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Part 4: Creating a Classroom Community: Help Students Get to Know Each Other

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One of the most common misconceptions that 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 However, students do grow, mature, and change, and often their classmates’ outdated perceptions of them are no longer valid.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 that you want for your students, it is necessary to help them learn to relate to each other in positive and school-appropriate ways. The relationships that will exist among the different students in your class will be dependent on how well they know each other and how they can use that knowledge to treat each other with mutual courtesy and respect. In the list below, you will find 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 your 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 they can do well and one thing that they 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. This group will watch out for each other all year. When you review, this is the group that will work together. They should exchange phone numbers so that absent students know who to call to get missing notes and assignments. The possible tasks that study teams can perform in your class 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 ten things they all 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, future goals, problems, successful attitudes, or whatever traits you want to focus on at the moment.

Have your 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 that you and your students follow to celebrate each one.

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 copies for all students. 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.

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Julia Thompson received her BA in English from Virginia Tech and spent the next forty years teaching in Arizona, North Carolina, and Virginia. Recently retired as a classroom teacher, Thompson works for the Bureau of Education and Research conducting seminars geared to help teachers support difficult and challenging students. She is also a contributor/blogger for the American Federation of Teacher's site, ShareMyLesson.com.

Author of several books for teachers, Thompson's most recent book, the fourth edition of The First-Year Teacher's Survival Guide, was published on Teacher Appreciation Day, May 8, 2018, a fitting date for a teacher who spent a lifetime learning from her colleagues both near and far.

Thompson offers advice for teachers on Twitter (@TeacherAdvice), on her blog (www.juliagthompson.blogspot.com) and on her web site (www.juliagthompson.com).

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Guest Saturday, 23 February 2019