I love the way the classroom looks when it’s all set up and ready for the kids to arrive on the first day of a new school year. You get a fresh start every August/September and a new bunch of students to grow and learn with. When you have that new group in front of you, you get to build a new classroom community. In fact, it is one of the most important parts of those first few weeks back to school, as a strong sense of community helps create a more effective classroom environment.
Every year those communities look a little bit different, but they are all based on the same core values of kindness, respect, and teamwork. Here are a few ideas for activities you can do to start building your classroom community this year!
6 Community-Building Activities for the First Days of School
Building relationships with your students is one of the primary goals of the first weeks of school and it can go a long way toward fostering an effective classroom community.
However, it is also important to help students build connections with their peers. These activities are designed to help you get to know your students while they get to know one another.
Help students find what they have in common with a variation on “Find someone who”.
We've all seen the “Find someone who” activities. In fact, I am pretty sure that I've done one most years during the first week of school. They are a great way to get students up, moving, and talking to one another.
This variation adds a slight twist on the typical “Find someone who” activity. Instead of discovering who went on a family vacation or who learned something new this summer, this version focuses on having students discover what they have in common with their peers. This small change is designed to build your classroom community by allowing students to see their similarities instead of their differences.
For this activity, students will take time to walk around the classroom and talk to their new classmates about their preferences, favorite things, and more. As they find students they have something in common with, they'll record the name of the person in the box.
The activity should take about 20-30 minutes, and you can get a free copy by entering your info.
Summer vacation writing has gotten a bad rap lately because it isn't always inclusive of students who may not have had the ideal summer break. However, it can be hard to contain the chatter about summer vacations on those early days in the classroom.
Giving students a chance to reconnect and share their summer adventures can help them find commonalities and foster great conversations as students get to know one another.
For example, this fun Scoop About My Summer project offers students a productive way to share about their summer during a morning meeting or writing time, and it makes a great visual in the classroom.
I always tell my students that they have the choice to share something that really happened to them or to make up something. This gives those students who may have had some unexpected challenges in the summer an easy out, and the students love reading the made-up stories as much as they love the real ones!
Ward off tattling by implementing tootling or Classroom Shout Outs
This is a twist on every teacher’s favorite thing…tattling! This is a way to get kids looking for positive reasons to tell the teacher instead of negative! When students tootle, they tell the teacher something positive that a peer did in the classroom! There are lots of ways you can implement this in your classroom!
For younger students, it can just be done orally. It can be done during your classroom meeting. For older students, you can have a bulletin board and tootles can be written on post-its.
The teacher can have a tootling mailbox and the students write them during free time and the teacher can read them aloud.
You can keep this going all year long to help students recognize and root for one another.
Play “Would you rather…?”
This one is a great way to let your students get up and move those first days of school. Plus, it gives them the freedom to be a little silly.
Ask them questions like the ones below, and watch them start chatting and connecting:
- Would you rather have PE or extra recess?
- Would you rather eat cake or ice cream?
- Would you rather read a book or write a story?
- Would you rather play tag or hide-and-seek?
- Would you rather eat ketchup ice cream or pineapple pizza?
You can go as simple or as crazy as you'd like with your questions. It can even be fun to let the students write their own questions. Just be sure to preview them to make sure they are appropriate.
Find a classroom cause that you can get behind.
Finding ways to connect your classroom to the larger community is a great way to help create good citizens for the future. It can also be a great way to connect your students with the concept of service-learning. Not only that, it supports the idea that your classroom is a team that is working together to make good things happen.
You'll want to do this after you've had a few days to get to know your students. Then you can use a class meeting time to decide on a charity or cause that is important to them. It could be something local, like a food pantry or animal shelter or is can be a national organization or maybe something in support of the troops!
You might even split this into a few days, giving students a chance to identify charities that are important to them and learning more about them. Most community organizations, like your Humane Society, will have websites that can help your students learn more about their cause.
Once you've decided, have the students write letters to their parents and explain the charity and why it was chosen.
Throughout the year you can incorporate different activities to support your selected group or charity. Think bigger than just fund-raising. Students can collect items, create care packages, write letters, or make videos!
For the holidays, families can be encouraged to donate to the classroom charity instead of purchasing teacher gifts. The students will be working together as a classroom community to improve the communities that they live in!
Start talking about character traits.
Instead of starting the year by teaching the classroom rules, try teaching positive character traits instead. It instills good qualities in the students and sets the community tone for the year.
For younger students, you can focus on being safe, respectful, responsible and kind. For older students, you can extend it to being responsible, caring, respectful, citizenship, trustworthy, fairness and perseverance.
Rules, while important, tend to send the tone as negative with a lot of “do nots.” Character traits guide the students to be intrinsically motivated.
Students should also be proud of the character traits they display throughout the day. One idea is to assign a color to each character trait and to have corresponding popsicle sticks.
When a student displays a positive trait, then they can get a popsicle stick to keep at their desk (or an assigned area.) At the end of the day, the students can meet as a group and share what color sticks they got today and why.
Students can encourage each other and share in the accomplishments of their peers. Additionally, students can color their assignment books to indicate the colors that they received so that they can share it with their parents.
Time spent building your classroom community will pay in dividends.
Setting up a classroom community is one of the most important parts of a new school year. While it is fun, it can be challenging! These strategies make for good team building and foster positive interactions and behaviors from the kids!