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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Ice Breakers and Team Building for Social Distancing or the Virtual Classroom

Back to School 2020 is sure to be one for the history books.  Desks 6 feet apart, plexiglass dividers, classes split into 2 rotations, in-person and online classes.  What is a teacher to do when it comes to building a family in a classroom unlike any they’ve been in before?  

Like most things this year, many of our favorite classroom icebreakers and team building activities won’t work because they won’t be social distancing friendly.  But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  

Here are 10 social distancing and virtual classroom-friendly activities that will help you and your students get to know each other and set the foundations of a class family.



Ice Breakers for Social Distancing or the Virtual Classroom

1.  Hello, My Name Is . . .

This is a fun game to play with your students in order to help them learn the names and some fun facts about their classmates.  The idea is to use this game every day for 3 - 5 days in a row or play 3 - 5 rounds on one day.  All you need are some “Hello, My Name Is . . .” nametags. 

Each round will build on the last round using a different theme or question.
Round 1: Your Name
Have students write their name at the bottom of the white box on the name tag.  They will need space to add other words in the white space in front of their name.
Round 2: Your favorite food
Have students write the name of their favorite food right above their name.
Round 3: Your favorite color
Have students add their favorite color on the nametag right before their favorite food.
Round 4: Your favorite hobby / activity
Have students add a favorite hobby or activity right before the color.
Round 5: Add an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name
Have students write an adjective that starts with the same letter of their name before the hobby.

To play, take turns going around the room introducing yourself according to the theme or question for that round.  Each introduction should start with the words “Hello, my name is . . .”  After each introduction, the class responds with “Hi ________!” repeating what the student said.

Here’s a Round 1 example:
Student 1: Hello, my name is Mary.
Class: Hi, Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is Jonathan.
Class: Hi, Jonathan.

For Round 2 each person will add their favorite food before their name.  It might sound like this:
Student 1: Hello, my name is sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, taco Jonathan.

For Round 3 each person will add their favorite color to their name like this:
Student 1: Hello, my name is green sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, blue taco Jonathan.

For Round 4 it’s time to add a hobby to the mix. 
Student 1: Hello, my name is singing green sushi Mary.
Class: Hi, singing green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is reading blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, reading blue taco Jonathan.

For Round 5 each person will add an adjective that starts with the same letter as their name.
Student 1: Hello, my name is marvelous singing green sushi Mary.
Class:  Hi, marvelous singing green sushi Mary.
Student 2: Hello, my name is jovial reading blue taco Jonathan.
Class: Hi, jovial reading blue taco Jonathan.

You can make this game last as many rounds as you want by simply adding or taking off themes or questions.  However, it is the repetitive nature of the game, and the silly answers, that help students remember each other’s name and facts.

2.  Two Truths and a Lie

This is a fun, classic game that allows students to share some little known facts about themselves while trying to stump their classmates too.  Each student will write down two true statements and one lie about themselves.  Let them know that they can put these statements in any order as the goal is for the class to try to figure out which one is the lie. Although this can be done without writing it down, I have found that with elementary-aged students it is very beneficial to give students thinking time first.  Otherwise, you end up with students who try to think when it is their turn and it makes the truths and lie very obvious.

After everyone is done writing down their sentences, then go around the room having students read their 3 statements.  The class will then vote on which they think is the lie.  After the vote, the student will reveal the lie and can explain the truths if there is time.

This game could also be spread apart over many days.  After students write down their three statements, have them turn in their papers.  Then as time is available, the teacher will choose a paper, have the student stand, and then the teacher will read the 3 statements.  The class votes on which they think is the lie.  After the vote, the student reveals the real lie and can explain the truths. 

3.  Playdough Power

For this activity, each student will need their own small container of play dough.  Since students are most likely not able to share supplies, they can keep this in their desk or with their supplies to use again and again.

This is one of my absolute favorite first day of school activities.  I love to have it on the students’ desks ready for them to start when they first arrive.  Having an activity that they jump right into that doesn’t require them knowing anyone is a great way to ease the first day jitters.

Have students build something out of playdough that represents them or shares something about them.  Here’s some examples:
      Build your favorite animal
      Build your favorite food
      Build something that shows your hobby or something you like to do
      If you were an animal, what animal would you be?  Build it.
      Build something that represents your favorite TV show.
      Build something that shows what you did over the summer.
      Build what you ate for breakfast.

After students build, then have a share time where students show what they built and tell how it relates to them.  This activity could easily be repeated every morning during the first week of school, or longer, using a different build prompt each time.

4.  Would You Rather

Get to know your students, their likes, dislikes, personalities and more with a game of Would You Rather. Grab some Would You Rather questions from the internet and you are ready to begin.  All you have to do is ask students the question and then give them a way to respond.  For social distancing choose actions they can easily complete at their desk space like stand or sit.  This makes for a great movement break to use throughout the first few days of school, too!

