First days of school are always a little difficult. There’s so much to navigate – the new rooms, the new supplies, as well as the new responsibilities for the year. Arguably though, the most difficult part is all the new faces. I believe this is true for teachers as well as students. Every year, a new classroom of learners is brought together, and in the days ahead, they’ll need to learn how to cooperate, communicate, and mature alongside one another.

As teachers, we can help them succeed by kicking off the school year with an emphasis on community. By investing a little time into creating a positive classroom culture, we can give students the opportunity to create social bonds and prepare them for the tasks ahead. As a bonus, many activities centered around fostering community are also great for promoting social-emotional learning. So, before you start handing out this year’s projects, spend some time creating those social moments. For the best results, try to implement activities which fall into one of these four categories:

  • Getting to Know You: One of the best things about starting a new school year is the chance to meet new friends. A “getting to know you” activity can help students connect over common interests and break some of the tension that comes from meeting someone new. Consider using the I Am Venn Diagram game which puts students in pairs and gives them 5 minutes to chart how they are alike and how they are different. You could also tease out their opinions with a Would You Rather: Ultimate Addition Divide your classroom into two sides a present students with a “would you rather?” question. What side of the room will they choose?
  • Establishing Norms: A successful classroom starts with a common understanding around the expectations everyone has for themselves and each other. Setting up responsibilities is one way to ensure that the culture of the classroom remains consistent throughout the year. For example, try creating small chores within your classroom and then work with students to manage the schedule. Additionally, work with your students to create rules for extra credit which all agree are fair and help students grow. This incentivizes students to invest more in their own classroom.
  • Engineering Trust: Engage your students in an engineering challenge to promote collaboration, positive interdependence, and trust building. The challenges don’t need to be difficult, but they should encourage students to work together. One useful activity is the Up-Cycled Suspension Bridge. Using everyday products you’d find around the classroom, your school recycle bin, and even your trash can, see if students can build the suspension bridge of their dreams! You can even test out how much weight the bridge can hold also using common items around the classroom.
  • Teambuilding: Don’t tell your students about the power of cooperation — show them with a classic game. Helium Stick is a fun but surprisingly challenging activity which makes for a great teambuilding exercise. In this game, students must work together to lower a hula hoop or wooden rod using only their index finger. You could also get students’ creative juices flowing by having them write tandem stories. Have two students partner up and begin writing individual stories. After five minutes, have them switch papers and continue their partner’s work. The results are often hilarious!

If you’re looking for more free resources to help foster student connection, be sure to check out the Blue Apple Timely Topic: Classroom Community. This resource consists of four free lessons that promote cooperation and communication, all while being memorable, meaningful, and fun! A new year of school is just beginning and there is so much potential in the air. Give your students the best start possible by ensuring their classroom is a place where they can get the support and encouragement they need. Sometimes a little community can make all the difference!

For more free educational resources, check out out these teacher-tested strategies from Blue Apple!