Even though we're now all firmly into the new school year, it is important to continue team building with our students in order to foster a community of connected collaborators. Usually I hit the ground running with getting-to-know-you games and team-building activities the first week of school to ease into routines and introduce new classmates and classroom management. That said, those activities seem to quickly fall off my radar once the second or third week of school hits. This year, one of my goals is to weave team-building activities into every week to continue to grow stronger as a community of learners.
This collection of both academic and social activities is quick, easy, effective, and FREE. They are tasks that can be fun interjections into your day during morning meeting, transitions, brain breaks, or end-of-day routines. Set a goal to do one or two each week, and see how easy it is to maintain team-building routines all year long!
Students can always learn more about each other and firm up peer relationships
Continued speaking/listening skills practice
Remedy (or prevent) peer/friend issues that may be starting to bubble up
Review/modeling of expectations and appropriate/inappropriate behaviors
Icebreakers for new, more difficult academic tasks to come
Improve patience, acceptance, problem solving, and creative thinking
Shake up any existing cliques that may tend to form as the year progresses.
Quick brain breaks for nice transitions during day/week
Brain breaks and movement: Everybody needs brain breaks during the day. Maximize this time by incorporating team building into your brain breaks. Pair up students for calming yoga poses, have students double-up for dual dance breaks, and see how these quick movement interjections foster team spirit.
Guess-who paper balls: I have students write three clues about themselves on a piece of notebook paper and then toss into our bucket. Students randomly choose a paper ball from the bucket, read the clues aloud, and then try to guess who wrote the clues using what they know about their classmates. If students can't guess who their paper ball belongs to, they can ask a friend for help. We learned some REALLY COOL facts about each other and can't wait to keep learning more as the year progresses!
Connected web: One of my favorite continuing get-to-know you activities is the connected web. Using a ball of yarn or string, have students stand in a circle. The first person tells something unique about themselves. Everyone who has that in common then raises their hand and one-by-one the yarn ball is tossed to them (web begins to form). This continues until everyone in the class has shared and connected. You’ll end up with quite a web, and this demonstrates that students have more in common than they might have thought and that you can ALWAYS learn MORE about your classmates!
Behavior modeling: Throughout the years, I have found that one of the easiest, no-prep, effective ways to have fun while building teams and partnerships is to have students pair up or get into small groups to demonstrate positive-vs.-poor behavior choices. This time of year, the honeymoon is over (or close to it) and you’re likely to have behaviors start to crop up. Students know the rules by now, and are accustomed to your expectations and routines. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to have them model for each other the appropriate and INappropriate ways to behave in different scenarios and school settings. Of course . . . they have the most fun showing the naughty ways to behave. It’s a great time for all, but reinforces expectations just in the nick of time!
Never-ending Story: Working in teams, students work to write "never-ending" stories. Each student on the team has one minute to write. Each teammate that follows has to read what was previously written, then add to the story for their minute, relating what they are writing to what has been already written. This is SO. MUCH. FUN. The stories the teams produced (and then presented to the entire class) were hilarious, creative, and left the kids begging for more.
Math games: We play all sorts of math games with dice, dominoes, and cards. Read my blog post to learn more, and watch student-created video tutorials for several hands-on math games.
In one game we call The General, teams must collect cards and do small tasks (like tapping a pencil, snapping, clapping) the number of times on each card, for two minutes. Once two minutes is up, they must arrange their cards to make the largest possible number (place value).
STEM Challenges: One of the best aspects of incorporating STEM challenges into your classroom experience is the natural collaboration and team-building that is absolutely essential to participating. Since there is no one correct answer, and the process is about problem solving, speaking/listening and creative thinking skills are huge during these challenges.
Teams learn to brainstorm, divide up tasks, disagree effectively, compromise, collaborate, and creatively solve problems. They also learn patience and how to accept (perceived) “failure,” which is often difficult for kids. Never have I seen such teamwork between students of the same age or even mixed grades as I do during our STEM challenges.
Below you’ll see two classmates working hard together to build the tallest freestanding tower made only of dried spaghetti and assorted sizes of marshmallows. Check out our STEMagination Station website to see these challenges in action.
Play-on-words: We "rolled" into our first vocabulary lessons with this fun, whole-class, team-building game. Despite having several ways to play the game, the object is to make associations with words provided by your teammates as quickly as possible. This is another great game you can play at home with the entire family!
VERSION #1: The first person starts by saying a word (any word). Each time the ball is passed, the next person can say any word, as long as it somehow relates to the word before. Eventually, it becomes something like a game of telephone with the final word said seeming to have nothing to do with the original word. As long as you can justify how your word somehow relates to the word directly before yours, it's valid!
Example: Pie, cherry, George Washington, America, New York City, Broadway, Wicked, witch, Halloween, etc.
VERSION #2: Everyone has to say a word that IS related to the original word, without repeating something already said.
Example: Pie, cherry, apple, chocolate silk, crust, ice cream, whipped cream, fork, knife, dessert, etc.
How do you continue to foster a community of collaboration in your classroom? Do you find you need team-building and behavior-modeling refreshers beyond the first weeks of school? What have been your MOST SUCCESSFUL team-building (social and academic) tasks? Please share!