Let the students know that you are going to ask them to choose between two options.  It’s okay if they like both or don’t like either, their job is to make a choice between the two.  Let them know that if they like the first option best, they will stand up.  If they like the second option best, they sit in their seat. 

Then ask the Would You Rather question and give the students time to respond with your chosen signals.  After each question, call on 2-3 students with each answer and have them explain why they chose their answer.

5.  Quiz Time

Make your first pop quiz of the year about the class.  Keep notes of the things you learn about your students during your ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities.  Then at the end of the first week, create a pop quiz asking questions about what you learned.  Your students will love being the stars of the questions!

You can make it a paper and pencil quiz or use an app like Kahoot or Google Forms to make a digital pop quiz.  This is a great way to introduce a new type of digital activity that you will use during the year too! 

Getting to Know You Activities for Remote Learning: Are you looking for a fun and engaging way for students to learn about each other?  I have made my Getting to Know You back to School Task Cards DIGITAL! But these aren't just task cards... They now include a to-slide Google Slides activity so students can put together an ebook all about them! It is possibly one of my favorite creations.  If you still want to go the traditional task card route but don't want to play SCOOT, I have also provided Google Slides versions of each of the cards so that you can project them at the front of the class.



Social Distancing or Virtual Team Building Activities

6.  Secret Handshake

Build a sense of classroom community with a class secret “handshake.” Tell the class that you are going to create a secret handshake or motion that you can use with each other during the year.  Let the class brainstorm some motions and then put together a simple secret handshake.

Some possible motions include:
      Air High 5’s
      Air First Bumps
      Air Hand Shakes
      Touching a body part like the shoulder, nose or head
      Wiggling or Moving a body part
      Turning Around

Try to develop a series that is about 5 movements or 5 seconds long.  After you decide on the class secret handshake, then practice it a few times.  Continue to practice it multiple times a day so that students can learn it quickly.  Then use it as you say good morning, when you pick the class up from lunch or before you say goodbye for the day.

7. 20 Questions

Play a game of 20 questions (or use the number that is the same as the number of students you have so that each person can ask 1 question).  Choose 1 person to pick a secret word (nouns usually work best) and have them write it down or tell the teacher.  Then challenge the class to work together to figure out what the person is.  This will require students to listen to each other's questions, the answers and thinking about related follow-up questions that might help to narrow down the secret word.

After everyone has asked a question, then let each student take one guess.

8. Race to 100

This is a fun game that takes teamwork, cooperation and listening skills.  Challenge the class to count to 100 as quickly as possible without two people talking at the same time.  Once the game begins, they are only allowed to say the numbers from 1 to 100.  If two people talk at the same time they must start over with 1.  If the numbers are repeated or said out of order, the counting must start again at 1.  It adds an element of competition if you time them or if you set a time limit.

This game works really well as a discussion starter for teamwork.  After playing a couple of times, stop and talk about the difficulties and what could make it more successful.  Then give the students 1-2 minutes of planning time allowing only one person to talk at a time during the planning time too.

After planning, let the class try the Race to 100 again.  Then talk about how this attempt was the same or different from the other attempts.  If it was more successful, have the class discuss the reasons why.  Hopefully, these reasons lead back to planning and teamwork!

9. 5 Word Story

You are going to tell a story as a class.  The catch, each student may only say 5 words at a time. Before you begin, make sure that everyone knows the speaking order so that you don’t have to stop your story to figure out whose turn it is. 

If you have space for students to spread out and sit in a circle around the room, this is probably the easiest option.  If students are at their desks, make sure that everyone knows who they speak after.  You can also list the names of the students on the board and use that order.  Just have a plan and make sure everyone knows it.

Then start the story.  As you say the first 5 words of the story, hold up your hand and raise one finger for each word.  Then look at the student who is next so they can continue the story.  It might sound like this:

Teacher: Once upon a time a
Student 1: dog was running in a
Student 2: park.  The dog was brown
Student 3: and white with a black
Student 4: spot over his left eye.
Student 5: A giant green and yellow
Student 6: lizard was chasing the dog
Student 7: through the park as it
Student 8: ran and looked around for

You can finish the story as a class or let it be the start of writing prompt.  After everyone has a chance to add 5 words, challenge the students to finish the story in their writing journals.

10. All Linked Up

So have you ever heard of the game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”?  You know, that game where you can connect any actor or actress with Kevin Bacon with 6 or less connections.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, take a sec and Google it.  And, if you have no idea who Kevin Bacon is, well, just forget you read this paragraph and keep reading because Kevin Bacon really has nothing ot do with this entire blog post, but I digress.

The idea of All Linked Up is to see if you can connect everyone in your class through common names, interests or activities.  To do this, students will need to know things about each other, so this one might be best played at the end of the week or during the second or third week of school.

