Building a Classroom Community: Engage Students in Shared Activities

The need to feel a sense of belonging is intense for students of all grade levels. Not only is your role as a teacher important in helping students who are at risk for academic failure or dropping out, but the role of their classmates is also vital. A strong classroom community could be the deciding factor in life-altering decisions such as a student’s choice to stay in school or drop out and in smaller daily choices such as doing homework or persisting at a difficult learning task.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to build a positive classroom community is to offer students the opportunity to work together in a wide variety of shared tasks and experiences. Some shared activities are more time-consuming than others, but the resulting sense of belonging they instill in students makes the time expenditure worthwhile. These shared activities help students bond while they have fun, learn about each other, share instructional tasks, and work together for the benefit of others.

  • Adopt a class mascot, secret sign, or catchphrase. Celebrate class “insider jokes,” traditions or rituals.
  • Taking frequent photos will encourage students to see how they have progressed and grown throughout the school year. Display photographs of students doing various tasks such as maintaining the classroom library or managing a classroom recycling center as well as participating in field trips and other lively events.
  • Keep a scrapbook of major events and experiences throughout the year. The scrapbook does not have to be elaborate to be effective. Even photos clipped into a three-ring binder will show your students that they are important to you and to each other. Students can even contribute to or maintain the scrapbook themselves as part of an ongoing class project.
  • Set goals as a class and work together to reach them:
    • The entire class earns a certain grade on an assessment.
    • The class goes a certain number of days without any student being tardy.
    • The class earns a specified class average on an assessment.
    • The class strives for perfect homework completion.
  • Assign students to teams that help clean the room at the end of class. Stage competitions where students ball up papers to be recycled and toss them into the recycle bin. Keep score and encourage teams to challenge each other as they keep the room tidy.
  • Involve students in the daily tasks of the classroom. They can and should be responsible for a variety of tasks such as cleaning up, passing out papers, taking care of shared materials, running errands and tutoring classmates.
  • Encourage students to help each other in understanding their lessons as often as possible. Students who take the time to tutor or assist classmates not only learn the material better themselves, but they also form a bond with the students they are helping.
  • Have students contribute to the shared materials the school system does not provide; they can bring in tissues, pens, paper, and old magazines for everyone to use. The students will value this more than if you provide these items for them.
  • Have a class goal. Students might work to improve their behavior so they can go on a class outing or take a field trip, for example. The emphasis here should be on the things they can do as a group to improve their behavior.
  • Celebrate birthdays and silly events as well as every success you can think of.
  • Have students work together to help classmates make up missed work. Students should be the ones who remind each other of this so that you do not have to nag.

Help students feel connected to their classmates and valued for their class contributions by appealing to their altruistic natures. Service projects do not have to be time-consuming or distracting to be effective. Here are some easy was to begin:

  • Practice random acts of kindness.
  • Perform good deeds in the classroom.
  • Contribute food to an animal shelter.
  • Collect canned foods, toys and clothing for donation.

Service projects have been a staple of school life for decades, but the difference now is that the Internet makes it easier for students to reach out to others. Try the sites below to encourage your students to work together for the good of many.

  • Service-Learning (http://servicelearning.org) The Generator School Network site has extensive links to helpful information about service-learning, a list of topics for student to explore, and contact information for agencies that are involved in service projects.
  • Free Rice (www.Freerice.com) At this addictive game site, every correct answer contributes 10 grains of rice to the U.N. World Food Program.

Comments

gingeroguno_1722062's picture

Submitted by gingeroguno_1722062

Thank you for this concrete 'To-Do List' that can be implemented in just about every classroom. I am setting up an afterschool program for middle school students who will benefit greatly from the sense of community that we are trying to impart. I will definitely do more research on the author. GOOD STUFF!