As adults in the past two years of a pandemic, it has felt isolating at times. Connecting with each other has been difficult. Now think of our students and the challenges they have faced.
The middle school experience is a time to explore friendships and learn more about our identity and what interests us. Students were not able to have this recently with online schooling. Students have craved connections and friendships, but some are struggling with these. Belongingness and connections to their peers are a priority and necessary for their growth, not only as students but as people as well. As teachers, we need to explicitly allow opportunities for our students to connect peer-to-peer. Low lift but high leverage connectors for students needing connection are effective tools to utilize.
The past school year has been filled with unforeseen challenges, which teachers and administrators know better than anyone. One of the highest needs within my classroom was connection, more specifically peer-to-peer connection. Students needed to remember how to make friends, talk to one another, and find common ground. One of the most challenging aspects of addressing this need has been the need for time to do so. Educators are often overwhelmed with tasks to do and not enough time to complete them.
Time is something we as teachers wished we had more of. If only we had more time to accomplish so many of the things we wish we could do. However, there are always strategies and activities that can fit your time budget to increase the likelihood of connectivity within your classroom and amongst your students. Regardless of how much time you are able to dedicate to connection-making, there are activities presented below that are intended for a time when time is limited that can help achieve that goal.
So, how much time do you have?
|5 minutes: Factoids
Ask each student to write one fact about themselves on a notecard. It could be their favorite animal, an accomplishment, what bones they broke, etc. Then put the facts into a box or bag. Whenever you have a few extra minutes at the end of class, have a student pull a factoid and read it out loud. Have the class guess and agree upon the person they think the factoid was written by and start guessing!
This is my students’ favorite activity and we are on the 3rd round of factoids already!
Recommendation: Only have students write 1-2 facts at a time depending on the age of the students; my 6th graders eventually forgot some of their facts they wrote.
|15 minutes: Written Appreciations
Set aside class time for students to write their classmates appreciation cards. These can be signed by the student who wrote them or can be anonymous. This exercise not only makes students feel good to hear nice things about themselves but additionally helps with writing skills and the ability of students to express themselves through writing.
Recommendation: Have students write them for only a few minutes in class, collect them so you can review them, and then pass them out the next day. For those students who did not receive one, you can write one for that student so no one is left out.
|20+ Minutes: Select from the options below
Blobs and Lines
This fun activity was found on Cult of Pedagogy. Students will either line up or gather into “blobs” based on the prompt given. Prompt examples: Line up in birth order, line up by first names alphabetically or blob up by their favorite computer game, blob up by their favorite sports to play/watch, blob up by their least favorite chore to do at home. This helps students to find others in their class with similar interests or similarities that they wouldn’t otherwise know.
Recommendation: This ice breaker worked best outside!
|Concentric circles (can also be found on the Cult of Pedagogy Website)
Split the class into two groups. Half will be the inner circle facing towards the outside of the circle, then the outer circle will face inwards. Each student should be directly opposite another. Have a set of “Would you Rathers” or questions to answer, such as: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck? Would you rather sneeze rainbows or cough tiny unicorns? If you had 1 million dollars, what would be the first thing you’d buy? If you could have any job in the world what would it be and why?
After a question is answered have the outside or inside group move one student to their right or left. Continue this pattern until each student has had a different partner. It’s like speed dating for classroom connections!
Recommendation: This ice breaker also worked best outside!
Cut half sheets of paper for each student. Ask them to write 3 facts about themselves on it. Then have everyone crumple up their paper into “snowballs”. On the count of 3 have them throw their “snowball” (safely) across the room. Then everyone picks up a “snowball” off the ground. Each student reads their paper out loud and has 2 chances to guess who wrote those facts.
Recommendation: You can reward those who guess correctly with a small treat or prize
Through the difficulties of the past few years, it is of the utmost importance for students to build a sense of community and belongingness in their classrooms and within their school culture. The majority of students’ waking hours are spent at school, so belongingness needs to be found within their school community and within their daily peer-to-peer interactions (Schuh, 2021). Every K-12 classroom can implement activities to create stronger peer-to-peer connections, regardless of overall school culture, especially after the pandemic era of online school. Time is no longer an obstacle not to.
Gonzalez, J. (2021, July 13). Icebreakers that rock. Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/classroom-icebreakers/Schuh, J. (2021, May 26). Children spend more awake hours in school than they do at home. Graduate School of Education | Touro University. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://gse.touro.edu/news/stories/children-spend-more-awake-hours-in-school-than-they-do-at-home.php