8 Strategies For Building Classroom Community

back to school community building activities

There is nothing more important to plan for your students during the first few weeks of school, than your classroom community

Building a strong classroom community takes thoughtful preparation and consistent implementation. A quick activity or two during the first few weeks of school is not enough to build a positive classroom environment. To build a classroom atmosphere where students feel safe to take risks and feel a sense of belonging takes many carefully planned activities and lessons, as well as the use of repeated language and clear expectations on a daily basis throughout the year. 

Although the activities you create can vary year to year based on your students’ interests and needs, the 8 strategies in this post will help get you started building a safe and positive community in your classroom on the first day of school.

Grab this Community Building EXCLUSIVE FREE resource this week!

This is one you do not want to miss out on! These activities are perfect to build your classroom community starting on day one. 
Be sure to read this post for ideas and strategies to use the free activities with your students so that they will:
  • Be active listeners
  • Participate regularly
  • Enjoy learning
  • Be part of a positive classroom environment
  • And have fun the first week of school!
Sounds awesome right? Grab the free resource here, then keep reading!

Now on to these must-try 8 activities to start building a positive classroom community!

1. Have a Class Theme Song

8 Strategies For Building Classroom Community

I love having a class theme song each year! It is such an instant bonding activity, connecting all the students together. The class theme song is presented to the students with the concept that the lyrics and music would represent our class. Just as the instruments and lyrics come together to produce harmony in the song, all of the students can come together to create a class in harmony. We spend some time discussing what a class in perfect harmony would look and sound like. 

There are two ways that I have selected theme songs with my students. For some years I have predetermined the theme song and then together as a class, we have analyzed the lyrics, discussing why it would be a good theme song. Then I let the students give me the final OK on the song that I selected. They always OK it and then instant buy-in! Other years, when my students were more mature to select an appropriate theme song, I allowed them each to come in with suggestions that would fit our classroom and the concept of a class in perfect harmony. Students submit ideas, anonymously, then the class votes to select one. 

We play our theme song every day in one way or another: entry to the classroom, calm down after recess, during dismissal or just upon request. It is also a great go-to for background music for class videos or performances. The kids love to sing it together and it really connects us all

2. Set Clear Classroom Rules and Expectations

classroom pledge idea

We all know that classroom rules and expectations are a must, but be sure to not just slap your rules on the wall. 

Take the time during the first day of school to create classroom rules together. The rules the kids come up with will usually always mirror the rules you have created. When students see the classroom expectations in their language they will have more buy-in and are more likely to follow them. Of course, throw in some clear language and expectations if the students need guidance. 

I keep my classroom expectation list short. I like to make sure one of the expectations is “Use appropriate classroom behavior” as that one is the umbrella rule that covers just about everything. Other than that, let your students have a voice in what the classroom expectations should be! We also have a classroom pledge that we say each day during our morning meeting. We all love saying our pledge together. It is a great reminder of expectations and a reminder that we are in it together as a community. The pledge is posted in our classroom and after a few days, the children have it memorized. We can refer back to it during the day if anyone gets off track and needs a reminder of how we work and treat each other in our classroom.

Creating a class motto is another way to build classroom community and set clear expectations for your classroom.

3. Teach Students How to Be Active Listeners

active listening strategies for kids

Activities that foster active listening and communication are a must throughout the entire school year. These important skills are needed by the students not only for group and partner work in the classroom but anywhere they interact with others. Being a good listener can help with conflict resolution, especially during downtimes like recess and on the buses. Right from the start of the year, we discuss the ABCs of active listening and then put them into action with role-playing activities. 

A simple way to practice these is to create a list of “problems” that the students have faced in the past (arguments over who won a game, copied an idea, or took someone’s supplies to name a few) and assign roles for each scenario. Students use the strategies discussed in the poster and our discussion to help them be active listeners and resolve the problem. With consistent practice and reinforcement of these steps, students will be active listening in no time! 

4. Practice Effective Communication

Classroom Community activities for kids

Now that you have gone over how to be an active listener, have your students put those skills to work with communication activities! 

Two activities that are fun and effective to do at the beginning of the year to illustrate how important communication is are the “Paperclip Challenge and “Draw It”.  The concept of both is simple. One student creates a design without the other student seeing it and gives directions to help that student recreate that design. The student giving directions must give clear, specific, sequential directions to communicate effectively to help their partner, while the student listening to the directions must practice the all-important active listening skills that were discussed in class. Have each student take turns being the giver of directions and the receiver of directions. 

TEACHER TIP: KEEP IT GOING! Try playing classic games like telephone, charades, and twenty questions during downtimes to continue practicing effective communication all year long.

5. Encourage Student Collaboration and Discourse

must try classroom community building idea

Working together collaboratively is a skill that must be taught, practiced, and monitored. No matter what grade you teach, students always benefit from the practice of taking turns speaking during a discussion.  Once students have understood how important active listening and clear communication is, they are on their way to working collaboratively. 

One strategy that always works well to encourage collaboration with my students each year is our “Two Cents” cups. It is really easy to make these cups, yet the value is immeasurable. Grab some cups, I use plastic or paper and attach the two cents labels. Explain the meaning behind the phrase “Put Your Two Cents In”. 

