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back to school

5 Helpful Activities for Creating a Positive Classroom Community

August 6, 2021

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.

Class Pledge

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.

An anchor chart titled "What does it mean to be a 5th grader?" Student generated ideas are listed below the title. One idea for creating positive classroom community.

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.

An anchor chart titles "As 5th graders, we pledge to:" Student expectations are listed below.

Read Aloud

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:

Cover of the book "First Day Jitters"

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!

Cover of the book "The Day You Begin"

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.

Cover of the book "The Secret Shortcut"

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.

Picture of a back to school survey used for creating a positive classroom community.

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.

Puzzle Races

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.

An anchor chart titled "When We Work As a Team We Will" used for creating a positive classroom community.

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.)

Photo of a back to school reflection activity that promotes creating a positive classroom community.

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.

BONUS Idea!

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.

Photo of the book "Mrs. Spitzer's Garden" and an anchor chart in the background titled "What do YOU need from your teacher"

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!

How to Use Sentence Sorts to Improve Writing Skills

July 29, 2021
How to use sorting activities to improve student writing skills.

If you’re like me, you sometimes dread the beginning of the school year, and not for the usual reasons. Yes, it sucks when we can’t use the bathroom whenever we want and I hate drinking cold coffee, but the beginning of the year brings other challenges too. Like figuring out what skills students have and what skills they still need to work on – especially in writing.

It seems like every year the students’ abilities cover a huge range, and it’s a mystery that needs to be solved to determine what skills to work on, where to start, who might need extra support, who needs more of a challenge AND THEN figure out HOW to actually fit it all in. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to make it engaging so the information sticks, right? Well, I’m not here to tell you that I have all the answers – but I have solved one piece of the equation involving every teacher’s favorite topic – complete sentences!!!

In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills for your class! Then, make sure to grab the back to school ebook (for FREE) with this AND tons of other great ideas for getting back to school.

Why Use a Sort in Writing?

Identifying similarities and differences is an effective instructional strategy to help students develop conceptual understanding of ideas and topics. Writing is no different! When students can see the differences between complete sentences compared to fragments and run-ons, they start to develop a sense of what works in their own writing, and what doesn’t. They can more readily identify fragments and run-ons in their work, and know what needs to be done to create a complete sentence.

How To Use Sorts for Sentence Writing

ideas for how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

In this activity, your students will look at a set of cards. Each card will either have a complete sentence, a run-on sentence, or a sentence fragment on it.

As a team, and before any direct instruction, students discuss what they notice about each card and try to put them in groups based on their similarities.

A key component of this activity is letting students do the work of classifying by what they notice. In my classroom, I don’t give them any ideas until they have decided how THEY want to group the cards.

Once the cards are sorted into the groups students want AND they can explain why they made those groups, then you can teach them the names for each group of words found on the cards. This is an important step to connect their ideas to the “correct” terms. Each year, my students have ideas that make for great bridges to the actual terms. They notice that some of the cards are missing punctuation, some don’t have enough information, and some have way too much information. They also notice that some of the cards are just right. Even if they can’t put their fingers on WHY, they can definitely use their sorting and classifying skills to help them reason about why they go together in a category.

how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills free guide

Later in this post, you will find a link to the back to school ebook. In there, you will find this handy and FREE guide that explains how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills!

What Else Can I Do?

If you’re thinking, “OK, this sounds cool, but then what do I do?” don’t worry! I have you covered. In the Sentence Activities Bundle you will find all the materials for the sorting activities, as well as practice pages, sentence building cards and activities, quizzes, and more!

How to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills

These activities are all designed to help students improve their writing skills and practice what they have learned about complete sentences. The sort activities lay the foundation and help students gain the understanding they need to be successful with their writing. Everything else in the activities bundle is designed to help them put that understanding to use and for you to track their progress throughout the year.

Sentence Activities Bundle cover and link.

This bundle has everything you need to help your students write complete sentences like champs!

Ok, I’m in! What next?

Hooray! Your next step is super easy! All you have to do is download this AMAZING (and free) back to school ebook. In the ebook, you will find so many ideas for getting your school year off to the best start, including the Quick Guide to Sentence Sorts in Upper Elementary. That guide will give you everything you need to learn how to use sentence sorts to improve writing skills! Every page in this ebook has a free resource you can download and use right away! Click the picture below to grab your copy of the ebook!

Image of ebook cover that states Back to School Resource E Book and photos of each resource included.

And there you have it! If you are thinking about doing this in your classroom, I’d love to hear about how you use sentence sorts to improve writing skills. Leave me any questions or comments below and let’s help each other out for another school year!

Looking for More Ideas?

Check out even more great ideas for back to school here! So many teachers are sharing about their free resources and back to school tips.

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