We all want classrooms buzzing with anticipation, cooperation, and excitement, but for that to happen we have to understand the importance of classroom community.
A community isn’t built by simply shoving people together in a room; rather it’s birthed from intentional effort. So I’m going to share the best strategies to build community in the classroom with 8 community-building activities.
Community-Building Activities For the Beginning of the Year
As teachers, we need to focus intently on these strategies to build community in the classroom from day one. This is the key to creating a thriving classroom community.
Create Classroom Rules & Consequences as a Group
On the very first day of school, establishing “the rules” is essential. For the most part, the school has specific rules in place for safety, but in your classroom the students need to know what rules are in place.
So open up a discussion about the rules your kids are familiar with and whether or not they think those are relevant. Start a list on the whiteboard or on a sheet of chart paper that will serve as a “parking lot” for all ideas.
Once you have everything listed, create 3-5 general rules by combining the similar topics together and then designate a location for the rules to stay throughout the school year. After the rules have been created, establish consequences for failing to adhere to them. This is where the importance of classroom community becomes very real.
Some students will want very harsh penalties while others will want NO penalties. Obviously, you have to find a happy medium. So give your students opportunities to share their reasoning for the consequences they are endorsing.
Then create a list and decide on the final consequences as a group.
Complete a Classroom Contract
This is the perfect complement to creating classroom rules. A classroom contract is a statement of agreement that everyone in the class signs.
I first became acquainted with this idea several years ago when reading the book “The Juice Box Bully” to my third grade students. At the end of the story, there was a classroom contract that I rewrote on chart paper and had everyone in the class sign.
It mentioned how we would ALL stand up for each other and support each other. It reminded us that bullying had no place in our classroom and that we were a family.
Honestly, I think discussing and signing our classroom contract solidified the importance of classroom community because each student in the classroom knew that the other students wanted the best for him/her. And that contract stayed posted all year long and whenever situations arose, we would refer back to that contract.
Establish Class Meetings
Class meetings make the importance of classroom community tangible. These meetings are the place where students can be vulnerable and honest about things. And although this may take some time to establish, you must be intentional about it.
From the beginning of the school year, you have to set expectations for what can be discussed during class meetings and proper behavior during the meetings.
Expectations During Class Meetings
- Students need to be active listeners and make eye contact with the speaker. (This is a sign of respect for the speaker, and it reflects the fact that he/she is being heard.)
- Each person should be given an opportunity to speak, but no one should be forced to speak.
- There is a time limit (at your discretion) for the amount of time that any one person can speak.
- If a child is having a problem with someone in the class, he/she can meet with you separately. (This will keep the meetings from being a place to talk badly about classmates.)
These meetings would ideally take place once a week, but can be used as often as necessary to reiterate the importance of classroom community.
Any time you are starting to develop relationships, it is important to get to know one another. And the best way to do that is by playing “get to know you” games.
A great one that is so much fun and super simple is the stand up/sit down game. To play, students will pull their chairs into a circle. You will then ask a variety of questions that students answer by standing up or sitting down.
Here are some fun topics to get you started:
- Foods – stand up if you like the food, stay seated if you don’t like it
- Places you’ve been – stand up if you have been to that place, stay seated if you haven’t been
- School subjects – stand up if you like the subject, sit down if you don’t
- Pets – stand up if you have that pet, sit down if you don’t
Playing this game gives students information about their classmates, helps them see how they are alike and different, and helps them develop respect for each other’s differences.
Classroom-Building Activities for the Entire School Year
Once you have established a community within your classroom, it is essential to continue implementing community-building activities throughout the school year. This will reiterate the importance of classroom community.
Teach & Encourage the Use of Peer Hand Signals
This is my absolute FAVORITE way to help my students understand the importance of classroom community.
When I was teaching 3rd grade, I taught my students some specific hand signals that they could use to communicate and encourage each other. The one my students loved to use to encourage each other was called “Keep going.”
To use this hand signal, students create fists and then rotate their hands fist over fist. (I like to think of it as the “roll ‘em up, roll ’em up” portion of pat-a-cake.) This hand signal was used all the time between students as an encouraging gesture.
The struggling student became empowered to discover the answer as soon as he/she saw someone (and eventually the whole class) encouraging them to “Keep going.”
Our other two favorite hand signals were the “agree” and “disagree” signals. In my class, I encouraged lots of discussion and these signals helped students understand that it was completely acceptable to respectfully disagree with others.
Design Lessons that Require Interaction
One of the best strategies to build community in the classroom is designing lessons that require your students to interact. This is where your students will learn the importance of teamwork, have opportunities to support one another, and discover their strengths.
Incorporating centers, stations, small groups, or partner activities into your lessons is the ideal way to create a thriving classroom community.
Keep in mind, some of the students you’ll teach have no idea how to disagree with others in a non-confrontational way. They have only experienced disagreements accompanied by shouting, anger, and/or frustration.
Therefore, teaching your students how to respectfully disagree with one another will create a safe classroom community that welcomes differing opinions. That’s why this interaction is so critical. It gives students the opportunity to agree and disagree in a positive environment.
Implement a Shout Out Board
Creating a shout out board in your classroom will be one of the easiest ways to show your kids the importance of classroom community.
A shout out board is simply a bulletin board or designated area in your classroom where teachers and students alike can post encouraging words about a particular action that a classmate did. These notes include the name of the student who was doing something positive as well as what he/she was doing.
For example, Johnny’s pencil box falls off his desk and crayons fly everywhere. Without being asked, Mary simply jumps in to help a friend. Johnny greatly appreciates her kindness and wants to acknowledge Mary. So, he writes a note of thanks and posts it on the shout out wall.
That simple act of kindness is reciprocated with a note of appreciation that will not soon be forgotten.
Adding a shout out board will continually showcase the importance of classroom community. It will be a valued space in your classroom where students feel loved and acknowledged for reaching goals, being a good friend, showing character, or having good behavior.
And while it’s important for you to “brag” on them, kids will develop an unprecedented level of confidence when their peers notice and acknowledge the good things they do.
Set goals together and celebrate when goals are achieved!
Setting individual goals is important, but establishing and accomplishing class goals will create an atmosphere of classroom community that cannot be broken. Working together to achieve a common end will encourage students to become vested in each other’s hard work and subsequent success.
This allows students to see a big picture for themselves within the context of the group and how each individual success equals success for everyone!
Implementing strategies to build community in the classroom will be time well spent. Making sure that your students understand the importance of classroom community will translate into better behavior by all students as well as an increase in attention, focus, and confidence.