How to help students in your new class get to know each other

A new term means new teaching group. Here are three ways to help your class to get along by creating a learning community
Brainstorm By Marie Hazel
Published on May 8, 2015
engaging-studentsss

When I started my very first teaching job it became clear very quickly that the students in my class, as well as getting to know me, didn’t seem to know each other very well either. They certainly were not ready to learn together and to get the most out of my pupils you have to build a community first.

As teachers prepare to go back to school – with many taking on new students this autumn – I want to share some of my tips on how to do this. The classroom needs to be a place where children feel that they can succeed but also not be afraid to fail. It is through failing that we learn our most valuable lessons. I’ve picked up lots of ideas over the years on building not just a good classroom environment, but a learning community as well. Here are a few:

Play games

OK, so most people would balk at the idea of playing a few games with students, (I can hear people grumbling about Ofsted as I write this) but there is method to my madness. What I’ve dubbed the “object throw” game is a great way to create a challenge where the concept of failure can be explored and names learned at the same time. Students form a circle and throw an object – anything as long as it is easy and safe to throw – in a random order until everyone in the group has caught it.

When this is done, get the children to repeat the process in the same order. Teach them to behave as a team by asking them how they think they can get quicker each time. This is a great way to get students talking and making friends and it’s also a great chance for the students to get to know you. My class found out about my dog Fatty through this game as the only object I had to throw were my keys with his picture on them. It created some much-needed group banter.

Use different groups for different activities

I use the tables students are sat on as their “home” groups and when I want to change this I mix them into alternatives groups and call these the “away” groups. I get students to come up with a “success criteria” for working well in a team and use this to help them work with students they don’t know very well. Pretty soon, the class will get to know each other. This works for any type of class, be it subject, primary or tutor group and is reasonably easy to set up. I often give home and away groups topical names, which proved hilarious when it came to teaching reproduction with year seven – egg group or sperm group anyone?!

Use ‘thunks’ at the beginning of a lesson

I should probably explain straight away that a “thunk” is a seemingly simple question that stops you in your tracks and gets you to think about the world in a different way. I use a “think, pair, share” approach to this and mix up the students so they are talking to someone different each time. With each question posed the students can talk to a different person. This means that even the quieter kids have a chance to discuss ideas.

I make a point of joining a different pair to talk informally for each thunk, so that we can get to know each other a bit better and again this can be used in any setting, primary or secondary. Be careful with the time though – we once ended up discussing whether a fart in the woods would be the same as the proverbial tree falling for a good 20 minutes. It wasn’t great for showing progress but we worked on a fantastic scientific method for testing it out.

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