One of the most common misconceptions many teachers can have about their classes is that their students already know each other well. This mistake is understandable. Some students may be acquainted, especially if they have been in the same classrooms in previous grades or if they live in the same neighborhoods. However, students do grow, mature and change, and often their classmates’ outdated perceptions of them are no longer valid.
To build the classroom community you want for your students, you need to help them learn to relate to one another other in positive and school-appropriate ways. The relationships among the different students in your class will depend on how well they know each other and how they can use that knowledge to treat each other with mutual courtesy and respect. Here are several quick activities to help your students learn more about each other and eventually develop the positive working relationships that are a cornerstone of a classroom community:
- Have students group themselves according to commonalities such as eye color; birthday months; hobbies; skills; and favorite foods, music, or sports teams.
- Have students work with a partner, telling that person one thing that the student can do well and one thing that the student would like to learn how to do.
- Hand students half sheets of paper and ask them to write three interesting things about themselves without stating their name or obvious characteristics
- Have students ball up the sheets before dropping them into a large container. Shake the container to scramble the balled-up sheets. Distribute them randomly to each student. Give students three minutes to try to match their classmates with the information.
- Put students in pairs. Give each pair a blank Venn diagram; have them chart how they are alike and different. After the initial pairs have completed the diagram, each pair should then join another pair and create another Venn diagram that shows how the pairs are alike and different.
- After you know your students fairly well, assign each one to a permanent study team. Team members will watch out for each other all year. When you review, this is the group that will work together. Students should exchange phone numbers so that absent students can call a team member to get missing notes and assignments. The possible tasks that study teams can perform are limited only by what you choose for them to do based on their maturity and ability.
- Have your students bring in pictures that indicate things that are of value to them. Combine these into a giant collage that shows how your students can be different yet still part of the whole.
- Make it a point to focus on your students’ strengths by asking them to reveal what they do well. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the skills your students already possess.
- Place a large map on the board and mark each student’s birthplace on it.
- Put your students into pairs to determine 10 things they have in common. You can make many activities from this simple activity depending on the ability level of your students. Go beyond the obvious to deal with the mental traits they share, past experiences, goals, problems, successful attitudes, or whatever traits you want to focus on at the moment.
- Have students interview each other and then write descriptive paragraphs about each other. You can post these paragraphs on your class Web page or photocopy it into a booklet. This will be the most intently read document that you will present all year.
- Post a large calendar and have students record their birthdays on it. Establish a simple ritual to celebrate each student’s birthday.
- Create a blank bingo grid and make copies for all of your students. In addition, print out a list of your students’ names and make a copy for each student. Ask students to fill in the grids with each other’s names in random order. Play several rounds of bingo, choosing names randomly, until your students know each other’s names. A variation on this game is to place student interests, hobbies, talents or other positive student characteristics in the grids.
Julia G. Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg. She has been a teacher in the public schools of Virginia, Arizona, and North Carolina for more than thirty-five years.