From the moment students step through your door, you begin to build that sense of community together. It’s important to start working on core values immediately so that students know they are going to be apart of a class family that is safe, supportive, and welcoming. These are some of my favorite ways to build a strong community starting from day one!
#1: A Classroom Promise
Constructing a classroom promise is a great way to establish class norms, rules, and expectations. Starting from day one with students, set up your anchor chart as you get to know one another and learn about how your classroom runs. While we build our promise, I like to read different back to school books and discuss things we want to have in our classroom. As we read, we begin to chart things that we value, such as kindness, respect, and positivity. For example, when we read ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’, we discuss how it’s important to be kind to one another, how we all possess different skills, and that we will commit to having growth mindsets. We begin to document these ideas and themes as they come up in different discussions and read alouds.
Over the course of a few weeks, you will start to have a solid list of ideas and values that are important to your class. You can also guide the discussion to things that are important like making good choices, being kind, etc. Once you all have your values, you can start to craft your classroom promise. I do this on a piece of anchor chart paper. It may take a few times to get it right. When you have your draft, share it with students and make sure they agree and get a chance to share if they want to add anything else. Once everyone is happy with it, have everyone sign it, including you. This goes on display for the remainder of the year and in our classroom, I have a student lead the promise each morning as we read it together. Sometimes on days the students are struggling to listen or collaborate with one another, we discuss a value we want to focus on for the day. Take a look at some examples below.
This promise is a living document that is often referred to and becomes part of our classroom culture.
#2: Team Building
Below are just a FEW of my favorite team building activities to help build a strong sense of community in your classroom!
The Cup Stacking Challenge – Practice BEING a good teammate in groups of 4 or 5. Each group is given a stack of cups and a rubber band with 4 or 5 paper clips (based on the number of students in the group). They are NOT allowed to touch the cups or rubber bands, ONLY their paperclip, and they have to work as a group to stack the cups into a pyramid! Students love the challenge and although some get super frustrated, it’s a great way for them to practice great teamwork skills!
Would You Rather- Playing a few rounds of ‘Would You Rather’ is a fun way to get students up and moving, while getting to know each other better. Pose a scenario and have students run to a side of the room for a certain choice, or have them sit and stand up depending on their decision. It’s a quick, easy activity that can also get into some pretty hilarious discussions based on their choices.
Rock, Paper, Scissors Championship- Students pair off to play a game of rock, paper, scissors. When they lose, they become a cheerleader to the person they lost to. The winner will then find another opponent. By the end, there should only be two players left, but they each have a TON of cheerleaders! It’s such a fun way to cheer each other on and have fun with a little competition!
The Hula Hoop Challenge- Students are split into teams holding hands in a circle. Place a hula-hoop on one student’s arm before they close their circle and the challenge is to get the hula-hoop all the way around their circle without letting go of each other’s hands. The team to do it the fastest wins! If anyone lets go, then we will start over.
Find a Friend- This is a great activity to incorporate movement and help students get to know one another! It’s a great way for students to connect by getting to know each other better while also getting some wiggles out! Have them walk around the classroom or take them outside. Either way, it’s a great community building activity that they absolutely love.
Lily Pads Game- Students are split into 4 Groups of 6 (or the closest you can get to this with your class size). Each student in their group will get ONE piece of paper so that each team will have 6 pieces of paper. As a group they will have to make it from one side of the carpet to the next by only stepping on their paper. Their entire team has to make it across the carpet to win. This activity always challenges students to determine how to work together to get everyone across the carpet!
If you love these, you’ll love the complete Team Building Pack complete with activity directions, materials, and slide displays! These are just some of the great community and team building activities found in the First Week of School Bundle! Check it out HERE!!
#3: Make Kindness the Norm
Kindness is a HUGE part of a positive classroom community. This often becomes the fallback when students are struggling or need reminders. There are SO many great ways to help make kindness the norm.
Create a Kindness Chain– This is a simple and effective way to help spread kindness amongst students. Create your strips of paper that students can easily access. When they “catch” someone being kind, have them write it on the paper and add it to the chain. This can be done over a short period of time or over the entire school year. Watch the chain grow and grow as they continue to spread kindness to one another.
Kindness is Cooler– This is one of my favorite activities at the beginning of the year that students love too. Start by reading the book Kindness is Cooler Mrs. Ruler and then give the students the same assignment that Mrs. Ruler gives out! It’s a fun way to engage students in kindness activities at home. Each student gets 5 hearts on Friday afternoon and as they bring them back in, have them share their acts of kindness and create an anchor chart. They LOVE showing off and it spreads more kindness!
