Monday, 4 February 2019

Team Building: Creating a safe, fun and inclusive classroom environment

Team building activities are an essential for the beginning of the year, especially with upper-primary/intermediate students. It is a chance for students to make connections, collaborate and realise their potential as confident and capable members of the classroom. Every year I use the same words when beginning this fun team building unit - safe, inclusive and fun.  I strongly believe that if a classroom is safe, inclusive and fun, then learning and achievement will come naturally. A happy student is a student who will feel ready and motivated to learn!

This year I have brought in some old favourites, and introduced some new team building activities. Here are my favourites:

People Bingo!

Since I had a feeling my students would need a little push to interact with each other, I decided to use a ice breaker activity that would literally force them to talk to everyone on day one. I created a 5 x 5 grid and came up with a bunch of statements about students likes, dislikes and hobbies. I purposely used a 5 x 5 grid so students would practically speak to everyone (there are 27 students in my classroom).

Instructions: Students need to roam around the room and find someone who matched the statement. Their challenge was to dill their entire grid, and only have a persons name once.

Duration: 10 - 15 minutes.

Adaptations: this activity usually calls for students getting 5 names in a row, however I wanted to force them to speak to all of their new classmates. Also, because I knew some would be shy, I allowed them to choose between working with a peer or by themselves. This really helped my introverted students, as having a buddy gave them more confidence to approach their new classmates.

The verdict: Students started off pretty quiet, so I had to be patient with this one. After about 3-5 minutes, students had already asked their 'friends' to fill in their sheet, so they had to start asking people they didn't know. About 10 minutes in the class was buzzing with movement, chatter and giggles. If you have patience and keep encouraging your students (and hyping them up!) to take risks and speak to everyone, this is great for to use for your very first ice breaker.

Build it from memory

Create a structure (or series of structures like I did), and place it somewhere that the students can't see from their workspaces. In groups of 4, students have to work together to recreate the structure, making it exactly the same as the example. 

Instructions: One at a time, a student may look at the example structure for 5 seconds. The catch is, if they are the one that has looked, they cannot touch their blocks. Students will have to use their memory and communication skills. 

Duration: Around 15-30 minutes, depending on your students and the types of degree of difficulty of the structures. For my class, this took just over 20 minutes for three groups to finish.

To make it easier:

  • Allow students to look for 10 seconds
  • Be more flexible about the choice of colours of the blocks.
  • Have less structures, or more simplistic ones.
To make it harder:
  • Add additional blocks to their piles so students are not sure which ones are needed and which are surplus.
  • Set a time limit to add more pressure.
  • Make structures more complicated and involve more pieces (I was restricted by the number of blocks I had).

The verdict: this activity was so much fun! it was great to see students using their communication skills with their teammates, and coming up with strategies to make their structures the fastest. This activity does require a lot of teacher preparation, as you need to make sure that each student has the same exact blocks to work with.

Can you draw it?

This is activity is a class favourite!  You will need to find a simple drawing for your class to recreate. Each group (4 students only) will have a print out of the drawing, their own A3 paper and a felt pen with four strings attached.

Instructions: Each student must be holding onto the string. They need to communicate and work as a team to complete their drawing. They are not allowed to touch the felt, and all four students must be taking part and holding onto a piece of string.

Duration: depending on your students and the drawing you choose for them, it could take between 5-10 minutes. This a quick but super fun lesson! You could draw it out for longer by stopping part way through and having a discussion about why some groups are more successful than others.

To make it easier:

  • Securely tie the strings to the felt pen (I didn't do this because I wanted the students to problem solve and work collaboratively, as if one student pulled up too fast then the string would come off).
  • Get them to write TEAM or TEAMWORK instead.
  • Choose a very simple drawing
To make it harder:
  • Don't give students any guidance or tips.
  • Give your students the tools and ask them to figure out how to assemble the strings so they are controlling the felt pen but not touching it.
  • Have a complicated and detailed drawing

The verdict:
This activity is always a hit with students. There is a lot of laughter during this activity, as it is really tricky to draw as a team. Can You Draw It helps students to work on their communication skills, problem solving, their patience and co-operation as it is vital that all students take part, listen to each other and work as a team


Another classic team building activity. You will need a large playing space (indoors and outdoors works fine!) some obstacles for students to avoid and some blindfolds. It can also be useful to have a minefield for each group so that more students can be involved, and to add a bit of friendly competition!

Instructions: Students get into small groups and wait at the start of their minefield. One at a time, a blindfolded student will attempt to make their way through the minefield. Their team members will need to give clear, simple and careful instructions!

Duration: between 10-20 minutes.

To make it easier:
  • Space out your 'mines'
  • Have less 'mines'
To make it harder
  • Have tarpaulins (or something similar) to crawl under.
  • Set a time limit to add more pressure.
  • Add lots of 'mines'

The verdict: this activity is great for building students communication skills and trust. This is heaps of fun and is a good way for students to take risks and trust their classmates. My students also enjoy making it into a little competition with the other groups.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Start of the year: teaching values to set your expectations for the year

In my opinion, there are two crucial things to begin the school year with - team building activities and values. It is these two things that help students to settle into their new classroom, establish connections with their peers and understand the expectations.