To start out, make the connections anything that the students have in common.  It might be something like this:

Mary is connected to Mike, Margaret and Matthew because all of their names all start with M.  Matthew is connected to Sarah because they both have 2 brothers.  Sarah is connected to Kim, Jennifer and Lola because they all like the color pink.  Lola is connected to Jonathan because they both like to read.  And so on . . .

Once you can connect the whole class in a few different ways, you might try limiting the connections to one or two commonalities like favorite foods or members of the family.  Or challenge the class to see if they can connect everyone in 10 or less links.

There’s something about knowing that you are in some way connected with your entire class that helps you feel like you are part of something bigger than yourself.  You could also build a paper chain as a representation of these connections and keep it hanging in the classroom.


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Making Morning Meeting Work in your Upper Grades Classroom

Morning Meeting. It isn't just for the primary kids! I was lucky enough to get my very first job at a school that very much believed in the power of Morning Meeting. We were given the Morning Meeting Book from Responsive Classroom (which I HIGHLY recommend) and then were given autonomy to run our Morning Meetings in the way that best fit our classroom. To start, I followed the prescribed routines EXACTLY. Eventually, I was able to meld my Morning Meeting time into a precious tradition that fit my and my students' needs.


Please Note: This post was written pre-COVID, so some adaptations will definitely need to be made to ensure social distancing.  However, I still believe in the immense value of morning meeting, and I'd encourage it to happen as often as possible, even if it's over ZOOM!


The Purpose of Morning Meeting

The foundation of learning is a trusting relationship with a caring and effective teacher, and the best learning environment is one that is emotionally safe for every student. Morning meeting goes a long way in achieving this goal.

When you start the day with a routine Morning Meeting, students can feel welcomed, relaxed, confident, and ready to learn. By spending time interacting with their diverse group of peers, truly listening to others and learning about others’ lives and perspectives, students’ ability to live together in the community and in society is strengthened every day.


The Basics of Morning Meeting

Morning Meeting is a 20-30 minute block of time reserved for team building in the classroom. Morning Meeting is not often academic in and of itself, but research suggests that its benefits can have an effect on academic performance throughout the school day. Morning Meeting, when completed as suggested, has four distinct parts that are supposed to be completed each day. Due to time constraints, grade levels, or other limitations, one or more of these components may be cut to accommodate class time.

1) Greeting: Each person in the classroom is greeted individually. This can be done in a variety of ways, depending on the amount of time the teacher has for Morning Meeting or the other meetings that are planned. Most often, students “turn to the left and turn to the right and greet each other, by name, with a handshake.” Other times greeting games are played to combine the greeting and the activity. Greeting is one part of Morning Meeting that I NEVER miss. Ever. Even if we only have time for a handshake.

2) Activity: Students participate in a team-building activity, play a game, or read a relevant book that can facilitate discussions. The activities are often not academic, though they can often be modified to practice academic skills or integrate with classroom topics. If there is something going on in the classroom or at the school that needs to be addressed, it is often addressed in place of the activity. Many discussions occur around this time!

3) Morning Message: A message is written on the board each morning, and students must read it and often respond to it. The message will include notes about the day, and its special events. Then students are asked to respond with one or two words to a short prompt, such as “what is your favorite color?” (Of course, they get much more creative than that as the school year goes on.) The results can be used to make a bar graph later, or to have other discussions.  Some teachers use this as an editing prompt and pepper their morning messages with errors.  I never did this, but it's totally up to you.

4) Sharing: This is usually one of the highlights of Morning Meeting for most students. Yes! Even in the upper grades!  Three to four students are allowed to “share” each day and other students can ask questions about what the student has shared. An important element is that the sharing does not have to be an item….it can be anything that is going on in the student’s life. In fact, no more than a quarter of all sharing is an actual item. Students sign up to share in advance, on a board posted in the Morning Meeting space.

Setting Expectations for Morning Meeting

The book goes into this quite deeply, but if you are wanting to get started with morning right away, here are a few expectations I set from DAY ONE so that morning meeting runs smoothly and is a respectful, collaborative time.

  • Arriving at Morning Meeting: I always had some sort of signal to tell kids it was time to clean up their morning work and join us at morning meeting.  This was something we would practice, practice, practice at the beginning of the year.  The expectation was that when they heard the signal, they'd immediately put away their things and quietly find a spot in the Morning Meeting circle.  This happened quickly and quietly so that no time was wasted. Morning Meeting is included in our transition tracker. At the beginning of the year, I have a student timekeeper time how long each transition takes.... They LOVE trying to beat their time, and I love saving all those precious minutes for instruction! 
  • Forming a Circle: This could really fall under arrival, but I think it's important to mention.  We had a "rule" that we did not sit next to the same people each day when getting into the circle formation for Morning Meeting and that NOBODY was left out of the circle.  I let children choose their space within the Morning Meeting circle, but I reserved the right to move anyone at any time.  It also takes a few weeks, but after a while, students really learn how to form the circle without me having to ask them to make space for everyone.  Setting these expectations up front saves headaches later!
  • Respecting Talk Time: This may be the most important one!  During sharing time, we set that expectation that whoever "had the floor" TRULY had the floor.  So often while sharing, another kiddo would raise their hand and say, "OH! That happened to me too..." and proceed to tell their story.  Since we really want students to feel like they are being heard, we teach kids to do a "me too" single or "connection" single to acknowledge that they relate to what's being said but to not take the spotlight off of other students. We always encouraged students to share their connections with the sharer during resource or during another time! Morning Meeting discussions provide GREAT conversation starters for later!


