Building community and developing relationships is the foundation of a successful learning environment. But what if you only see your students on a computer screen?
For years, I used an activity I call Friendly Fridays to help my students build community and develop social awareness in my physical classroom. Now that I’m teaching remotely, my class has been able to keep up the tradition of Friendly Fridays so that we continue to build lasting relationships even as we interact online.
What Is Friendly Friday?
Friendly Friday is a powerful strategy that is part of SEAL, social-emotional artistic learning. This SEAL strategy focuses on social awareness and relationship building while integrating artistic creativity. In a variety of creative ways, the teacher encourages students to make cards for one another, co-design art pieces that come together, and even spread friendliness out into the school community.
Teachers who have used Friendly Friday ideas and activities tell me how effective they are in helping students build empathy and show kindness to one another. The key to making a Friendly Friday successful is connecting the creative work that students do for one another to the social and emotional learning that’s happening.
Now that many classes are remote, the fear is that students will not have the chance to build some of these skills that they traditionally develop in person. Finding ways to translate this type of work online may seem tricky at first, but it’s completely possible and very rewarding.
Starting Simple With a Comment Stream
The first step is introducing Friendly Friday in your remote classroom to your students using the comment stream or chat box in your online classroom. Before you set up the comment stream, have students share some appropriate messages they may want to type:
- Have a wonderful day.
- I’m so glad to have you all in my class.
- Have a great weekend!
- You have made this a great week at school.
Once you believe your students are ready, start the comment stream and have them write their Friendly Friday messages in the comments. For some added fun, play some upbeat music in the background as the kids type and read the friendly messages.
Quick tip: Encourage students to write something to the entire class instead of individuals. This way, no students will feel left out. Also, be sure you have editing capabilities in case you need to remove or edit any comments.
Creating Something That Will Make Others Smile
Once students understand the idea of Friendly Friday and the important part it plays in their classroom, you can take it to the next level: creating.
For this, instruct students to create something that will make their classmates smile. Plan to give students about 15 to 20 minutes to create something on paper that they can share with the class. I encourage my students to make a drawing, use color, and add a friendly message.
When the time is up, students should hold up their creations to show the rest of the class. Take some time to enjoy this part, marvel at your students’ creations, and invite a couple of them to discuss what they made.
You can extend this type of activity in the following weeks as you ask students to use different materials, cut shapes out of paper, and make sculptures from household items.
As students get more and more used to Friendly Friday, you can give them a little freedom to come up with other concepts to share with their class. Maybe they can write a friendly song or share a story they are creating.
Some students may start thinking of this as show-and-tell, but that’s not the focus of a Friendly Friday. In show-and-tell, the focus is on the person who created something or owns the thing they are sharing. For Friendly Friday, the focus is on doing something nice for the other people in the class. You may need to emphasize this difference every so often.
Quick tip: As an option, have your students take a picture of what they’ve created and post it in your remote classroom (or digital board such as a Padlet or Jamboard) for others to enjoy.
Extending to Others
Once you’ve established Friendly Friday in your own class, it’s time to bring the experience to others. Use your Friendly Friday time for students to share a Friendly Friday message, piece of art, or gesture with others.
Students might create a card for a friend, design a sculpture for a family member, or get creative with an act of kindness for a neighbor or sibling. Sometimes I ask students to make a special, secret friendly message for a family member, and when time is up, I’ll send all the kids out to deliver (or hide) their creation.
Doing things for others makes us feel good. It’s fun to have the students report back and reflect on their experience. I love hearing about how doing something for someone else makes them feel.
Quick tip: This is a great time for students to take out their journals and write about emotions.
It Doesn’t Have to Be a Friday
A good reminder for teachers is that Friendly Fridays don’t have to happen just on a Friday. Many teachers I work with don’t see their students daily and often not on a Friday, but these activities work any day.
Here are some ideas to make this work for you:
- Do one of these friendly activities once a month instead of weekly.
- Set up a Friendly Friday bulletin board (or Jamboard when you’re remote), and invite students to post and read a new friendly message every Friday.
- If Friday doesn’t work for you, switch it to another day. Any day is a good day to be friendly.
When you first use Friendly Fridays with your students, be sure to explain why you’re creating this opportunity for them. Explicit teaching and reflection are important parts of this social and emotional work.