Since many of you may just now be coming back together with your students in person due to hybrid or virtual teaching models, I thought I’d revise this post I wrote 3 years ago concerning establishment of a classroom community. While you may feel extra pressure to get back into some serious catch-up learning lessons, time spent on creating a genuine classroom community is definitely worth it and should pay off.
Creating a sense of community within your classroom puts emphasis on establishing a climate of mutual respect, collaboration, kindness, a positive atmosphere, and a feeling that each one is a valued member of the class. This is also critical to help you prepare for small group collaborative practices for your reading and math instructional program. See the freebie of fun teamwork activities in the last paragraph!
There are many ways to accomplish this, of course. But I will share my favorites. Before Great Expectations came to SW Oklahoma, I became familiar with an organization called Responsive Classroom (click to link to their website). They are similar to GE, but primarily train teachers in the NE part of the U.S. Like GE, they also focus on a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning. You can subscribe to their newsletter and order wonderful books via their website. I started with one of their books called “The Morning Meeting Book” (click on title). It promotes ways to create a classroom community by having a daily “Morning Meeting.”
In my classroom, we formed a circle every morning and greeted each other by name in fun ways. See some ideas below in the bulleted section. You might be surprised to know that students often don’t know their classmates names, even after several weeks of school! Knowing and using a child’s name is a sign of respect. Through this circle, we also shared successes and concerns for one another, began discussion topics about how we should behave and respect one another, welcomed new students, made group decisions, and set the tone for the day. Every student was acknowledged and felt valued every day. Students don’t want to disappoint a teacher or classmate they respect, and it almost eliminated the need for time consuming behavior plans. For a great plan to get students in a circle in a timely manner see Activity #22 in the Teamwork Activities linked below (last paragraph)
One student starts. Student #1 offers a type of handshake to the person to their right -Student #2 (handshake, pinky shake, salute, wave, high five, fist bump), and says, “Good Morning, ________ (name).” Student #2 returns the greeting (also with eye contact), “Good morning, ________.” Then Student #2 greets Student #3, and it goes all the way around the circle. I usually only introduce one type of hand gesture at a time. After we learn all of them, then I often give them a choice. I have to teach eye contact, sincerity, how to give a proper handshake, and what to do if you don’t know/remember their name.
After we have mastered the above, I introduce some other way to greet. One is to write each student’s name on an index card and place the stack face down in the middle of the circle. Turn over the top 2 names and they greet each other. Keep turning over 2 names at a time until the whole stack is completed.
Learn a greeting in another language (such as Hola or Buenos Dias, Guten Morgen, Bonjour, etc.).
Using a ball, student #1 rolls it to a student across the circle to greet them (student #2). Then student #2 rolls the ball across the circle to greet #3, and so on.
If we are crunched for time, we shake to the left, shake to the right, say “Good Morning, ____” and are all done!!
Through my years of GE training, I added teamwork activities to our classroom routines – especially at the beginning of the year. And then we continued them once a week because caring has to be practiced. We loved “People to People” and “Black Socks” and the “Woo Game.” I am attaching a pdf of 22 Movement, teamwork, energizer activities – I hope you will try some. Many of them require no advance preparation. I feel taking the time to create a caring atmosphere was worth every minute. When students have the opportunity to engage in fun activities together and learn their names and interests, they are more likely to show genuine respect toward one another.
Enjoy your time together! Share your favorite teamwork activity!
Welcome Back! Here are a few links to some of my previous posts regarding literacy and math you might be interested in to help you start your journey this year. And in case you didn’t see it, I have an easy link to most of my own free resources. Click here to get it now, but it is also available in the black bar above. Have a great start to your year and Enjoy!!! Please invite some of your new teachers to check out my blog!
Some other tips to get prepared for your literacy lessons:
Organize your classroom books. Small tubs that can be brought to desk pods is helpful. Labels such as these help get the books returned to the right tub: animals, friends, plants, weather, Clifford, by author, etc. Think about a gradual release of your reading materials so students aren’t overwhelmed at the beginning of the year. This way you can go over procedures for book selection, silent reading, how to treat books, etc. When I was in the classroom, I selected 5 tubs to put out onto desk pods each week (1 tub per pod). These were rotated daily. The tubs were selected based on developmental level and theme. At the beginning of the year the tubs might be: friends, school, alphabet, problem solving, etc. Students could select from the tub at their pod during the day instead of everyone gathering at the bookshelf. Each student made a bookmark with their name on it (which I laminated). They could put their book mark in it to signal to others in their group that they wanted to continue with that book later in the day. Each group had a “captain” for the week and they were in charge of making sure the books were in good order.
