Getting back to school is an adjustment. This year, it might be even tougher to get back into the swing of school. AND, kids will need a lot of support as we transition back into a “normal” school year. Creating a positive classroom community is more important than ever! Here are a few tried and true community building activities that you can try with your class!
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Why is creating a positive classroom community important?
First, let’s talk about WHY this is important! In my opinion, a strong classroom community is your best classroom management tool. Students who feel comfortable, accepted, and respected are far more likely to participate and engage in your classroom. It’s an opportunity to help students connect with each other and with you. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that students are much more willing to work hard when they feel like a part of something bigger, and as a group we can create that safe and welcoming environment with some fun activities.
Each year, we make a chart together during the first few days of school. We have a group discussion about what it means to be a 5th grader. (In our district, 5th grade is the last grade before middle school, so they are the top of the heap!) They usually mention their new responsibilities and roles in the school.
This chart eventually become our 5th Grade Pledge. After we make sure everyone can agree to the items on the pledge, the whole class signs it – using special markers, obviously! It’s a great way to get the year started. You can get more details about it (and grab a freebie!) here.
There’s something about sharing books and reading aloud that just helps bring the community together. I find a mix of fun and silly books, and more inspirational books to be the key to a successful week of read alouds! Here are some of my favorites:
First Day Jitters is my go-to book on the first day. The main character is new to her school and doesn’t really want to go. I think kids can really relate to the story and there is a perfect twist at the end!
I love this sweet story by Jacqueline Woodson. It’s a great way to help your class feel connected and know that everyone feels different sometimes.
This is a fun book about two kids who are TRYING not to be late to school, but amazing adventures happen every morning! I love it to talk about using your imagination.
Get to Know You Survey
This survey is on my students’ desks when they first arrive on the first day. I always want a low/no pressure activity to get them started. This survey is perfect for even the shyest students because they don’t have to talk to anyone AND they get to share about themselves with you.
I intentionally used questions that don’t assume that kids had a great summer or went on a fancy trip. These questions are more about them as an individual – what are they looking forward to, what do they want to learn, what do they love learning about? On the first day of school I put the survey and a new pencil on each desk so they can get started right away. You can check this resource out here.
I started doing this activity a LONG time ago and it is always a hit with my 5th graders. Puzzle races build community by giving students an opportunity to work on something fun together. When we do this, we always spend time working (about 20 minutes) and then we talk about what’s working and what’s not. How is the group working together? Do you have any strategies?
Having this chat gives every group a chance at improving their team work. And once everyone has had an opportunity to work well together, we make a chart about what it takes to work as a team.
One more note about puzzle races: make sure each team has the same puzzle! They don’t think it’s fair if they have different ones, even if they are the same number of pieces. The puzzles I use came from the Target dollar spot and they are 100 piece puzzles.
Student Reflection and Feedback
At the end of the first day or week, gathering some feedback from students is a great way to show them that you are listening and that you care about their thoughts and opinions. This simple graphic organizer is a quick and easy way for your students to reflect and share their feedback. Students share 3 things that went well, 2 questions they still have, and 1 thing they are excited about. You can grab it for free right here! (There’s even an option to assign this in Google slides.)
I have gotten some very sweet comments over the years when doing this activity – and I especially love it when they say they are excited to be in 5th grade, or that they are excited to come back to school the next day! I also love using the questions as a part of our Morning Meeting.
Ok, I KNOW I said 5 ideas – but this one is really great for the first week of school and gives your students a chance to participate in creating the kind of classroom community that will let everyone flourish. If you haven’t read the book Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden by Edith Pattou, you need to do it soon! This story is all about Mrs. Spitzer and her garden of students – the metaphor is spot on and it opens up the chance to talk about what students need to grow and succeed.
We read the book together and then I asked them, “What do YOU need from your teacher?” (We got out the BIG sticky notes for this one.) Each student wrote what they needed on their sticky and placed it on the chart. (Looking back, I might not even have them put the stickies up for everyone to possibly read – I might just have them hand it to me and I’ll read it.) Either way, you can get a glimpse of what your students already know they need to be successful and it helps your students to know that you value what they have to say.
Wrap It Up
Creating a positive classroom community is the first step to having a successful year in school! When your students feel accepted, respected, and valued, your classroom management will become a breeze and your students will be able to learn and grow. Don’t forget to grab your reflection freebie here, pick up some awesome read alouds to start the year, grab your back to school survey here, and learn more about creating a classroom pledge here.
Do you have a tried and true method to creating a positive classroom community? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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Have a great back to school season!