Being a Good Friend Activities– A simple yet powerful way to show students exactly how important being a good friend is. Explicitly teach them how with examples and nonexamples, have them discuss what a good friend is to them, and learn how to communicate with peers effectively. THESE hands-on activities are all fun ways to keep kindness at the forefront of our friendships.
#4: Be A Bucket Filler
Have you used this metaphor before? It’s powerful in helping students understand why our ‘buckets’ matter, how to fill them, and what happens when they get emptied too much. Bucket fillers HELP the community while bucket dippers harm the community. It’s an effective way to show students the power of kindness and how our choices affect others. Check out these great activities to help students become bucket fillers!
#5: Conduct Connection Circles
Conducting connection circles or class meetings from day one is a great way to begin to build that safe space for students and let them know that their voice is a valuable part of the classroom. Learn more about building in that time during your schedule HERE. Connection Circles are an amazing way to….you guessed it- CONNECT! This is a part of our morning meeting and we have one at the beginning of each day. Once we’ve created our safe haven, we can all begin to truly connect with one another. It is a sacred time together that MUST happen everyday if you are committing to build the open, safe, and welcoming classroom community best for learning. By beginning your day with a group meeting, you’re setting the tone for your classroom that each morning we will come together to be heard.
This time gives students the opportunity to know that ALL of their voices are valued. It also sets the expectation for communication and collaboration. While I never force students to speak on a topic, I do prompt and hold space for students to speak up twice. We may discuss things such as favorite things, how we’re feeling, or would you rather scenarios to talk through some things. By having a consistent daily time, it gives students a structure and routine where they can interact respectfully.
#6: Work Towards a Common Goal
When students work towards a common goal, they gain a powerful sense of community and know they are part of a team. One way to do that is with classroom mystery rewards. It’s an engaging way to get students to work towards a goal, they get really motivated, and they learn the importance of working TOGETHER! You can grab this freebie below by subscribing.
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#7: Compliment One Another
Whether you do it during a connection circle, a daily or weekly shoutout, or an anchor chart activity, take time to compliment each other. It really helps fill buckets, allows students to feel valued and appreciated, and of course builds that sense of family. These are simple types of anchor charts that can be done throughout the week when students come in the classroom in the morning. They are easy, don’t take a lot of time, and have a really big impact on your community.
#8: Dedicate Time to Social and Emotional Learning
To have a strong classroom community, you have to have STRONG social emotional skills. This means carving out dedicated time in your day for students to explicitly practice these skills like – conflict resolution, effective communication, self regulation strategies, and more. Learn more about how to teach those topics HERE! If there isn’t a scheduled block for these skills to be taught, it is definitely crucial to incorporate it into your curriculum in any way you can. There are TONS of amazing social emotional books out there and the list just keeps growing and growing, so even if you’re just reading and discussing after read alouds, it can make all the difference. Helping your students build their emotional intelligence will not only help your classroom community, but it will help them for years to come.
#9: Use Literature
There are so many wonderful read alouds to learn about important classroom values with students. You can learn about some of my favorites HERE. I LOVE using literature to teach different skills and topics to students. There are so many wonderful books to help students relate to and understand big and heavy topics in a safe way.
Read alouds allows us to facilitate great conversations, discuss misconceptions, and open up for so many other companion activities to help practice skills. Usually, Google and social media platforms are some of my favorite ways to learn about and find new books. Take a look at this POST that includes some of my favorite SEL books and what great topics they cover! I would also definitely check out @diversereads as a start on the journey to finding books you’d love to use in your classroom to build an inclusive community.
#10: Shout Outs over Tattles
Tired of tattling? It’s definitely not ideal for a strong classroom community. Just like the “caught ya” kindness chain, have students recognize and “tattle” positives instead! It will help them focus on the good in each other and it’s such a nice way to use a little reverse psychology on the concept of ‘telling on each other’. Check out this easy to use bulletin board freebie below!
All this and more is part of the First Week of School Bundle! You’ll be OVER planned for the first week with TONS of activities that your students will love. The best part is it takes the stress off YOU so that you can also enjoy this momentous time that only happens once a year. Looking for more back to school tips and tricks?
Other Topics to Help with a Strong Classroom Community
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