Adapting Morning Meeting to the Upper Grades

When I first started teaching, I taught third grade, and Morning Meeting was easy! Kids LOVED all the cutesy greetings, they still adored sharing, and any activity made them grin. Moving to fourth grade was a little bit different, and I found that I needed to change it up to really engage them and make it worth their time. Here are some of the ways I made each part of Morning Meeting work for me!


I always had a morning message on the board when students walked in, but it was never as detailed as a typical Morning Meeting message. It would usually say something along the lines of, "Good Morning! I am so excited to see your smiling faces today. Today, we will practice our math skills by playing detective, and we will watch an exciting video to demonstrate cause and effect. Let's make it a great day!" Then, I would typically add a VERY brief prompt, like, "What is one thing you are proud of?" After they come in every morning, students would have the opportunity to respond to that prompt on the whiteboard or on a piece of anchor chart paper, depending on where I wrote it. I typically did not add editing tasks or anything like that to our morning message, but I did take mental notes of which students didn't contribute to the board. If I saw that there was a student who hadn't responded in a while, I would make it a point throughout the day to quietly and casually ask him/her their answer to the next day's prompt. This is a GREAT time to discreetly learn a TON about your students!

I keep track of morning message ideas on THIS Pinterest board. There are so many great ideas here!


The silly, drawn-out greetings just couldn't keep my 4th graders engaged. They ended up getting super silly, twirling around on the floor, and not everyone would get to participate or WANT to participate. So instead, we usually keep it fairly brief and engaging.

The only requirement for our greeting was that each and every student looked into someone's eyes and greeted them by name every single day.  Whoever they greeted then greeted them back.  We usually included a fist bump, hand shake, or elbow tap as well.  But even that one second of connection gave life to some children early each morning! Since I greet my students at the door each morning, this ensured that every single child was earnestly greeted at least three times every morning (me, the person they chose to greet, and the person who greeted them). They were welcomed into our class.

Some of our favorite upper grades greetings include:

  • The Ball Toss: What kid doesn't LOVE a koosh ball?  This usually showed up at least once a week in our room because it was quick and easy but well-loved.  Everyone in the circle would stand up, and I'd toss the ball to a student and greet them by name.  They'd greet me back, then choose another person to greet and toss it to them.  Once they've been greeted, they sit down. 
  • The Shoe Greeting:  Each student throws one shoe into the circle.  You go around the circle and each student chooses a shoe, finds the person wearing the match, and does a simple handshake greeting.
  • Order Up: This is a play on the old "line up according to birthdays without talking." All year long, students would brainstorm ways that we could order ourselves, alphabetical, by birthday, by age, etc. and we would make our circle in that format and do a simple handshake greeting around the circle.
  • Snowball Fight:  This one literally never got old.  As part of the morning message, I would tell students to write their name on a piece of paper and bring it to the morning meeting.  When they arrive, I would have them crumple it up and throw it in the center.  Going around the circle, each person picks a snowball and greets that child.
  • Commonly Uncommon:  This is a play on the common "Just like me!" game that is described in the official Morning Meeting book.  Going around the circle, each child would say one unique thing about themselves, like, "Good morning! I am Mrs. Montero, and I absolutely LOVE learning about the Titanic."  Any child that agreed with that statement would stand up and say, "Hey!  Me too!" Then, they would great one another.  If there were a TON of me toos, the person would just choose a few. 
There are truly so many different greeting options, but in the upper grades we always tried to simplify things.


Morning Meeting activities totally run the gamut. Sometimes, they can parallel the counseling guidance activities or address conflict issues in the classroom. We often use this time to read books and discuss how they can apply to our current classroom situations. At the beginning of the year, we use this time to discuss our character trait of the week. By teaching social skills and peer interactions before situations arise, without any real conflict, students can role-play compassion, respect, and all positive attributes without any emotional load attached. This builds their confidence in themselves and each other and in the safety of the classroom environment, as the teacher's expectations for how student will treat each other is completely clear, and that the teacher will take the time to be sure everyone is heard and understood.  That being said, here were a few of the more common activities we did during Morning Meeting in the upper grades.
  • Picture Books: At least once a week, I include a picture book reading and discussion in my morning meeting plans.  Here is one example of how I used a picture book at the beginning of the year.  We read the book The Day You Begin (so good).  Then the kids wrote down (anonymously) things that made them unique.  We posted the sticky notes and read them aloud.  The next day, if there were kids that had something in common, we placed a heart next to the sticky note to show some commonalities.  This is just ONE example, but the options are truly endless with picture book.

