In many schools, the first few days tend to follow a familiar pattern. Students arrive at school in the morning and shyly make their way to class. Desks are assigned, important documents are handed out, and some basic ground rules are laid. Maybe a few textbooks are added to the student backpack. Then we “rinse and repeat” depending on the number of classes.
But these early days also provide teachers with a rare opportunity. One of the best things about starting a new school year for students is the chance to meet new friends and build connections. Once we settle into our weekly routines, it can become markedly more difficult for them to initiate conversations. The novelty of a new classroom is the perfect time to start establishing norms, engineering trust, build communication, and just have fun getting to know one another. So, where do we begin?
Getting to Know You
Here are just a few ways you can build teamwork, communication, and more in your classroom:
- Would you Rather – Ultimate Addition: Everyone has opinions, and it can be fun to discover what they are! Divide your classroom into two sides, then present your students with one of these fun “Would You Rather” questions and have them move to their preferred side. Which option appears to be the most popular? If you want to spice things up, you can give one student from each side the opportunity to persuade others to join their group. Can they convince any of their fellow students to change their mind?
- Classroom Jobs: Does your classroom have plants that need to be watered? Do you have a class pet who needs its cage cleaned? Create small chores within your classroom and then work with students to create a schedule of who should do what and when. Allow them to negotiate what their chores will be and help them create a timetable. In doing so, you’ll be giving them the opportunity to learn responsibility and make the classroom their own!
- Encouragement Cards: Sometimes all one needs is a little encouragement. Give each student a paper lunch bag and have them decorate it so that it’s personalized with their name. Set all their bags to the side of the classroom, then add a stack of notecards and pens nearby. For the next month (or maybe longer) give your students the opportunity to write encouraging notes to their classmates and place them in their bags. Not only will this help inspire your students, but it will also help foster trust between them as a class (also, be sure to monitor the notes to ensure every student gets one).
- Helium Stick: Helium Stick is fun but surprisingly challenging, which makes it a great team building exercise for teens and young adults. In this game, students must work together to lower a hula hoop or wooden rod using only their index finger (no pulling)! Each student places an index finger beneath the object, which is placed at shoulder height. Instinct will compel them to lift the object until it’s raised almost above their head. The only way to lower it successfully will be to communicate and collaborate with their fellow classmates. You can watch the game in action with this link.
Making the Connection
Don’t simply tell your students about the power of teamwork and communication – show them! For many students, these first few days of class can set their trajectory for the rest of the year. Help them find the courage to meet new people and the confidence to share their voice in class. After all, learning is better when we’re all doing it together! If you like these activities, be sure to check out the four free inquiry-based lessons in Timely Topics – Classroom Community.