Plan for your word wall. I recommend building the word wall as the year goes along, with the children involved in placing words there (rather than coming in with a complete “busy” word wall).
Make a pledge to keep your guided reading table cleared and ready. Do you have these materials handy? Small whiteboards, markers, erasers, pencils, letter tiles or magnetic letters, sight word cards, pointers, small magnifying glasses, post-it notes, laminated graphic organizers, small teaching reference charts . . .
Literacy activities for students to do while you are assessing. Get out those task cards for students to review skills from last year so you can do your required assessments. Try to include a running record if possible to help determine each child’s strategies. Procedures for the activities will be important to establish so that by your sixth week of school you will be ready to start guided reading.
General welcome back tips:
Sharpened pencil(s): This is my most recommended tip. Give each student 1-2 already sharpened pencils to start their first day. I learned this the hard way. First graders couldn’t sharpen their own pencils so I just about tore my arm/shoulder up sharpening pencils for them. Plus the electric one can’t take so many attempts. So it’s worth it!!
Think about how you are going to keep contact withparents. I recommend some of the following:
Keep a separate log to keep track of phone, text, or email contacts (date, student name, parent name, reason, result)
Make it a goal to contact a specific number of parents each week with good news.
Try a weekly or monthly class newsletter. This is a great communication tool to let parents know what stds. you are working on, what they can do to help at home, activity ideas, sharing successes, advise them of things coming up, etc.
Start your own blog for your class. Then you can include the above newsletter type items, plus pictures, etc.
Work to create a classroom community. I love the Responsive Classroom approach (Morning Meeting is one highly recommended routine). Everything you can do to build the sense of a classroom community will pay off in many ways!! Here is their website link to great articles and advice: https://www.responsiveclassroom.org/articles/
Student engagement is a huge concern among most (if not all) educators. This means students are actively involved in the learning process. Research definitely supports the notion that higher incidents of engagement result in increased achievement (Marzano, etc.). Attached is my guide to student engagement strategies for reading / ELA lessons. Many of these strategies also will apply to math, social studies, or science lessons.
Teachers often ask me for suggestions on ways to engage students more, especially during whole class reading lessons. Student engagement is vital, isn’t it? Robert Marzano is a well-known educator/speaker whose research shows that students in highly engaging classrooms outperform their peers by an average of almost 30 percentile points. Students today have a higher need for interaction or they check out. What does engagement look like? The student . . .
participates in discussion
stays on task
listens to others
is aware of what is going on / alert
reflects on learning
does more work than the teacher
enjoys the process
applies new strategies
and . . . learns!!
What does lack of engagement look like? The student . . .
looks bored, sleepy, uninterested
can’t keep up
talks to their neighbor
fiddles with items in their desk
has a wandering mind
has a tired, frustrated teacher (because he/she is doing most of the work)
misses important information
hears the teacher do all the talking
has to be reminded to pay attention / follow along
I read an interesting article titled The Eight C’s of Engagement: How Learning Styles and Instructional Design Increase Students’ Commitment to Learning by Harvey F. Silver & Matthew J. Perini (linked here:The Eight C’s of Engagement). They are: Competition, Challenge, Cooperation, Connections, Curiosity, Controversy, Choice and Creativity (pages 9-11).
Individual white boards (having specific procedures ensures productive use)
Multiple choice hand signals positioned in front of the student’s chest (1, 2, 3 or 4 fingers or finger-spelling sign language for a, b, c, d)
Partner share: This takes modeling, observation, and practice to make it productive so students know quickly who their sharing partner is, what voice level to use, how to listen, how to take turns, how to summarize or recall what your partner said, how to help properly, etc.
Sorting activities: Prepare cards which can be grouped according to your specs such as…
Sort the verbs (or adjectives) according to the character who exhibits these actions (or qualities).
Sort words to emphasize story elements: the characters, the setting, problems, actions, etc.
Sort words into a Venn diagram template while reading a compare / contrast article.
Complete a graphic organizer together as you read and discuss the story. Notice that different text structures require a different way to organize the information.
Fold it note taking: Students fold a blank sheet of paper into 4-8 sections to take notes, show examples, or illustrate desired elements. Teacher directs note-taking by modeling or telling what to put in each section.
