Building a Classroom Community

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The 2019-20 school year officially started on Wednesday.  We’ve only been in school for three days, but it seems like a full week and then some.  Teachers had institute and professional development on Monday and Tuesday.  The first few days of school tend to be full of community building, learning new routines and organization. Everyone is nicely asked to be patient as new routines are established – such as going to lunch, specials, arrival and dismissal. Teachers also talk about the different procedures involved in all the weather and emergency related drills.  Most classrooms have and are continuing to build community and rapport in their classrooms.  They create expectations together and come to a common understanding of what they look and sound like.  This year teachers are asked to conduct morning meetings with their classes.  The idea sounds interesting and is one way in which to help reinforce the community aspect of a classroom while addressing social/emotional learning standards. This is a first in my district so the verdict is still out on how it’ll be received, but I’m optimistic and I think there’s potential in starting the day off with this structure.

I often loop with my students for multiple grades so I tend to stay away from using the whole-class community builders year after year.  In my mind it keeps our activities fresh, although there have been time where I use similar projects, but in those cases the final products are different.  I’ll be highlighting two activities that I used this week in this posts.  Both activities are designed for teachers and students to get to know each other better.  Both were found on Sarah’s fantastic blog post.

How well do you know _____?

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Hints aren’t given and students are asked to fill in every blank – even if they don’t have an answer.  I give the students around 5-10 minutes to come up with a solution.  Sometimes students will work in groups. The class then reviews the answers as I display the sheet under the document camera.  The students’ answers are telling and a few downright made me laugh. Those shared experience can be brought out as the school year progresses.  The template can be found here.

Getting to know you quiz

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After I collect the responses from the first activity I move on to this one.  I tell the students that it’s now their turn.  They’re asked to create a quiz that I’ll fill out, except this one is multiple choice.  I give them a few sample question ideas and they’re off to the races.  Some students even use the “none of the above” or “all of the above” for a letter.  Students have around 15 minutes to complete this and it gets turned in.  Here’s an example from two years ago.   I answer the questions that evening and return the sheets the next day.  Students get a “teacher marker” and grade my work.  From a teacher’s perspective, I’m hoping I get at least one right on each page.  Sometimes I get more and sometimes less.  I’ve had my share of humble pie in these instances, but it’s worth it.  I might even ask a sibling to even the odds : ) .  Anyway, students get a kick out of “grading” the work and then the class discusses how we’re all learning and getting to know each other.  This will help our community grow and how we react to perceived mistakes is important.   Feel free to use this doc to make it your own.

I’m hoping that these activities are a good start to helping build a worthwhile community of learners.  Being able to reference the student responses throughout the year is another shared experience that benefits all involved.  I’m looking forward to next week as we dive into more content, but I’m also keeping in mind that community is key.


First Day Plans

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Welcome Back!

Students started their first day of the 2016-17 school year this past Thursday.  The school busses rolled up to the school curb around 8:15 and dropped off their students.  Excited and anxious students came off the bus and directed themselves towards their teacher’s line. Teachers stood with clipboards ready to meet students and match a name with a face.  Some students knew exactly where to find their line while others were confused because this was a brand new experience for them. Teachers came to the aid of those students that needed help to redirect them to the correct teacher line.  High-fives and hugs were prevalent as teachers and students started the year off by making meaningful connections.

There’s nothing quite like the first day of school for students and teachers alike.  There’s a sense of optimism and a fresh slate.  This is part of the uniqueness of being a teacher.  My first day plans seem to change every year.  The changes are small, but I’m always looking for ways to optimize that first day to start off the year on the right foot.  The emphasis is always on building a classroom community.  This emphasis continues throughout the school year, but is much more prevalent during the first week of school.  As students entered my class they saw the slide below.

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Students generally find their own seat.  This year I had students use a sort to get to know each other and what they did this summer.

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I gave students around three minutes to find matches.  Afterwards the class discussed anything that surprised them.  I had a few volunteers add to the discussion.  I introduced myself to the students.  The majority of them know about me as they see me in the hallway of the school or they’ve had me in another class.  I intentionally spent some time to describe my family and hobbies.

After about 10 minutes the class moved on to the next activity.  I borrowed Sara’s 100 task activity. Feel free to check out the link for exact directions and make sure to follow her @saravdwerf. Basically, students are placed in groups and asked to find 100 numbers in sequential order.  Students are given three minutes for the first trial.