  • Drama Circles: I LOVE Drama Circles from Runde's Room, and so did my students.  We did one for just about every holiday and any other time I could fit them in.  I can't recommend these enough!
  • Think It Through: This is a routine that I've talked about pretty extensively on the blog, and one that I will FOREVER be passionate about including.  We typically do our morning work before morning meeting, and Think it Through is always at least one morning's morning work, and then students also use it as an early finisher option.  On Fridays, discussing that week's content is our activity.  I LOVE hearing what students think about their quotes, and the week's activities always end up causing quite the discussion! 




  • Would You Rather: There are SO many options for free Would You Rather questions, and kids always eat them up!  We would all stand in a line and then have one side of the room be one option and one side be the other.  Sometimes I would let them engage in a little debate about it, too.


In the lower grades, we had a sharing sign up board for sharing time during Morning Meeting. This usually encouraged kids to bring something and turn it into more of a show and tell time. It always broke my heart when a kiddo REALLY wanted to share something on a particular day, but they weren't signed up for the day. So, I did away with signing up, and I limit us to about 5 minutes of sharing depending on how long our activity was. Sometimes, 15 kids get to share, and sometimes 5 kids get to share. I tell the students that if there is something *particularly* important that they want to share during morning meeting to let me know ahead of time so that I can be sure to call on them.  Most often in the upper grades, kids aren't bringing toys to share, but they are just verbally sharing something important to them, which is so important.

Another huge component of sharing is question time.  I mentioned above how important it is for students to not monopolize another child's sharing time.  That's where questions come in handy!  After a student shares, they can choose one or two students to ask questions (NOT make connections) about their share.

Wrapping Up

For me, the goal was always that Morning Meetings could eventually be run almost completely by the students. Ideally, a student is chosen to be the leader of morning meeting, and they decide, from a list provided by the teacher, on the day’s greeting and activity. This is a high honor, even in the upper grades.

Do you want even more ideas for classroom traditions that build community? Check out THIS post!

This post includes affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission for purchases made.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Incorporating the Outdoors into Classroom Instruction

Incorporating the outdoors into your classroom can be a fun way for kids to learn, and this year it will prove to be especially important. Studies show that getting into nature has a calming effect on children, improves sensory skills, can increase attention spans, and gives children a sense of freedom. While we can’t be outdoors all the time, we can even bring the outdoors inside! Here are some tips and tricks to help get nature into your classroom! 


Nature as Manipulatives
Depending on your student’s level, items from nature make perfect materials for hands-on learning! Leaves, flowers, and rocks make perfect ways to learn colors and shapes.  Older kids can use the manipulatives to make shapes with certain attributes... Students can go on a scavenger hunt around the playground looking for different colors or shapes that can be found in nature. Challenge the students with bingo cards that ask them to find certain items.

For older students, things from nature such as acorns and pinecones can be used to group when learning multiplication and division. These items can also be used on place value charts when learning regrouping for addition and subtraction.  

For the activity below, I gave each child four equal groups task cards, and they had to use outdoor manipulatives to represent them.



Outdoor Classroom
Don't underestimate the power of simply stepping outside. When possible, take your class outside for periods of time! Read-alouds and sustained silent reading are perfect opportunities to go outdoors and let the kids get some fresh air while still learning.  If it's a nice day outside, I regularly take my students outside with their literature circle books and conduct reading groups outside. 

Science- especially on days where messy experiments are scheduled- is also an opportune time to take the class outside. Be sure to take all the necessary materials and your accountability sheet, and you’re all set for outdoor learning! The Science Penguin has SO many amazing outdoor scavenger hunts and science activities that work with many different topics.

Plants and Animals
An easy way to bring nature into your classroom is to have an abundance of plants! Plants bring the outside indoors, add brightness to your room, and improve air quality. You can choose a mix of flowering plants and green plants, and talk about the differences in growth between the different types. These plants can also be used to learn measurement and how to create data charts. Taking care of the plants is something that can be easily added to your class job chart.  I always have a group of students who take great pride in caring for the classroom plants.

I was never able to personally pull it off, but a classroom pet is also a great way to bring the outdoors inside. Whether it’s a fish, turtle, or hamster, students can learn about the animal and its natural habitat. Discussions about what the animal eats, where in nature it is found, and what it’s predators are can take place at morning meeting time. Much like plants, taking care of the class pet can be a student job, which increases a sense of responsibility among students! 