Technology – video – interactive Smartboard activities or tools
Post-it-notes: Students use post-it-notes to mark critical parts in the story. Focus on one objective at a time. Even more powerful — connect to a skill you are working on.
when new characters are introduced
on a confusing part or a question
to mark an “A-ha!” moment
on the part that shows a problem in the story, plus write what it is
to mark changes in time, indicating a sequential structure
to recall who and what periodically throughout the selection
to write an important detail, especially with a descriptive structure
Teach students to ask thoughtful questions about the text instead of always waiting for the teacher to ask. Asking a question is much like having a conversation with yourself. Students can write questions on post its, a book mark, an index card, or on a piece of butcher paper hung in the classroom (for multiple questions).
Is there a word you don’t understand?
Are you confused or curious about something?
Do you have a question about the author’s purpose?
What is something you wonder about?
Do you need more background information?
Can you turn a heading or subheading into a question?
Instead of questioning students after reading, give then a purpose to read a paragraph, page, or set of pages before reading. (Example: Read ahead to find out ______).
STOP ROUND ROBIN READING! What can be done instead?
Partner read: Teach how to do this properly. For example if partner A doesn’t know a word, how can partner B help without always just telling them the word? How much does each partner read? How to ask each other questions, or summarize as they read? How to stay engaged with your partner? How to share a book if needed?
Project the story on the screen.
For a story heavy with conversation, read the characters speaking parts. (I love the books Freckle Juice and Snot Stew for this!)
Read short specific excerpts. Example: “Find the part which tells how _____.”
For poetry, find poems that can be read in two voices. Partner 1 reads 1st line, couplet, or stanza, Partner 2 reads next set. This is also great fluency practice!
In small group, students read silently while teacher “taps in” to listen to one read at a time.
If there is patterned text (ex: Gingerbread Man), choral read those parts.
Provide more than one option for the assignment – – students are likely to be more engaged if they have a choice.
Make a “scoot” activity in which students move around the room to answer posted questions.
Matching: Students each have a card and must walk around the room to find their matching partner. Switch cards with someone else and repeat. Connect to the story you are reading.
word – definition
synonym – antonym
sentence – missing verb
fact – opinion
character – quote
affix – root word
Become a vocabulary expert (get free pdf attachment click here):Each student thoroughly researches one word from the vocabulary list (definition, synonym, antonym, use in sentence, pronunciation, part of speech, and illustration). They become the expert about that word and teach it to others.
Cooperative groups – each person should have a role:
Summarize a page, set of pages, or chapter.
Give an opinion.
Sequence main events.
Illustrate the story elements of a fictional selection.
Search for a specific number of interesting details (they get a choice in what details to include, plus they must debate or rate how interesting the detail is). Let class vote on which detail was the most interesting.
Prepare work stations (learning centers) to review, expand concepts in a game or interactive format.
Four corners: Pose an open-ended question with 4 possible scenarios. Post each in a different corner. Students go to the corner that matches their opinion and discuss with others who think the same way they do. Then meet with group with opposing opinion for a friendly debate.
Connect phonics, spelling, or word work lessons to the story by searching for one of these categories of words:
verbs (you can even specify past tense, present tense, past participles, action, etc.)
contractions / compound words
by number of syllables
words with embedded little words (ex: yesterday)
Make a poster of text features to go along with a story or article that didn’t have any.
For stories with very few illustrations, describe a mental picture of what could be going on. Compare and contrast those mental pictures (by illustration if needed).
Graphics provided via Microsoft Office clipart (creative commons)
From Day 1, you have most likely started working on creating a classroom community. The time spent on this will pay off in the long run because there will be a huge emphasis on establishing a climate of mutual respect, collaboration, kindness, a positive atmosphere, and a feeling that each one is a valued member of the class. This is also critical to help you prepare for future partner work and small group collaborative practices for your reading and math instructional program. See the freebie of activities in the last paragraph!
There are many ways to accomplish this, of course. But I will share my favorites. Before Great Expectations came to SW Oklahoma, I became familiar with an organization called Responsive Classroom (click to link to their website). They are similar to GE, but primarily train teachers in the NE part of the U.S. Like GE, they also focus on a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning. You can subscribe to their newsletter and order wonderful books via their website. I started with one of their books called “The Morning Meeting Book” (click on title). It promotes ways to create a classroom community by having a daily “Morning Meeting.” We formed a circle every morning and greeted each other by name in fun ways. See some ideas below in the bulleted section. (You would be surprised to know that often students don’t know their classmates names, even after several weeks of school.) Through this circle, we shared successes and concerns for one another, began discussion topics about how we should behave and respect one another, welcomed new students, made group decisions, and set the tone for the day. Every student was acknowledged and felt valued every day. Students don’t want to disappoint a teacher or classmate they respect, and it almost eliminated the need for time consuming behavior charts.