Creating a Caring Classroom starts on the very first day of school. I think the most important thing a teacher can do that first week is to establish a warm and caring atmosphere in his or her classroom. You'll need to build an atmosphere of trust, where students can feel free to be themselves without worrying that classmates will make fun of them. At the same time, you'll want to establish clear expectations for acceptable behavior right from the very beginning. There are many ways to accomplish these goals, and I'm going to share a few of my favorites. In particular, it's important to establish good classroom management and build both team and class spirit. You'll also want to consider how to seat your students in cooperative learning teams. Read on for lots of ideas and resources!
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If you would like to learn how other teachers create a caring classroom environment, visit my Corkboard Connections blog post on this topic. You can find my Back-to-School Bingo freebie there as well as numerous links to other resources. Take a look, but be sure to come back to this page to download all your freebies, here, too!
Many people ask me when I form my CL teams. They want to know if they should start out with their students in rows and move to CL teams after the first week, or if they should start in teams. I have heard arguments for both sides and I'll present both of them here.
Personally, I start off on Day 1 with the kids in random teams (since I don't know enough about them to form heterogeneous teams). I prefer the "T-table seating" shown at right, but there are a number of other options for seating kids in teams.) I want them to know that this is the usual way we do things - it's not just for fun and games. I teach them from the very beginning how to have self-control when you are sitting in a team, and how to deal with problems and distractions. Each day for the first 3 or 4 days I put them in different random teams. That way they get to know lots of kids in the class through the teambuilder activities we do each day.
Visit the Class Management Ideas page for a more complete description of each technique.
During the first week of school it's critical that you allow plenty of time for building team spirit. I like to have random teams for the first few days of school, and I change the teams daily. I find that changing the teams each day, combined with having them participate in lots of teambuilders, allows the kids to really get to know each other. After the first week of school I set up my real "heterogeneous" teams and I do a few more teambuilders with them. Below, I describe some simple teambuilders I use during the first week or two. You can find more detailed information about teambuilding as well as a variety of different teambuilders in my Back to School Super Start Pack.
1. Name Tents - I give the kids a 6" by 9" piece of white construction paper and I have them fold it to make a "tent" that stands up. They write their name on it in fancy letters and decorate it with pictures that tell about themselves. Then they take turns telling about their name tents. I usually give about 30 seconds to a minute for each person's introduction. You can find a printable template for these name tents in the Back to School Super Start Pack.
2. Team Talk activity - You'll need to print out the Team Talk cards in the Cooperative Learning files for this. These are just a set of ice breaker question cards. Stack a set of cards face down in the middle of each team. One person becomes the Question Reader turns over the first card and reads it aloud. It might be, "What is the best book you have ever read? What did you like about it?" The Question Reader gives think time and everyone gives thumbs up when they are ready. Then the Question Reader gives his answer first, followed by the each team member. At the end of that round, the next person on the team becomes the Question Reader.
3. Team Interview - Brainstorm a list of interview questions with the class on the overhead. The list can include anything the kids want to learn about each other - favorite foods, birthplace , hobbies, family members, favorite vacation spots, etc. Then designate one person on each team to stand and be interviewed by their team mates. The other students take turns asking the interview questions in Roundrobin format until you call time (about 2 minutes). Then that person sits down and the next person stands. Students should know they have the right to pass if they consider a question too personal for any reason. Younger kids enjoy rolling up a sheet of paper to make a "microphone" that one person holds up to the interviewee. This gets passed around the team.
4. Team Compliment Cards (Our Team Rocks!)
This is a quick teambuilder that works wonders when your teams are having trouble getting along. Click on the card link for full directions and a blackline master.
5. Team Challenges
Team challenges are engaging activities where students work together within their teams to compete against other teams in the class. These types of activities provide opportunities for students to learn how to collaborate in order to compete, and how to be good sports. Emphasize the importance of congratulating the winning team and not complaining or pointing blame within their own teams.
One Team Challenge activity you might want to try is Race to Write 12. Students work in teams to be the first to list 12 items as specified on a topic card. For example, they might list 12 fruits, 12 holidays, or 12 types of animals. This freebie includes 10 topic cards and a template for you to create your own. Taking time to have students participate in these types of activities will go a long way towards helping to create a warm and caring classroom environment.
In addition to Teambuilders, you need to do plenty of Classbuilders during the first week of school. These activities will help the students to get to know everyone in their class, not just the kids on their team. Start by having everyone wear name tags for the the first day or two. Play your favorite name games so that kids can learn each other's names. In addition to the ones below, you'll find many others in the Back to School Super Start Pack.
1. Classmates Mix - This is a fun icebreaker activity. Students mix around the classroom until you say give a signal to stop. Then they pair up with the closest person. You call out an icebreaker topic such as the ones below. Students talk over their answers until you call time, and then they begin mixing again. Continue with several rounds for as long as time allows. You might try 3 rounds one day and 3 rounds the next day if your students have trouble handling the movement at first. (The STOP technique works well for classroom management during classbuilders.) Here are some discussion topics to get you started:
2. Appointment Clock Buddies - The objective of this activity is to pair students in several ways so they will have different sets of partners for upcoming lessons. It works best after your students are familiar with the basic "Classmates Mix" activity above. Each activity below comes with printables and directions. Just a little word of warning - this is a great activity, but if you don't follow the directions about making sure kids are writing their buddies' names on same line for each step, you'll have problems at the end. Been there, done that! I'm hoping to save you the experience that I had!
3. Compass Buddies - This activity is similar to Appointment Clock Buddies but uses the points of the compass. This variation was suggested by Monica Horn and I created the activity pages to go with her suggestion. You'll find the complete directions on the last page of this packet.
4. Back to School Student Search - This is idea has been around for awhile, but you can find a nice ready-to-use example from Rachel Lynette at Minds in Bloom called Back to School Icebreaker: Student Search. Students have a list or chart that includes descriptions of things people like to do, places they've been, family information, etc. Print a copy for each student. They mix around the room asking people to sign in the various blocks. You can decide how long to let the activity continue. You might require them to get everyone to sign their sheet somewhere, or simply provide a time limit.