I firmly believe that nothing is as powerful or serves better to foster strong bonds within a classroom as building a sense of community. This takes precedence for me over delving right into the textbooks.
I really hit Community Building experiences hard during the first week of school. I also incorporate community-building strategies into the curriculum when a new student joins the class later on. Community Building exercises can help make the ‘new kid’ feel welcome and the ‘old kids’ feel the strength to be found in a close-knit community.
Resources for Community Building are available through parent-teacher stores and teacher magazines. I would like to share a few of these with you that have proven successful in my classes.
ACTIVITY: Ice Breaker Introduction Game
To ‘break the ice,’ one such activity that I use is a “Name Game.” I will have the students form a circle. I hold a squish ball. I model first by saying my name, and one very exciting thing I did over the summer. When I have finished, I gently toss the ball underhand to a student for him/her to follow suit. We do this until every student has had an opportunity to share! Kids love this!
ACTIVITY: Round the Clock Buddies
Give each student a sheet with a 12-hour clock printed on it. Along the side of each number on the clock, place a line extending horizontally where a student’s name can be written. The assignment is to fill in at least one other student’s name per line.
Now here is how this works. Explain to the students:
“First, I take my sheet and go to another student. I ask if he or she would like to be my 1:00 buddy. If the answer is yes, then I write their name on my sheet – and they write my name on their sheet. We make sure that we spell each other’s names correctly!”
Tell the students how to continue the process. If, for example, someone’s 1:00 buddy line is already filled, they can ask about another time, e.g. “Well, if we cannot be buddies at 1:00, what about 3:00?”
Depending on the size of the class, for each of the 12 slots, students should write in one name for a class of 12. They will have two names for a class of 24, and 3 names for larger groups.
Future Activities: This “Round the Clock Buddy” exercise can also become the basis for many future activities. It is a great method to organize a “think-pair-share” or brainstorming activity. I then say to my students:
“Please make an appointment with your 2:00 buddy and I would like for you to discuss… (whatever it is you as the teacher want the class to discuss at that point).”
The children really seem to enjoy this exercise – and it gives you something to vary the normal routine.
ACTIVITY: Candy Bar Game — Tell Me About Yourself
This is one of my favorite Community Building activities. I usually do this on the first day of school.
You will need to purchase an assortment of candy bars and place them in a basket somewhere on the floor in the middle of the room. On the black/whiteboard, write the name of each of the candy bars. Each candy bar is to be associated with a question.
Write the questions. Conceal the questions until later. There are a number of ways to do this. They can be posted on the black/whiteboard and hidden by a piece of paper taped to the board. Alternatively, you can use tagboard or cardboard – write the name of the candy bar on one side and the question on the other side. You could also paste or tie the questions to the candy bars directly.
The children each go to the basket and pick out a favorite candy bar of their choice. Each child then in turn shares with an answer to the question associated with the candy bar.
Another variation is to make the candy bars a reward to be earned by answering the question. Here are some that I use:
- $100,000 Grand Bar – What would you do with 100,000 dollars? (in our class, in a movie or TV show, in your house, etc.)
- 3 Musketeers – Who are your favorite friends and why?
- Baby Ruth – What is your favorite memory?
- Butterfinger – Can you tell us about a regrettable mistake you made?
- M&M’s – What would you do with a million dollars?
- Nestle’s Crunch – Can you tell us about a difficulty (a crunch) that you have overcome?
- Skittles – What is pure enjoyment for you?
- Snickers – What is the funniest moment you remember?
- Starburst – Can you describe when you have had an “Ah ha!” moment?