By Teachers, For Teachers
How well do you know your students? How well do your students know each other? Effective teachers know that using teaching strategies to build a sense of community helps to create a stronger bond within the classroom, which is essentially the key to creating an optimal learning environment. Using teaching strategies to build relationships within the classroom means less behavioral issues, less likely that students will get excluded, and less of a chance students will be unkind to one another. The safer and more comfortable students feel, the better the chance that students will attend school every day, achieve their goals, and collaborate with others. One way of building positive relationships within the classroom is by using teaching strategies to get to know your students, and to have your students get to know one another.
Oftentimes, teachers have students partake in getting-to-know you activities in the beginning of the school year, but these types of activities fizzle out after the first two weeks. Sure, students got the chance to learn their peers’ names and a few things about them, but do they know their hobbies, interests, talents, or passions? Really getting to know someone can help solidify a bond that can go further than just the classroom.
Classroom games can be a fun and meaningful way for your students to learn to connect with one another, as well as for you to really get to know your students. Here are a few ideas to try in your classroom.
A good way for students to learn about their classmates’ interests and preferences is to play the game Mingle. To begin, have all students stand up and ask them a question. For example, you can ask, “What is your favorite ice cream flavor?” Then students would walk around the classroom and continually say their answer until they have found someone who has the same answer as they do. Once they find their partner, then they sit down together. This continues until everyone is sitting down. Next, students share their answers with the class. The game continues by the teacher asking different questions and the students finding new partners that share the same interest or preference as them.
Tip: At the end of each round you can assign someone to chart the student responses so at the end of the game you can go over what everyone learned about one another.
A fun and active way for your students to learn more about their peers is to play the game This or That. To play, have students sit along the edge of the carpet or gather wherever your meeting area is. Place a long piece of tape to separate two distinct sections of your space. Pose a question that can have two possible answers, possibly like “Do you like hotdogs or hamburgers?” or “Would you rather go to Hawaii or the Bahamas?” Then, students move to either section of the line to show which one they prefer. If you want, you can allow students to talk about their choice amongst the group for a few minutes before you ask another question.
Tip: Assign one student to tally the responses so students can create a chart after the game.
Throughout the school year, it’s a good idea to try and pair different students together to learn a little bit more about each other. Every few weeks, randomly pair students together to create a Venn diagram about their similarities and differences. Have students use the two overlapping circles to write down a few facts about themselves, then share them with their partner. When pairs have finished, ask students to share a few things that they had in common with their partners. This is a great way for students to continually learn about one another throughout the school year.
This popular game is a great way to help build a sense of community in your classroom because it’s fun, and children will have a great time playing it. To play, have students sit either at their desks or at your meeting place. Have students hold up either five fingers or five blank cards. Go around the classroom and have students say the phrase “Never have I ever …” then fill in the blank with their answer. For example, a student may say, “Never have I ever been to Italy.” Every student that has been to Italy would drop one finger or one card leaving them with four fingers or four cards left in play. The game continues with students making “Never have I ever” statements until the person with a finger or a card is left in the game.
Tip: This game can tend to get wild with students making unnecessary statements, so before the game be sure to set some ground rules on what is appropriate to say in the classroom and what is not.
Ultimately, building a sense of community that lasts stops happening after the first two weeks of school -- it takes some time and patience. You are the one who can help to create a loving and nurturing classroom environment where your students feel safe and comfortable to learn.
How do you build a sense of community in your classroom? Do you have any tips that you would like to share? Please leave your ideas in the comment section below, we would love to hear them.
Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.