Beginnings are important. Within the first few weeks of school, students form opinions about their teacher, their fellow students, and what they’ll be learning. Building a positive learning environment during those critical first weeks can set the right tone for the rest of the year.
These class-building activities can help you create a sense of community and, in turn, boost learning among students. Before long they’ll be cheering each other on, helping classmates problem solve, and respecting each other’s wishes. Or at the very least you’ll avoid a Lord of the Flies scenario in your classroom.
The Power of Words
Provide each student with a cut out of a human figure, or have students cut out their own figure from a pattern. Ask students to write their name on their figure and then stand in a circle, all together. Students should pass their paper figures around the circle in a clockwise direction. Each person in the circle will make a small crumple or tear, or make a pencil mark on the paper figure. Once the cut outs make their way back to the original student, have each try to flatten, erase, and tape the figures. Then talk about the activity as a group. Discuss the difficulty of returning the cut outs to their original form, much like it is difficult to erase negative words and hurtful actions.
Introduce Bugs and Wishes
Children are told to use their words when dealing with difficult or unpleasant situations. It helps to have a phrase students can use to express their dislike for what a classmate or friend is doing. The phrase, “It bugs me when you _________, I wish you would stop,” has worked wonders in my household. Sometimes the youngest students have a hard time understanding if a friend likes or dislikes how they are playing together. When students use this phrase it is clear how they are feeling, and together they can figure out how to interact in a different way that is acceptable to everyone.
Getting to know the others in the class, that they will spend so much time with the rest of the school year, is half the battle. Here are two ice breakers to help.
All About Me Bag
Ask students to bring in 4 objects that describe them or are important to them and tell something about their life. Showcase a few of the objects each day by placing them in a bag and presenting each one to the class. When all of the objects have been presented, have students guess who they think the objects belong to. After taking a few guesses, invite the owner of the objects to talk about each one and explain why they chose that object and how it reflects who they are. It is fun for students to discover the similarities they have with others in their class through their objects.
Get to Know You Survey
Older students can incorporate getting to know their classmates with a fun math project. Ask students to create a survey of questions that each member of the class will complete.
Questions might include the following, but they can be any questions the class thinks of, the more creative the better:
- What is your favorite snack?
- How do you get to school each day?
- Do you play sports or an instrument?
- What is your favorite subject in school?
- What color is your room at home?
After students have answered the questions. Ask a few students to tally the answers and create a chart that displays the responses. Talk about the percentages of the students who had the same answers to better understand how the class is similar in ways and different in other ways.