Community is defined as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. As students in my Geometry class, learning Geometry may be the only goal they have in common. So, we as teachers have to find creative ways to build community in our classrooms. One of the best compliments I ever got from a student was this…”Mrs. Travis, I’ll be honest…I don’t like math. But, I still love coming to your class!” This student looked forward to coming to my class because of the community we had built. Will students still learn if they don’t love your class? Sure. But, might they learn even more if they feel welcomed and connected in your class? Absolutely. If you’re looking to build community in your classroom, I’ve thought of eight (mostly) free things I do in my classroom that help foster relationships and build community amongst my students.
I also want to preface these by mentioning that I believe structure and consistency are crucial for any classroom to be successful and are foundational for a healthy classroom community.
Obviously, it is very important to know all of your students’ names. But, I think it is just as important that students know each other’s names as well! Besides, what kind of classroom is inviting with a good community where students don’t know each other? I spend a good chunk of time during the first month of school playing name games so that my students learn the names of all of their classmates. I believe that students will be more likely to participate in class when they feel they are known by both their teacher and their peers, starting with their name.
Fair Review Games
Review games are popular amongst both teachers and students. They are a great, easy way to build community in the classroom and reinforce learning. But, sometimes, review games can single students out in a negative way. And while there’s sometimes a time and place for the games that involve speed or memory, I try to include elements of chance in review games whenever I can. I think this helps to level the playing field and makes it so that the same students or group isn’t winning every time. One of my favorite ways to include chance is with playing cards. I project a problem for students to answer on whiteboards. Each problem is worth a certain amount of points and if students get it right, they get those points. Simple. But, here’s where the element of chance comes into play. The students who got the question right get the opportunity to double those points. I take a deck of cards and draw a card at random. Before I show the card, the students who got the question right, get to guess if the card will be hearts, diamonds, clubs, or spades. I just have them tell their tablemates for accountability. I love that including this element helps to encourage students who may have gotten a question or two wrong to keep trying. They can still be in the running to win if they guess a card correctly!
Community isn’t just built through fun and games. Humans feel connected to their community when they have a purpose or job that meets a need. This includes students. Assigning jobs brings accountability and teamwork to the classroom. And classroom jobs aren’t just for elementary classrooms. I usually have students grouped at tables of four and assign each student a different job. The jobs can be things like picking up the handouts for the table, making sure the table is clean at the end of the period, being in charge of supplies and manipulatives, or keeping the table on task. Just find what works for your classroom routine. I do prefer to have students pick what their job will be, rather than assigning it for them.
I originally started using coupons in my class to help with some unwanted behaviors, but I’ve noticed that the coupons have also brought my students closer together. It is very common that when I hand out coupons it is to a group of students or a table group. Maybe it’s to all the students who are quietly working or to the table group that is ready for class before the tardy bell. Whatever it is, students have picked up on it. Students encourage each other to be on task or to be engaged in the lesson because they know they may be rewarded. And students working together for a common goal will always help build community! If you want to know more about how I use coupons in the classroom, check out this blog post!
Create a hangout corner
Create a space in your classroom for students to hang out and relax (when they are done with their work, obviously). Okay, so this one isn’t free initially, but it’s just a one-time cost and doesn’t have to be expensive. I found almost everything for my cozy corner at either Walmart or Ikea, but second-hand shops would also be a great place to look! You could even put a call out on Social Media and I’m sure people would be happy to donate unwanted pieces of furniture from their houses. My students look forward to earning time on the couch and I love that they have a space to comfortably hang out with each other in my room.
Probably the most impactful way to create community in the classroom is to give students a voice in your classroom. Let them be a part of deciding what happens in the classroom and in their learning. Get students involved in setting the class norms at the beginning of the year. Give them options on what their homework might be (check out my Geometry Choice Board Worksheets here or get a free sample here). Maybe they get to choose the order of what you do that day or that week. Sometimes let them choose their partners or groups. If you like to play music during independent work, create a playlist for each class period and let students add their favorite songs. Giving students a voice will increase student ownership of their learning and student engagement in your classroom.
Know your students' birthdays
I know. I know. If you have 150+ students, that’s a lot of birthdays to keep up with. I keep a hard copy lesson planner and grade book throughout the year, so I write down ALL of my students’ birthdays in it. If you don’t have a planner you use regularly, maybe you can add calendar alerts to your computer for each student’s birthday. It will definitely take some work on the front end but is more than worth it for students to feel remembered and special. This could also be a job you assign to a student in each class if it feels too daunting for you. I just keep it simple. I’ve got a classic birthday hat for the birthday student to wear during class and we sing happy birthday to them + they get a little piece of candy! Nothing fancy, but students love it.
Who doesn’t love a little party?! I sure do! And I wholeheartedly believe we don’t do enough celebrating in the classroom. I try to celebrate ev-er-y-thing. And, in my opinion, the more random the reason, the better. I mean, of course, I celebrate the usual things like Halloween and Valentine’s Day and the holiday of all holidays PI DAY! But, I also celebrate reaching page 100 in our Interactive Notebooks and Taco Tuesday with chips and salsa and the first day of winter with some hot cocoa! Life is meant to be enjoyed and celebrated, so why should our classrooms be any different?
Well, that’s eight! Eight (mostly) free ways to build classroom community! But, even though this post is getting long…I have to share a couple more BONUS ways! Enjoy!
Class vs. Class Competitions
Get your students competing against other classes! This will give your students in each class a common goal and something to work together towards. I’ve found it’s more motivating and community-building if students have a visual reminder somewhere in the classroom, especially one that is tracking their progress towards reaching the goal.
Create Classroom Traditions
For the last few years, I have taught a leadership class at our high school. It is such a unique class with the absolute best students. We have a very structured week-to-week, but usually have a bit of flexibility and free time on Fridays. So, I started Fireside Fridays. I project a campfire on the board and we have a “fireside chat” where we talk about our highs and lows of the week. I love connecting with my students during this time and learning about all that is going on in their lives. Fireside Fridays have helped to strengthen our class community for sure. I know something like this isn’t always feasible in a math class or other core class, but there are still other opportunities to create unique traditions like this. Maybe you have YouTube Fridays and play a funny YouTube video at the end of class. Or maybe it’s Monday Meditations and you play calming music to start the week. Whatever your “thing” is, find a fun way to make a classroom tradition out of it!