Weather Charts and Pictures
Part of bringing the outdoors inside is to learn about what’s happening outdoors! You don't have to wait until your curriculum calls for you to track the weather... A daily weather discussion can be incorporated as part of a morning meeting or science. Younger students (and let's be honest, older students, too) will enjoy observing the weather and discussing the temperature and any precipitation. Chart the moon phases, or keep a line graph of the high and low temperatures daily.  Older students can talk about wind speed, different types of clouds, and humidity. Another idea for a class job is the class naturalist, who reports on current weather conditions.

Putting up pictures of beautiful nature scenes can also bring the outdoors in. You might want to choose pictures of places that are far away, so that students can see pictures of nature other than what is outside their own window. Some ideas include Antarctica, the rainforest, or the desert. Be sure to include animals, as well! Many students enjoy animals and these pictures can become great discussion topics. After a while, encourage students to find their own outdoor inspiration pictures to bring in and discuss.
 
Classroom Library Selections
Be sure to have books about nature and animals available to the students! These books can be enjoyed during sustained silent reading, or after independent work is completed. Additionally, if you have a writing center, look for writing prompts about plants, animals, the weather, or natural landforms. These topics can be enjoyable for kids to write about! When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher pulled pictures off of scenic calendars and used them as writing prompts. They were always a huge hit.


Outdoor Scavenger Hunts

Have your students go on a scavenger hunt! While this one isn't really nature-oriented, it's a great way to take advantage of a beautiful day. I love hanging up task cards on the outside windows at my school and having students complete them scavenger hunt style. They all start at a different number card and then move around finding the next one in the numerical sequence.

These girls are working on Task Cards taped on our outdoor windows.  In the reflection, you can see even more students working on them!


Walking Podcasts

Do you have access to devices at your school?  Have a group of students listen to an educational podcast while they walk around the track or playground. 

Team Building and Morning Meeting Activities

Every Friday during Morning Meeting, it was a goal of mine to get outside and play a quick ten-minute game.  Captain's Coming was ALWAYS a favorite and that quick shot of fresh air and activity did wonders for their attention spans!

Find Inspiration Everywhere Outdoors
There are SO many ways to incorporate the area surrounding your school into lessons. For example, when we are studying angles, I have students go outside and find examples of angle types in the playground equipment. If you're working on graphs, haves students collect data on how long it takes them to do certain things and then graph it. If you're working on area and perimeter, go outside to measure dimensions of the concrete slabs. The options are truly endless, and there is a way to adapt most lessons to make them outdoors-friendly!


How do you incorporate the outdoors into your classroom?

Monday, July 13, 2020

Incorporating Classroom Traditions to Build Classroom Community

Every year that I walk into a classroom, I have the same goal: build our class into warm, welcoming community that functions like a great, big extended family. The goal is to take 20 to 30 people who might not know each other, who might not have a single thing in common, and who might not always get along, and bring them together in a way that they look forward to being together, support and encourage one another and help each other through the learning process. It might be a lofty goal, but it’s an important one that helps to create an overall safe and effective learning environment. Here are some of my favorite tried and true activities to help build community in the classroom.




There are some things we do in class every.single.day that help to build the classroom community! No, I’m not talking about taking attendance or getting lunch count, although I HAVE heard of some teachers adding a fun little twist to these daily tasks (like singing it) and that could become a tradition.

Here, I'm focusing on special activities that make students feel welcome and like they are part of something bigger than themselves. Having spent years working in an International Baccalaureate (IB) School, it was always a goal of mine that students see that there is so much more beyond the walls of their home, school, city, state, and country. Building this type of community is one small way of doing just that.

Class Greeting

Every day, I greet my students at the door to our classroom. I know the mornings are busy, but this is top priority for me as students enter.

I want them to know that I am happy they are there and welcome them in with a smile. Most days we give each other a warm handshake, some days we high-five, some days we fist bump and others we use silly voices. But my most favorite way to greet my students is with a “secret handshake” that has become popular on social media over the years. A few years ago, I started coming up with a special way to do this. Sometimes I create the movement (it’s not just a handshake - that would be too boring) and other years we create it as a class.

You can use it when students arrive in the morning, when they leave for the day, or any time you need a moment of connection during the day. It’s ours and it becomes a special form of communication just for us.

Want to create your own secret class greeting? I’d suggest keeping it short, like 2 or 3 simple motions, no more than about 5 seconds, and have fun with it. Sure, you might look silly, but at least you’ll look silly together.

I know that social media has popularized each student have their own personal secret handshake, but I have never done that, primarily because I have the coordination of a donkey (?? are donkeys uncoordinated? That just felt like the right analogy to me in the moment) and it would take me all year to memorize 30 separate handshakes.