Beginning the year with values (either school or the Key Competencies in NZ) is absolutely imperative for a number of reasons...
  1. It sets up expectations for how you want your students to work and behave for the year.
  2. It will be useful when creating your class contract or treaty.
  3. It can be used to create a meaningful wall display. It is something that the students would have had an active role in creating, which can be used as a point of reference and a constant reminder of the values and expected behaviour your the classroom.
  4. Is a great way for students to start learning how to work collaboratively.

This year at Glen Innes School, we have introduced our brand new school values. They are Responsibility, Effort, Ako, Commitment and Honesty... aka REACH. Since it was our first year with school values, it was super important that students made a connection to them. I expect my students to become role models to the rest of the school in showing the REACH values.  Here is how I have taught them to my classroom.

Bus stop rotation

The purpose: This activity helped students to recognise what they already knew about each of the school values - aka their prior knowledge. It is also a great way to maintain enthusiasm and energy, as students are at each station for a short period of time, and have to get up and move to each station.

Preparation: I created a Google Doc which I printed out as a3 and double sided. For each REACH value, there were four sections: What is it? Definition in a sentence, What would happen if we did use (value)? and What would happen if we did not use  (value)? Each 'value' is stationed at a specific group of desks.

'Bus Stop' activity in action
  1. Students get into groups and begin at a specific 'station', where a large sheet of paper and some questions/prompts on it (or just one question/prompt if you want). 
  2. Students work collaboratively to record their responses to the first question. 
  3. After about 3-4 minutes, students get up and move to the next 'station'. 
  4. Then, students read what the previous group has written, and adds their own ideas to the first question. If they feel they can, they move to the second question on their new sheet. 
  5. This cycle continues until the teacher feels the students all have shared enough ideas and they have a good understanding of the topic.
  6. Then come together as a classroom to have a conversation about what they can remember about each value.

Class discussion of the values 

Students' suggestions of values
Since it was the first time using these class values, we also had a discussion about their general thoughts on each value, as well as values that they felt were also really important. It was interesting that some students felt like commitment was not that important, as it could be tied into responsibility and effort. Students also spoke about Attitude, Respect, Perseverance and Courage. I was very proud of my students for being able to think critically and come up with additional values that could be used in our classroom. As a side note, students will soon come up with a response to the values and propose the addition of Courage into our school values (which I think is awesome!).

What does each value 'look' like?

After the bus stop activity, the class came together to think about how we could show our school values in the classroom. Students had to share their ideas on a collaborative Padlet, which was displayed on our Activboard. For this task, I let students work in peers. I explained that students would need these ideas for the next task.

Made with Padlet

Walking the walk

Next, in groups of around 6, students were tasked with staging photographs which showed the students using each value. I also told them that they could edit them with speech and thought bubbles to make each value clear.

Some of my students photos to show our school values

Creating a DLO 

A DLO (Digital Learning Object) is Manaiakalani speak for 'creating something to show what you have learnt'. Since a lot of students haven't done this before, the school values lessons are a great way to introduce DLOs. Students work in groups of 3 to create a DLO that explains their understanding of the school values. For each value, students MUST

  • Have their own explanation of the value (use the bus stop activity and Padlet to help them)
  • Include a their photo that shows the value in action (they can add in thought or speech bubbles to make the value more explicit)
  • Explanation of why the value is important.

Quick plenary

As a second form of the 'bus stop' activity, students share what each value means. For this activity, cut up coloured paper (a different colour for each value) into strips. Again, I created stations for each of the values, and included a new value - courage, to the task. Students had to write their ideas in big letters so that it could be easily seen on the wall. 

This task is great because it serves as a plenary AND you can use it for your wall display, saving you from writing or typing them out yourself. Also, having the students write their ideas themselves makes the wall display more purposeful and meaningful.

Make it a wall display

Make some lettering, print out the photos and staple everything onto your wall. And there you have it, your first, purposeful and student-created wall display!

Our values wall display. Next to it is our class jobs and class dojo rewards and consequences (we came up with this as a class). Underneath those will be our class contract.

What's next?

Now you can use your lessons and wall display to help create your class contract or treaty. You can also refer back to your wall display to reinforce expectations in your classroom.

Friday, 1 February 2019

Back to School 2019

Same room,  very different students!

Week one 2019 is already done and dusted! This year will be an interesting one as my classroom is very different from last year. They appear a lot calmer and reserved. Last year I had a lot of super extroverted, bold and confident year 8s who immediately were established as the 'leaders'  and big personalities of the classroom. In turn, the class fed off the energy, and the classroom was pretty lively from the get go. In stark contrast, this year my year 8s are a lot more laid back but quietly confident, and most of my year 7s are pretty timid.

My mission

My mission this term is to help my students to break out of their shells (especially the year 7s), and to help them to feel safe, included and happy in room six. I also want to help the year 8s realise their potential to be fantastic leaders.

How will I do this? With activities in the first 3 weeks that encourage students to make connections, take risks, collaborate and have fun together! Stay tuned to find out more about my team building activities and lessons about our school values.

So far I am absolutely loving my new classroom. I am looking forward to getting to know my new students and helping the class to be the best class they can be!