Having a class of students that respect and look out for each another is not only helpful but can be crucial to success during the school year, and it rarely happens by chance. In order to build that strong classroom community I’ve found you need to be proactive from the very first hour of school. Luckily, it’s not difficult to do. In this article I’m going to share with you four little activities I’ve used every year to build a culture of respect in my classroom.
Bag Full of Me
At the end of the first day of school I always pass out a brown paper sack to every student in my class and tell them it is their first homework assignment. They usually start moaning about having homework the very first day of school until I tell them what to do with it. I ask them to go home, talk with their parents/guardians, and put 3 things in the bag that represent them. Then, they are to bring the bags back the next day, unlabeled, and place them in a row in the front of the classroom. Throughout the week I call students to the front of the room to pick a bag, empty it out, and let the class guess whose it is. Then, whoever’s bag it is comes up and tells the class about themselves using the items they brought. This is a fun way for students to get to know a little bit about each other.
This is a simple activity I usually do the first week of school. I pass out a sheet of paper to every student in my class (you can just use papers out of the recycle bin) and have them write “I can’t” on it. Then I have the class form a circle on the carpet holding their paper. I ask several kids to tell me something they can’t do. In 90% of the situations they come up with I explain to them that they actually could do it if they had some help, put their mind to it, etc. Then I tell the class that for the rest of the year they aren’t allowed to say “I can’t” in my classroom and we brainstorm other phrases they can say instead like, “I’ll try,” or “I need some help,” etc. Next, to make it memorable, I let my class tear up their piece of paper that says I can’t and on the count of three throw all of the pieces into the middle of the circle. Before they go back to their seats I tell them they need to pick up every single piece and throw it in the recycling bin, reminding them not to use the new forbidden words, “I can’t”!
Hershey's Kiss Activity
This activity is great to refer to when building classroom community. I start by counting exactly one Hershey’s Kiss for every student in my class and put them in a brown sack without showing my class what I’m doing. I bring all of my students to the carpet and have them guess what’s in the bag to build suspense. Eventually, I tell them its full of Hershey’s Kisses. Next, I take the bag and pass it to the student sitting next to me in the circle and say, “Take some and pass it on but don’t eat them yet.” They always will ask how many and I just tell them to take a few not giving a specific amount. As the bag gets passed around the circle you usually see a look of panic on students’ face who haven’t got a piece of chocolate yet and a look of puzzlement on the faces of students who already have several. The bag usually runs out about half way around the circle and I just sit there enjoying the awkward moment I’ve made for a few LONG seconds. I tell the class I don’t have any more Hershey’s Kisses and ask them what we should do. They usually problem solve together and the students who have several chocolates share with students who don’t have any until everybody has one. I say “usually” because one year some students refused to give up their chocolates (Man that was a tough year!). After everyone has a chocolate I let them eat it and I have a class discussion about how the class just worked together and helped each other out. I tell them that I want this to be a reminder all year long and I want them to stick up for each other and have each other’s backs when they see a classmate struggling.
Conflict Resolution Trading Cards
One more activity I do is ask my students to name different types of problems or conflicts they might run into at school or in the classroom. Next, we make a chart of different ways to solve conflicts that are positive and respectful. I then have my class make conflict resolution trading cards by drawing a picture to go with a strategy for dealing with conflict on the front and writing a definition of the strategy and sentence on the back. I have my students cut these out and keep them in their desks or glue a holder in their notebooks to refer to throughout the year. I also hang up larger versions of these on my wall for students to refer to when conflicts arise. This helps my students all use the same language and it makes solving problems a little easier throughout the year!
I hope your classroom community is the strongest it has ever been this year! Remember, it doesn’t happen by chance!