Morning Meeting

Now, before you stop me and tell me that Morning Meeting is only for primary grades, hear me out. Morning meeting can be a very valuable and special time for older kids too! I will never have a classroom where I don't incorporate some form of morning meeting every day.

You don’t have to review the calendar or sing a song every morning (although kids of all ages LOVES a good song, whether or not they will admit it upfront). Instead, make it an important part of the day that helps everyone get on the same page.

I have a HUGE post all about Morning Meeting HERE, but here are a few suggestions of things you could do to make morning meeting a community building time in your classroom.

  • Review the schedule for the day and help everyone mentally prepare for the day ahead. This is especially helpful if you have any schedule changes that need to be discussed.
  • I always let a few people share each day. In the lower grades, I would have students sign up to share, but in the upper grades, I was able to make it more flexible and allow children to raise their hands to share whatever is on their mind.
  • This Day in History is a fun way to learn some fun historical facts while focusing on the day. You’d be surprised at how quickly the kids begin to anticipate it.
  • It is during morning meeting that we share our reflections on the Quote of the Day from Think it Through. We usually do this on Friday. I have students share out what they think the quote means, and it always ends up in a beautiful discussion. This is a great time to reinforce growth mindset principles, dig into character traits or connect our daily lives with important people from history.
  • Word of the Day is a great way to build student vocabulary in less than a minute. Share the word and the definition then write it on the board so the kids see it all day long. Have a special class cheer or small reward for any student who can use the word correctly during the day.
  • Have a quick write journal that gets your students writing for about 5 minutes every morning. Use a writing prompt that will lead to class discussion, or just have a discussion based on the prompt. Limit the writing time and then have a time of sharing or discussion. Writing prompts that focus on emotions, character traits and encouraging classmates is a great way to build community.
Now you don’t have to do all of these at one time. Choose one or two you like best and do them every day. If you like many of the ideas, choose a different one for each day of the week and develop a weekly morning meeting routine.


Daily Praise & Reflection

At the end of each day, I like to have a time of daily praise or reflection. Sometimes it’s me giving praise to the students and other times it is peer praise. What’s great about this is that depending on the time available it could be a super-fast 30 seconds of praise or it could fill 5 minutes. It’s a great way to build up students, acknowledge their effort and to let them know that you notice the little things. One of the things that I am very intentional about with praise is focusing on the action, the character trait or the skill that was shown, and I teach my students to do the same. In my room we don’t typically focus on praising appearance, clothes or possessions.

Although I don’t have a set list that I follow or an order for giving praise, I do make sure that every student receives public praise. Not only does it go a long way in building the teacher/student relationship, but it also helps to reinforce positive choices. Find the positive, reinforce it, and watch as your students repeat it day after day. I have watched students who have struggled with poor classroom behavior or self-esteem have dramatic improvements because of Daily Praise.

I also love hearing my students reflect on their day's work. Sometimes instead of Daily Praise, we also do a daily reflection. We talk about the best parts of the day (doesn't HAVE to be academic in nature), and we even reflect on some parts of the day that didn't go as well as they could have.

Special Occasion Class Traditions

I also like to incorporate some class traditions on special occasions too. These might only happen occasionally during the year, or they might be a once a year event that students experience together. Oftentimes, these are the traditions that kids may even already know about before they come into my classroom because they've heard about them through the grapevine!

Mini Room Transformations

I am a huge proponent of mini room transformations when you can apply them to specific skills you are teaching. They most often coincide with my math and reading projects, but we also do a Book Tasting several times throughout the year. At the beginning of the year, I always transform my room into a little detective zone for our Place Value Detective Project. It's super basic-- I just hang up some caution tape, purchase magnifying glasses at Oriental Trading, and get a stamp pad for students to fingerprint their papers when they finish each section. I do this for several different units (or anytime I can apply it to academics), and it has become a tradition in my classroom that students rave about! It does NOT need to be over the top to be engaging and meaningful!

Class Rewards

This is a pretty personal tradition, and you have to find one that works really well for your class, your students, and your classroom management style. I have done a variety of different reward systems, but students seem to gravitate toward a "ticket" system most often. They can earn tickets as "gotchas" for literally ANYTHING positive. They can't lose them. The best part is that at the end of the week or at random (they especially love when I randomly pick up the ticket tub), I pull a few tickets out of the jar and they can choose a small prize. SMALL is key. They are usually pencils, cool markers and pens, little doodads, etc. I ask for donations at the beginning of the year and then collect things on sale as I see them.

