How Well Do Your Students Know Each Other?

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.Great teachers work on building a sense of community in their classrooms all year long. They understand that helping students build relationships with each other is a key to creating an optimal learning environment.

Stronger bonds mean students will be less likely to be unkind, to exclude others, to call each other names, or to stand idly by in the face of cruelty to a classmate. The safer everyone feels, the more learning challenges they will embrace, and the more collaborative they will be.

One way of building positive relationships in a classroom is by getting to know one another’s talents, interests, and stories. Teachers often emphasize this aspect of community-building at the beginning of the school year, but I think we need to shift our thinking and give this aspect of learning more continuous attention. After all, people change as they grow and learn. How different are your students now compared to who they were in September? And how well do your students know each other now that they’ve been together for almost a full school year?

You can support children’s relationships in many ways. Let students share about their hobbies, interests, and passions at Morning Meeting or in connection with academic topics or assignments. Try brainstorming lunch conversation topics with your class, assigning lunch partners, and then taking a few minutes for sharing what partners learned about each other after lunch. Arrival time can be another opportunity to check in with students and give them a few minutes to touch base with each other.

Games can be a fast, fun, and effective way for a group to get to know each other better, too. Here are a few to try:

  • This, That, Neither, Both
    Put a long strip of tape or yarn down the center of your meeting area. Pose a question with two possible answers (“Do you have an indoor hobby or an outdoor hobby?” “Do you like dogs or cats?” “Do you like to go to the library or the park?”) Ask the question and have students think about their answer: would they choose one, both, or neither of the answers? Then, everyone moves to show their preference, standing on one side of the line to show what they prefer, on the line if they like both options equally, or staying in their spot if they like neither. To wrap up, you might have them briefly chat with someone who made the same choice—or, just take a few seconds to notice where everyone ended up and suggest times to talk about shared interests later.
  • Four Corners
    Pose a question that has four possible answers. (“Where would you rather travel—back in time, to outer space, to another country, or to a special place in the United States?”) Designate one corner of the room for each possible answer. Have students reflect on their choice and then move to the designated corner. Once they are there, pair students up to discuss why they made the choice and some specifics related to it. One you’ve played this one a few times, try involving students even more by having them draft possible “Four Corners” questions and using them when you play.
  • Venn Diagram
    Place students in pairs, trying to pair up students who do not know each other well. Give each pair a simple Venn diagram with two overlapping circles. Students reflect on their differences and similarities and record their thoughts in the Venn diagram. When pairs have finished, gather the group in a circle and have each pair share something they have in common. (Repeat this one often, so students have a chance to try it with a variety of classmates over the course of the year.)
  • Human Bingo
    Prepare a grid with statements in each of the boxes, such as “a person who likes to read science fiction,” “a classmate who enjoys cooking,” or “a person who had an imaginary friend when s/he was little.” Hand out copies to students and model how to approach a classmate and ask if a statement on the grid is true for them. Be sure to explain that the purpose of the activity is getting to know each other more deeply—not getting the most names! Also, model how to respond according to these rules: each person may only sign a particular box once and each person may sign only one box on another person’s grid. Students then mix and mingle, seeking classmates to sign their names in each other’s grids.

You can weave games like these in throughout the day—to start the day off, as a warm-up to an academic lesson (such as a Four Corners lead-in to social studies where you ask which of several historical figures students might like to meet), when students have been sitting for a while and need to move, or to end your school day on a positive note. It’s never too late to get to know your students and for them to get to know each other.

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Building Classroom Community, Joyful Classrooms

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