Inclusive by Design: Community Building Activities for a New School Year

Making students feel included and building community requires an unwavering commitment throughout the year. This blog post includes activities that promote a sense of belonging, and an emphasis on community building. The following are strategies and activities you can use to set the tone of respect and inclusion in your classroom this year

Setting Class Goals

Ask students to fold one piece of blank paper in half to create four columns (front and back). Label the first column “200 years ago”. Ask students to list jobs they think existed during that period (3-4 minutes). Have students share out, and encourage them to write down new ideas they hear. In the next column ask students to list jobs that exist “Today.” Share out. In the third column, ask students to list jobs that will exist in the “Future” (jobs that will exist after your students have gone to college). Share out. Finally, ask students to list the “Skills” they will need to acquire those jobs in the future. Share out and record on chart paper. Students have just created their classroom goals for the year. Post and refer to these goals often as a significant reason for being together in your class.

Name Game

Ask students to stand in a circle. Have each student share their name and a gesture that reflects an interest of theirs. For example, “My name is Jerry and (motioning like he is swinging a bat) I like baseball.” Students can repeat the name and gesture in unison, or you can challenge students’ memories. For example, ask the second student to repeat the name and gesture of the first person. Have the third student repeat the name and gestures of students 1 and 2. Continue this pattern until the last person in the circle repeats everyone’s name and gesture.

Individual Goals Chart

Use a sheet of butcher paper and create the following columns:

Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Languages Spoken, Goals in 5 Years, Goals in 10 Years. You may need 2 or 3 pieces of butcher paper depending on your class size. Invite clusters of students to list their information under each heading. This creates an excellent medium for generating questions and discussions across content areas: Math/Social Studies/Geography. How many students in our class were born in ___? How many students in our class speak more than one language? On which continent were most/least students born? How many students see themselves in college in 10 years?

My Favorite

Provide each student with one index card and ask them to write the numbers 1-5. Beside number 1) have students write their favorite movie; number 2) a favorite book; number 3) favorite food; 4) favorite person; and 5) favorite place. Once students have filled in their cards, collect them and ask everyone to stand. Pick one random card and read number 1 (favorite movie). Students who wrote this movie on their card remain standing. Students with other movies listed sit down. Read through the rest of the card using the same process until you have only one person standing. The card read belongs to that student. Read two to three cards each day until everyone’s “favorites” have been revealed.

My Favorite (remix)

Students follow the same directions from above to fill out the index cards. Collect all cards, shuffle them, and redistribute to students. Students stand and move about the room trying to find the student whose card they have. Students ask, “Is your favorite book ___?” “Is your favorite food ___?” Once students have found their “new friend” and have themselves also been found, the students sit down together. Once all students are seated, have students introduce their “new friend”.

2×10 Strategy

Identify the student(s) who are the most challenging in your classroom. Spend 2 minutes with each challenging student individually for 10 consecutive days (before school, recess, at lunch, after school) discussing topics of interest (hobbies, favorite subjects, music, movies, and other interests).

Community Circle

This strategy allows students to voice thoughts and opinions about a variety of social and academic topics. Assemble students in a circle, then write a prompt on the board such as:

“My weekend was ___ because ___.”
“If I had one wish I would ___.”
“From our science experiment I learned ___.”

Students take turns verbally filling in the phrase. While doing so they can pass an object (squishy ball, talking stick, etc.) that indicates whose turn it is to talk. Students can also create sentence starters/topics for the class.

Classroom Agreements

Agreements are the behavioral expectations or class norms that take the place of rules. According to the community building resource Tribes by Jeanne Gibbs, there are four agreements: Mutual Respect, No Put Downs, Attentive Listening, and The Right to Pass. The Community Circle, described above, is the perfect place to practice and evaluate (see below) the agreements at the beginning of class.

Evaluate Class Performance (1, 2, or 3)

Student analysis and evaluation of behavior is critical to the development of a positive learning environment. Mutual Respect, No Put Downs, Attentive Listening, and The Right to Pass are the “lenses” or Classroom Agreements, based on the Tribes program, through which you and students can analyze classroom behavior. After completing an activity such as community circle, a lesson, discussion, transition from recess back to class, etc., ask students to evaluate how the class did by indicating 1, 2, or 3 on their fingers. Have students share why they indicated a particular number. Keep in mind that students’ comments should be general when talking about students in the class (e.g. “some students in our class…”) and very specific about behavior (“… did not go directly to their desks after the bell.”). Ask students what they can do to improve or influence students’ behavior in a positive way.

Heartbeat

Ask students to stand in a circle and clasp hands. Tell students that you are going to time how long it takes to get the “heartbeat” around the circle. You begin by squeezing the hand of the student to your right. When they feel his or her left hand being squeezed, the student “passes the heartbeat” by then squeezing his or her right hand. Record how long it takes to get the beat completely around the circle. After you’ve done this once with students ask them what they will have to do to get the heart beat passed even faster (again using general terms to describe what needs to change – “Some of us need to pay closer attention,” “Be ready to pass the heartbeat,” “Squeeze gently,” etc.).

Additional Context: You can explain the parallels between this activity and the circulatory system (the heart pumping blood and oxygen throughout the body). You could also explain how the heartbeat symbolizes the new school year and the need to support and learn from each other. The activity can serve as a measurement of improvement over time as well. Record the first day’s best time and come back to it a few days later to see if the class can establish an improved time.

Interactive Journals

Begin a running dialogue with your students through journal writing. Discuss students’ outside activities, interests, hobbies, favorite subjects, school activities they enjoy, lessons they did or did not enjoy, books they are reading, movies they like, and more. Additionally, you can check in with students and provide follow up around conflict resolutions from class meetings. Interactive Journals can also be facilitated as a daily writing station in the primary grades, once a week with intermediate students, or with select students at the secondary level.

Please feel free to share any successes, questions, or comments you may have about the strategies listed above. I would also love to hear modifications you’ve made or strategies you routinely use to build community with your own students. Most of all, have a wonderful school year!

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