Big Kid Show and Tell

Kids love show and tell...ESPECIALLY the big kids. They love sharing things about themselves and their lives. Building relationships happens when we share and get to know each other at a deeper level. So although I know the rigorous demands on your time, I also know that there is a great benefit to show and tell. I usually try to incorporate show and tell into morning meeting, but here are a few extra ideas about how I connect show and tell to the learning standards so that we can meet both a community building and academic goals:

  • Use show and tell to meet the speaking and listening standards
  • Have a themed show and tell that is connected to something you are learning about
  • Have a written show and tell where students bring in a picture of themselves with the show and tell item and then write about it

I try to have a different sharing topic once a month for morning meeting, but there are times when we skip a month, and I DO let students choose their own sharing during morning meeting, too. Here are a few themed show and tell topics to get you started:


  1. This week we are learning about different types of angles. Bring in a show and tell item that has at least 1 obtuse angle, 1 acute angle and 1 right angle. Yep - all three angles in one item! You will have 1 minute to tell about the item and identify the angles.
  2. This month we are focusing on the character trait of bravery. Bring in a picture or an item and share about a time you witnessed bravery or you yourself were brave.
  3. In science, we just learned about Sir Isaac Newton and his laws of motion. This month’s show and tell will focus on things that move. Bring in an item or a picture of a moving object and be ready to tell us what Sir Isaac Newton would have to say about it. No living things may be brought to class - bring a picture instead!

With some creative thinking, Show and Tell can be used to not only support your standards, but also to get your students applying and analyzing their learning and connecting it to real, everyday life.

Throwback Thursday

Have you ever had a great teaching idea on the spur of the moment? That’s how Throwback Thursday started. You see, it was a Thursday afternoon after a long week of test prep and I found myself staring at the glazed-over eyes of my students. I knew I couldn’t just keep going, so I started thinking of something to do to take a break. Then I remembered the social media post I saw that morning - a Throwback Thursday image of my friend and her family. Before I realized what I was really saying, I excitedly announced “It’s time for Throwback Thursday!”

My students looked up at me a little confused and so I explained that I was going to set a timer and for the next 5 minutes we were going to share some of our class favorite days, activities, memories and stories from the year. Hands started shooting up all over the room and for the next 5 minutes we re-lived some of our greatest moments. There was energy in the room as we laughed and remembered together. It was just what we needed to break up our day.

The next Thursday a student asked, aren’t we going to do Throwback Thursday? When the class cheered I knew it would become a weekly or almost weekly class tradition.

Stand Up Comedians

If you've spent much time in an upper grades classroom, you know how much kids LOVE to share and tell jokes! I encouraged my students to collect jokes, and when we had a few extra minutes, we'd have STAND UP time! It can take as little as 2 minutes out of your day, and students love, love, love it. File this under Brain Break ideas, too!

Fun Friday

Most Friday mornings, I would bring my class outside for a quick 10-15 minute game. You could always tie this into your classroom management system, but I rarely took this away because it was such a special time for us. There are so many easy games to play (Captain's Coming is a favorite), and over time they get GIDDY with excitement when they arrive on Friday mornings.


Picture Board

I strongly suggest that you find a way that you'd like to document your year in pictures and reflections. My first year teaching, I did something called "Reel Reflections" and took pictures each month to print out. On the last day of the month, we would talk about ALL the things we did and learned that month, and I would type them out and hang them next to the pictures. It stayed up all year, and was so fun to see all of our learning! I wish I had a picture of it, because it was such a great display.

A few years ago, I put up an Instagram bulletin board that I would change out monthly with different pictures. Students absolutely loved this. I kept all the pictures from each month and gave them out at the end of the year. It was the best walk down memory lane at the end of the year and keep smiling faces on the walls all year! (Tip: I hung up pictures of my family at the beginning of the year so students could get to know me and my family.)

Time Capsule

Have you ever put together a time capsule at the beginning of the year to be opened on the last day of school? It's pretty fun! I take a class picture, we all write down our hopes and dreams, and I print out some local news articles. It's always amazing to look back and see how much changes in a year.

Make Your Own Traditions

Remember Throwback Thursday? You see that wasn’t an activity I had on the lesson plans and it wasn’t even on the schedule. In fact, it wasn’t even in my head until that very moment. I share that to encourage you that not all community-building activities have to be thought out. In fact, some of the best start with a spontaneous thing that happens in class. It might start with an inside joke that only your class gets or maybe it’s an activity or way of your learning that your class really enjoys. It could be anything as long as you make it yours!

Be intentional about building community in the classroom, but also be flexible. An activity that was loved in previous years might be a flop and new activities, like Throwback Thursday, might be born. Each class has its own personality that will come out in its own unique ways. Go with it, have fun with it, and watch your group of random people become a family.

Pin It and Come Back!

If you are anything like me you vaguely remember a classroom idea but have no idea where you saw it. I started pinning ideas that I wanted to use in my classroom on my Pinterest boards. Now I go to Pinterest and can quickly and easily get back to my favorite classroom ideas and activities. So, pin this now so you can come back later for more classroom community building ideas.




How Do You Build Community in the Classroom?

I’d love to know some of your favorite community-building traditions. Come join the discussion in my teaching Facebook group or on Instagram.