Archive for the ‘icebreakers’ Tag

Building a Classroom Community

Lets say, for instance, you are a teacher at a magnet school.  You are coming up to the first day of the year and want to set the right tone for the school year.  Here’s the catch, since you work at a magnet school, the students are from a wide array of towns from the area and do not know each other.  The students not only don’t know each other, but there is a racial, cultural, and economic divide between the students from suburbs, rural, and urban areas of the state.  What can you do to create an environment conducive to learning?  How can a teacher build a safe, accepting, and productive classroom community?

A safe, accepting and productive classroom community is established through team building or community building activities.  Team building activities are stimulating problem-solving tasks designed to help group members develop their capacity to work effectively together.  Many times they seem like kids games and often they are.  The key to effective team building activities is the interaction between the students and the reflection after the activity is concluded.  Some community building activities are of a get to know you nature.  Others, however, encourage students to work together and discover that they share many of the same qualities and experiences that will help them solve a problem.  Many times in these types of activities a leader will emerge from the group and others will act as facilitators.

In the past, I have worked with team or community building activities in both a getting to know you sense as well as problem solving activity.  Once, I worked with students on various community building activities, each of the activities became increasingly more difficult until they reached a ropes course where the students had to work together to pass the obstacle course safely.  These activities were both fun and challenging.  The students really made connections with their classmates.

Although going to a ropes course for community building sounds great, it is not a viable option for everyone.  A great way to begin the year is with an icebreaker that sets a tone of respect for other cultures and ethnicity.  As for team and community building, the class could create a Big Welcome Book.  In this activity the students share their personal views of the school and themselves.  First, have the students brainstorm about three topics.  For instance, what they think about their new school; what are some things you could say to another student to make them feel at ease; and what are important classroom rules for a new school year?  After the students brainstorm about these topics, list their ideas on the board.  Next, break the students into groups and give each group a large sheet of paper and drawing materials.  The students then create a book that can be kept in the classroom that expresses a little about who they are individually and also as a learning community.  After creating the book the students should reflect on the book making process and share with the class.

All in all, establishing a safe, accepting, productive classroom community is vital to student success.  When the students feel accepted and safe they are motivated to excel in and out of the classroom.  Although a teacher may not have access to a sophisticated ropes course, there are thousands of options for community building activities.   No matter which option you choose, the facilitator (in this case the teacher) is a critical element in the activity.  The students need to see that the teacher is enthusiastic about their responses and believes that they can be successful.  So, in actuality, it is the educators responsibility to create a learning environment that is safe, accepting, and productive.  A good way to meet that goal is to incorporate community building activities where the students work collaboratively to meet a task or solve a problem.

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