. Once you've come up with a class list, individuals can be paired off for their interviews. Conclude the interviews by having each pair come up in front of the class and introduce their partner. Or, if you want to focus more on writing, have students write up mini-biographies of their interviewee. They can check in with their interviewee before presenting, polish off their work over the course of a few days, and then sit in front of the class to read their work.
Discuss and set class norms and rules together
Conduct a student survey
Ask class members to write down and share their favorite things in various categories, such as ice cream, color, movie, and song
Write personal narrative essays or poems
Resources for Community Building:
Break the ice by asking class members to write about their names using Sandra Cisneros' "My Name" as inspiration. Use this assignment as a lead-in for a more involved project. Learners will have the chance to describe their room and create a presentation that will introduce the class to their space.
What is community? Help your class discover the answer to this question through an artistic project. Class members decorate a shield similar to a coat of arms with symbols that represent different aspects of their lives and personalities. After presenting, allow some time for reflection on the activity.
Designed to be completed a few weeks into the year, this activity focuses on the personality of the class. Pupils describe the class using adjectives and then choose adjectives to describe how they want the class to be. The focus is on setting goals for classroom behavior and tone.