In a nutshell, it means to share your opinion or thoughts. In the cup, place two pennies for each student in the group. (I use real pennies. I have found the plastic ones to bounce around when they fall on the ground. The kids take better care of the real pennies, too.) Each student grabs two pennies from the cup. Each time they contribute to the discussion or activity they place a penny in the cup. No student can share more than two times until each student has put “their two cents in”. 

This works wonders for collaboration. It encourages participation from quiet students and keeps other students from taking over the conversation or work. As the year goes on, you will find most students don’t actually need the pennies anymore and instead, just use the language of “put your two cents in” to each other when they are working. 

6. Foster Kindness in Your Classroom

bring kindness into your classroom

Encouraging authentic acts of kindness in my classroom is a yearlong theme. It is also a great way for the students to build relationships with one another. Modeling kindness is key to getting your students to be kind themselves. Once my students understood our classroom community is based on kindness, I introduce our monthly Random Acts of Kindness Calendar. After I complete a September RAK calendar, I share it with the students, encouraging them to check the calendar each day with “suggested” ways to be kind. 

As the month continues we check in on our progress during our morning meeting to see what acts of kindness were carried out and how it went. Before October begins, students work in pairs to create a RAK calendar. Each pair work on a calendar for a different month. When each pair of students are done, we have a yearlong RAK calendar to display and carry out in our classroom. The kids always love creating the calendars and looked forward to seeing each month’s ideas. Scoop up this calendar set for FREE HERE.

7. Complete Monthly Community Building Activities

activity idea for community building

As the year rolls on, we continue to build our classroom community with positivity and strengthen student relationships in authentic ways

Sometimes a little reminder of how to make someone smile is in order, too! Each month we dedicate one writing period to making someone’s day a little brighter. Names are randomly drawn from a bowl and students write letters, poems or create illustrations about one of their classmates. This small gesture helps the creator feel good about making someone else’s day better and the receiver feel appreciated and part of our classroom community. Towards the end of the period, a student is selected to share what they wrote and deliver it to the receiver. Then the receiver shares their letter until all letters are shared. This simple monthly activity is a great way for each and every student to feel a sense of belonging and a valued member of our community. It is a great self-esteem builder, too! Students beam so brightly when they receive these little letters of appreciation. 

8. Have High Expectations

classroom management tip

A true classroom community continues in a positive way even without the teacher. By having students build strong relationships with one another and creating a strong classroom community, the students can thrive on their own without the teacher present. To encourage this, of course, a little incentive goes a long way. 

An easy way to do have students maintain classroom expectations and relationships with you are away is by using a mystery surprise. Grab a mini whiteboard and add ten dashes. Each time the students get a compliment from a special area teacher, add a letter to build-up to the words: We Did It! When all the letters are filled in, the students can earn any surprise you want. Easy, no-cost prizes could include extra recess, no homework, game time (a simple game of hangman with class vocabulary words is always fun!) or sit next to your friend day. This is also a great motivator for students when there will be a sub or guest teacher in your classroom. By offering this small and simple incentive, students truly have to work together to earn it, strengthening the relationships that you are nurturing. 

Remember that building relationships, setting classroom expectations, and consistently nurturing these expectations throughout the school year is the best way to create, build and maintain a positive classroom environment. It is well worth the time and energy that you put into it! The outcome is a positive place where students want to be and work each and every day!

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    6 Alternative Ways to Use Writing Prompts

    writing prompt activities

    When it comes to writing instruction, allowing students the freedom to pick their topic, write about what they know or write from their own experiences goes a long way. When students have these opportunities they are eager to write and become invested in their writing pieces. As educators, we know that this is not always possible. Sometimes students are given choices and sometimes students have to write to a prompt. Writing prompts are often viewed as boring writing assignments or as a necessary or mandatory writing assessment. That does not always have to be the case! You can use writing prompts in your classroom as creative and engaging activities to help teach and practice important writing strategies. The more exposure students have to writing prompts, the less intimidating they become. Here are some different ways that I use writing prompts in my classroom to get kids excited about writing.

    1- Round Robin Writing

    I love round robin writing! It is a simple and engaging activity my students always ask to complete.  This is an independent class assignment that is perfect to complete during morning work or any downtime you have. To complete a class round robin writing, take a writing prompt and attach a few pages of lined paper and place on a clipboard. (I use a writing prompt that is related to our current writing unit of study, but you can use any type of prompt.) Each student has to write two-three sentences to help create the story. The first student reads the prompt, begins the story with a few sentences and then passes the clipboard to the next student. That student then reads the prompt, the sentences already written and adds their own two-three sentences. Students have to work together to write a cohesive piece with a clear beginning, middle and end.  You can add your own rules to have students apply skills or writing techniques that you have recently taught them. The last student to write their sentences reads the story aloud. It takes a few times of completing this activity for students to get the hang of it, so when you first start trying this activity start off with your strongest writers writing first. This activity allows for great classroom discussions about editing and revising after each student has contributed. 
    Why I love it: This activity truly fosters team work and collaboration. 

