It’s Time to Reconnect

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 by in the face of mean behavior toward a classmate. The safer students feel, the more learning challenges they will embrace and the more collaborative they will be.

One way to build positive relationships in a classroom is by giving students opportunities to get to know each other’s talents, interests, and stories. Teachers often emphasize this aspect of community building at the beginning of the school year, but it’s just as important to maintain these relationships throughout the school year. 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?

For middle school educators, planning Responsive Advisory Meetings with the purpose of building student-to-student affiliation can help students reconnect with each other.  Earlier in the school year, students are in search of meaningful relationships and have a strong need to be with their friends. Throughout the year, reminding students to greet each other by name each day will not only help to build a positive learning community but also address students’ need to get to know others and be known by others. By this point in the school year, be mindful of the beginning of cliques, and remember to regularly mix students up in different pairings and groupings.

In addition, later in the school year it’s important to pay attention to shifting dynamics within groups and provide guidance as needed. For example, sixth grade student Henry was having an increasingly difficult time connecting with other students. He struggled with physical self-control, and other students were having trouble interacting with him in meaningful ways and were often annoyed and frustrated with him. Joe Tilley, Henry’s Advisory teacher and a Responsive Classroom professional development designer, realized that the relationship between Henry and the other students had gradually created a dynamic in the sixth grade classes that did not support their learning community. He decided to plan some Responsive Advisory Meetings around the purpose of building student-to-student affiliation to help all the students reconnect with each other.

Joe planned structured and purposeful ways for the students in his Advisory to get to know each other on a deeper level. Through activities such as Four Corners and Take a Side, Henry’s peers learned things about him they hadn’t known:  that he was good at math, played the clarinet, and had a multicultural family. This new knowledge helped them develop more empathy and appreciation for Henry.  In turn, Henry was able to interact with his peers in controlled, structured ways, helping him get to know them better while feeling a sense of significance, belonging, and fun.

Here are a few activity ideas to try as part of your Responsive Advisory Meeting or Morning Meeting that will support students getting to know each other better:

  • Take a Side
    Pose a question that has two possible answers, and designate one side of the room for each answer (for example, “Would you rather eat pizza or burgers?” “Do you prefer language arts or math?”).  Have students go to the side of the room that represents their choice.  Once the students gather, have them discuss their choice with the other students.  After a few rounds, invite a few volunteers to pose the questions.
  • Four Corners
    Pose a question along with 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 answer. Have students reflect on their choice and then move to the designated corner. Once there, students pair up to discuss why they made the choice and some specifics related to it. One you’ve done this activity a few times, invite students to draft possible Four Corners questions and use them the next time.
  • 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. 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 a statement in each of the boxes, such as “likes to read science fiction” or “enjoys cooking.” 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 better—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, asking classmates about statements on the grid and gathering signatures.

It’s not too late in the school year for students to get to know each other better. These relationships are where students learn and practice social skills so that they can collaborate on academic projects, assert themselves respectfully, and have empathy for each other. Middle school students are exploring new aspects of their identities and their emotions are running high. Learning about each other helps them to strengthen their relationships as they navigate the ups and downs of being a young adolescent.

The Responsive Advisory Meeting Book

Morning Meeting Book


Tags: Building Classroom Community, Challenging Behaviors, Empathy

8 Replies to “It’s Time to Reconnect”

  • Although I teach preschool, I feel that my student my students know each other real well and help each other . I feel that we have built a community of learners together.

  • Building relationships is so important in a classroom setting because it helps to build trust which will allow students to be willing to be open and honest about an opinion or idea.

    • I agree building relationships is very important in a classroom, it builds trust and helps students open up and helps their self confidence.

  • I am working on building relathionships after covid, students really need to connect to each other .

  • Hello all! I really enjoyed this read as it is helpful in applying it to my classroom. I am working to make collaboration more meaningful for students, so building a community through learning who students are is a great way to start! Additionally, noting the change in students throughout the year is a good thought in ensuring students stay connected and learn as they grow. Thank you for offering ideas on keeping students connected in the classroom; I look forward to trying the activities with my students!

  • I did enjoy this also. It is never too late for students to learn more about each other. I learn something new from them everyday.

  • I have always liked and used “get to know you” activities at the beginning of a school year. However, I have not continued to use them after that first month of school. I can see the benefit of using them throughout the year now. The students do grow and change, and new students come in through out the year.

  • I used to do morning meetings when I taught kindergarten; however, since I started teaching 2nd grade language and writing two years ago, I stopped doing this because I felt I wouldn’t have time since all of the second graders rotate classes and come to me. I feel as though my time is already limited because I have to teach language, writing, and spelling during a 1 hour and 20 minute window of time. I loved how the morning meetings set the tone for the day and it allow students learn more from each other. I believe I will implement morning meetings once again, but it might have to be with just my homeroom class.

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