Resource: Community Building Activities
Most teachers spend some portion of the school year, especially early in the year, doing community building activities. Many of these activities are centered on getting to know each other. We believe firmly in “going deeper.” This includes developing students’ sense of self-love, acceptance and understanding of classmates, and strengthening listening skills in order to promote comfortable, safe learning spaces.
Compiled by: Liav S., Brooklyn
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Sample activities include:
CHAIN OF STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES – Students use sentence strips. On one side of the sentence strip the student writes one of his/her strengths (academic or personal). On the other side of the sentence strip the student writes one of his/her weaknesses. Students share these in a circle. As they share, students use a stapler to create a link in the paper chain. After each person shares, the class watches as the chain grows. The teacher explains how each person has strengths AND weaknesses. Teacher guides students to notice how flimsy a single strip of paper is compared to the chain. Teacher emphasizes that this year students do not have to feel alone when working on their weakness but rather that they have a support network. Our students frequently discuss their strengths and weaknesses openly and freely ask for help from their classmates. Our classroom environment is noticeably stronger because of these discussions around strengths and weaknesses.
STRENGTHS/WEAKNESSES READ ALOUDS – Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patrica Palacco, “Raymond’s Run” by Toni Cade Bambara, found in the book of short stories called America Street, and Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick are valuable texts that support the students’ acceptance of their own and others’ strengths and weaknesses.
WEB OF COMMONALITIES – Sitting in a circle on the rug, one student starts by saying something about him/herself. Student then passes a ball of yarn to another person who shares that commonality. Students see how these commonalties make a web. They see how interconnected they are as well as how strong and intricate the community is with each and every commonality. The students really enjoy this activity! Later a bulletin board was created to visually show the activity and commonalities. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents loved looking at the bulletin board and began to see the values we are emphasizing in our classrooms.
CLASS BILL OF RIGHTS – New York State begins 5th grade Social Studies with studying local, state, and federal government. Students review concepts government, democracy, basic rights, values, and documents through creating their own Class Bill of Rights. Students also review the Bill of Rights and the NYC Dept. of Education’s Student Bill of Rights. Most classrooms create some sort of classroom rules. Our goals were to connect classroom rules to the mandated Social Studies curriculum AND establish strong communities.
IALAC – Lesson taken from Open Minds to Equality by Nancy Schniedewind and Ellen Davidson. Students learn what it means to feel “lovable and capable.” Students create a paper IALAC and slowly rip it apart while reading about a boy’s bad day. After ripping the paper IALAC, students are asked to put it back together. They call out “but I can’t!” or “it won’t work!” Explain to students that once somebody’s IALAC can be broken it takes a lot of tape, and love, to repair it. Reference students’ IALACs and characters’ IALACs throughout the year. An “IALAC” feels tangible to students whereas discussing self-worth and self-confidence is abstract. Students use this term throughout the year at school and home. They feel comfortable saying that their IALAC feels “low” or “broken.”
WRITING ABOUT OUR IALACS – Our mandated literacy curriculum (the Reading and Writing Project from Teacher’s College at Columbia University) requires that students begin the year by writing Personal Narratives. We viewed this Personal Narrative Unit as an opportunity to build our community and accomplish our academic goals. Students had to feel safe to share these stories to partnerships and have others read them. Going through the Writing Process with an important, personal story was motivating for students. This also emphasized that authors write with purpose and often reveal themselves in their writing.
ACTIVE LISTENING – During the first week of school, students created a Class Bill of Rights. The students chose to include “actively listen” as one of their agreements. A few weeks into the school year it became evident that students did not have a clear, or common, vision of what it meant to “actively listen.” These words had no meaning to them and therefore were not following the rule they had created.
Calling out is a common issue during classroom lessons. In order to bring the students’ attention to this issue, try this activity from ___________. Begin by having the students stand in a circle. Present them with the challenge of counting to 10. There is no set order of who speaks and if there are two or more people who speak at once, the class starts again at one. Students are excited with the challenge, and start the game strong! Their concentration is clear! Then, students quickly begin to get stuck around 2 or 3. Stop the students to discuss why this is happening. Students explain that their classmates are “getting too excited,” “want to speak REALLY badly,” “forgot the rules,” or “feel the rules are too easy and don’t want to follow them” to name a few. Teacher then explains how these same things are happening in the classroom during lessons. Students are forgetting the rules or feel they were too easy and therefore don’t have to follow them. Students see this connection and it serves as a review of classroom rules and expectations. Play this game during transitions moments throughout the year and the students rise to the challenge! Once they get to 10, push them toward higher numbers!
Students also participated in a simulation activity demonstrating the significance of “not listening.” Lesson taken from http://www.experiential-learning-games.com/listeninggames.html. Students then worked in pairs to describe Active Listening, its importance, and the danger of “not listening.” As a class, we constantly discuss how listening often seems so easy and effortless but it is actually quite difficult and is a skill that needs to be developed. Students were exceptionally responsive to our activities and constantly refer to it. Students enthusiastically decided to embark on a journey of developing this skill and wanted to start an Active Listening Campaign at our school. Students have discussed ideas such as an Active Listening art installation for other students to walk by in the hallway, offering Active Listening workshops to other classes, and creating public service announcements.
“I CAUGHT YOU” JAR – Students fill out strips of paper where they can compliment a classmate on something wonderful they saw them doing. Students write things like “thank you for playing with me at recess” or “you made my IALAC feel big by explaining the math problem to me.” Once a week, the teacher pulls out three slips to read aloud to the class. Once the jar is full, all the slips are handed out to the recipients even if they have not been read. Our students look forward to this each week. They really enjoy complimenting each other and building up their classmates’ IALACs.
COMMUNITY MEETINGS – Students participate in weekly Community Meetings. This is a forum for students to bring issues to the community that are negatively impacting the classroom culture (i.e. bullying, classroom jobs not being fulfilled, teasing, stealing). The teacher or students may act as facilitators and must help resolve the issue. These serve as means to deliberately practice Active Listening and participate in democratic problem solving.
Also shared by Liav:
Children’s Books We LOVE!
· Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick
· America Street: A Multicultural Anthology of Stories by Anne Mazer
· Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
· Keep Your Ear on the Ball by Genevieve Petrillo and Lea Lyon
· Crow Boy by Taro Yashima
· Leon’s Story by Leon Walter Tillage and Susan L. Roth
· Iqbal by Francesco D’Adamo
· Fire From the Rock by Sharon Drape
· A Taste of Colored Water by by Matt Faulkner
· Esperanza Rising
· Harvesting Hope
· Si Se Puede! Yes We Can! Janitor Strike in L.A. by Diana Cohn
· The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco
· Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
· Luba, the Angel at Bergen Belsen by Luba Tryszynska-Frederick
· I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova
· Anne Frank: Behind the Diary by Rian Verhoeven, Ruud Van der Rol, Tony Langham, and Plym Peters
· The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse
· Letters to Rifka
· Hip Hop Speaks to Children
Teacher Resources we LOVE!
Open Minds to Equality
Global Exchange Fair Trade Cocoa Unit and Chocolate Book