    2- WWYW? What Would You Write? 

    writing in the upper elementary classroom Analyzing and discussing ideas for given prompts are a fun way to start or end writing periods or to fill in small pockets of time throughout the day. For this activity, you can use writing prompts or picture prompts. Display them on the smart board or chart paper and simply ask, What would you write? Discussions develop from that one simple question. Be sure to model how you want students to respond the first few times you complete this. Discuss together who or what the prompt will be about, the main focus of the writing and what would be included in the beginning, middle and end of the writing. This is a great activity to do in partnerships or small groups, too!

    Why I love it: This activity is a great way to model and practice how to brainstorm ideas before writing. 

    3-Author’s Craft Round Up

    This activity is a great way to practice and revisit writing strategies and techniques that you have taught throughout the year. After presenting a prompt to the students have them brainstorm and share different author’s craft sentences that they might include in that writing piece. For example, if the prompt is about an outdoor adventure students would write a sentence with a smile that describes the weather. This is a fun activity to have students complete with partners, as students are always eager to share their writing. The more you can share the better. Young writers always benefit from models and examples of good writing! Grab a FREE graphic organizer for this activity at the bottom of this post!  
    Why I love it: This activity is a great way to review important writing techniques from different writing units without having to write a whole writing piece.

    4-Hop on the Writing Carousel 

    writing prompt test prep
    Carousel activities are always a class favorite! It does take some time to set up the activity, but it is well worth it. This is an activity that I have my students complete in groups of two or three. I hang up one piece of chart paper for each grouping. Each piece of chart paper has a prompt attached with one specific direction. Directions might include, write a story beginning, write a conclusion, write a descriptive sentence, all related to the prompt that is attached to the chart paper. You can have each chart paper have the same directions with different prompts or different directions with the same prompt. Each group of students is given a different color marker to complete the activity on the chart paper. After a few minutes at the chart paper, have students rotate with their marker and begin the next chart paper activity. The catch is that students must reread all the writing already on the chart paper and cannot use any ideas already used. Sharing these completed chart paper assignments at the end of the class period is so important. It allows students to read and discuss all the different ways to respond to the same set of prompts and directions. You can leave some of these chart paper writing assignments hanging up in your classroom as writing anchor charts, too! Read more detailed step by step directions to implementing a writing carousel HERE.
    Why I love it: Students are up and out of their seats and working together to achieve a writing goal.

    5-Writing Centers Throughout the Year 

    writing prompt test prep Even if you do not use centers on a regular basis, it sure is fun to throw a center or two into your instructional period every once in a while! Writing centers are a great way to hold students accountable for writing and practicing important skills independently.  Centers also give you the freedom to work with small groups to practice and re-teach writing concepts as needed. It is easy to use writing prompts at a writing station. Simply provide appropriate prompts and allow students to select the prompt they would like to write to during center time. I like to use seasonal topics to engage my students. I simply print prompts, fold them up and place them in a bucket. I allow students to read through the prompts and select the one topic that they think they would be the most successful at completing. For a challenge, have students randomly select a topic from the bucket. Then they must write to the one prompt that they selected.  Any prompts you have on hand work well for this activity. Find the seasonal prompts that I use with my students HERE and grab a free sample HERE.
    Why I love it: Students are given choices for which prompt topic they want to complete.

    6-Annotating Completed Writing Prompts

    modeled writing test prep elementary There is nothing more important for young writers to see than completed writing prompts. By reading and annotating completed writing pieces, students can see a whole piece of writing from beginning to end in one sitting. It takes a long time for students to complete their own writing piece fully, so seeing a completed piece is a great model and example to show them what is expected. At the beginning of the year, I model how to annotate a written piece, looking for the beginning, middle, end, introduction, closure, as well as different techniques and strategies depending on the writing genre. As the year progresses, students work together to annotate completed pieces. We play different rounds of “I Can Spy” with prewritten prompts. Students work together to search for writing characteristics found in the given writing piece. Grab a FREE “I Can Spy” organizer to help students find different writing elements found in opinion writing pieces at the bottom of this post. You can make up any directions you want while students annotate completed prompts. You can have them find the introduction and then create a new one, you can have them hunt for similes or metaphors, or you can have them replace words that are used too often. You can create a prewritten prompt by simply completing a writing prompt yourself and sharing it with your students. As students feel more comfortable with their writing, ask for student volunteers to share their own completed writing pieces that they wouldn't mind  you using for a class annotation activity. You can copy their work with their permission or rewrite their pieces on chart paper.  HERE are the already completed graphic organizers and modeled writing prompts to annotate that I use with my students.
    writing prompt test prep
    Why I love it: Students are exposed to different writing models and are given the opportunity to develop skills to help them collaborate with writing partners.

    The next time you hear the words writing prompts, don’t cringe! Take those writing prompts and use them in creative and engaging ways to reinforce and practice strategies that you are teaching during your writing block. It is easy to make writing prompts work for you and support what you are doing in the classroom.

    How do you use writing prompts in your classroom?

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