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Teams have to work together to find the numbers.  After the first trial most groups found between 10-20 numbers.  I asked the groups to discuss strategies and gave them a second trial.  During the second trial students identified 30-40 numbers.  After the second trial students were given more time to discuss strategies needed to accomplish the task.  I then divided the board into quadrants.  I didn’t give students any more specifics and let them discuss strategies.  The majority of the groups were able to find all 100 numbers during the third trial.  During that time I took pictures of the groups and then the class created an anchor chart on what quality collaboration looks/sounds like.  The chart is not complete as the class will add more details next week.

Afterwards, students started to fill out their ‘about me’ puzzle piece.  On each piece students wrote specific information about themselves.  Eventually the pieces will be posted in the classroom.

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Students didn’t finish their puzzle piece but that’s fine.  They’ll continue working on that during day two.  We didn’t even open up our math journal for the first day and that’s also fine. Building a classroom community is important and that’s our focus for that first day.  These relationships will be foundational for this school year.  Next week the class will be discussing how to have a growth mindset and we’ll be starting Number Talks.  I’m looking forward to the adventure!

Creating Classroom Rules for Multiple Classes


Every school year I give students an opportunity to help create our classroom expectations/rules.  Many teachers use this same strategy. I feel like having students as part of this process is important and often encourages additional ownership since their input is being valued.  The expectations that are created are referenced through the school year.

This year I went with a different strategy for creating our classroom expectations.   After exchanging a few Tweets with William, I was inspired to create one set of expectations for all of my classes.  Keep in mind I teach multiple classes with different students.

To start, I gave each student a Post-it note.  Students were then asked to create two or more rules/expectations that they felt were necessary.  Some students had a huge list while others barely came up with two.  I used this strategy for all of my classes on Tuesday.  All of the responses were collected and compiled.

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This is about 1/4 of the total amount

During that evening I put together all the suggestions in a Google Doc.  I had to combine some of the responses because they were so similar. (click image to enlarge)

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Student ideas

All of the classes voted and came to a consensus.  In the end I tallied up the votes and the class expectations were shown to the students the very next day.  I displayed a graph and the class discussed the importance of the top five expectations. This was also an opportunity to discuss why expectations are needed in schools.

Reviewing student responses

After a classroom discussion, the top five expectations were chosen.  Students then placed their signatures around the expectations list.

Post-It NotesThe class then created anchor charts that gave clear examples of the different expectations.  I’m planning on keeping the charts up throughout the year and reference them as needed.

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This strategy seemed to work well.  I’m going to put it in my toolbox for future use.  How do you create expectations in the classroom?

Using Skype to Learn about School Communities

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Throughout this school year my class has been focusing in on the topic of community. The class has engaged in learning activities related to building a positive classroom community of learners.  We’ve co-created anchor charts and thoroughly discussed what our learning community looks like.  While searching for new ideas, I came across a unique idea … a classroom was going to have a Skype session with many different schools across the world about the topic of community.  I decided to sign up for this activity a few weeks ago.

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Before the Skype, guiding questions were developed by the host.

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I confirmed my class’s participating with Katy and my students were split into three groups. One group became the welcoming party.  Students created signs and communicated the school’s demographic and geographical data.   The second group was designated as the research group.  This collection of students researched information about the local and school community.  In doing so, the students also were reminded of how much of an emphasis we put on creating a positive learning community in the classroom.  This group put together a small presentation for the 5A class (Katy’s class).  The third group, the questioning group (still looking for a better name for this group), was directed to create at least 10 questions that the 5A school would answer.  This group was also expected to answer the questions that were asked from the other school.

Today my class had a chance to Skype with Katy’s class from New York City. Katy’s tireless fifth grade class engaged in approximately 15 different Skype sessions in one day – that’s some perseverance.

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The Skype session involved both schools discussing the topic of community.  My class learned about 5A’s class community and they learned about ours.  The total session lasted around 25 minutes.  Afterwards, the class reviewed and compared the two communities.  My class was especially intrigued that 5A had recess on the roof!

This  method of comparing communities through Skype seemed to enhance the learning experience.  Soon after the Skype session ended, my students wanted to research other communities around the world.  This may be a kick-off to #geniushour projects in the fall.

What do you think?  Have you tried Skyping with another class to learn about community?

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