Fostering Relationships in the Classroom

Blogger Larry Ferlazzo and fellow teacher Katie Hull Sypnieski, in another excerpt from their book “The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide,” share six fun ways to help students develop positive, trusting and enriching classroom relationships.

May 16, 2012

Students and teacher need to develop positive and trusting relationships in an effective classroom. It is also critical that all students, especially English-language learners, develop trusting and enriching relationships with each other. There are many activities which can be used for both introductory purposes and throughout the year to build and maintain positive relationships in the classroom. Some activities which work well to introduce students to each other and to the teacher can be used again at later points in the year as students' interests change and as they gain new life experiences. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, it contains several suggestions we have found successful and which could easily be adapted for use with different levels of students.

1) Sharing Weekly Reflections

Each week, we have students write about two positive events that occurred in their lives and one not-so-positive event (along with what they could have done to make it better or what they learned from it). Students then share what they wrote in small groups. Research has shown that this kind of sharing results in "capitalization" -- the building of social capital.

2) Introducing Me/3 Objects

This activity is sometimes called a "Me Bag" or an "All About Me Bag." Students choose a few objects which reveal things about themselves or are special in some way, and bring them in to share with the class. The teacher models this first by bringing in items special in his/her life (for example, a photograph, a piece of sports equipment, a paintbrush, etc.), and describing what the object is and what it represents, or why it is important. Then the teacher can take a few minutes to answer any questions from students. Students can share their items in various ways -- a few students can share each day, or students can share in small groups or with a partner, taking turns to ask each other questions. Question frames can be helpful for lower level students. (For example, "Why did you pick _____?") It may also be helpful for the teacher to remind students that very valuable items should be left at home, and students could instead draw or take a picture of the item to share.

3) "I Am" Project

There are many variations of the "I Am" activity. Students can create a poster, a poem, a slideshow, a "Top Ten" list, etc. to describe themselves. It can be helpful to give students sentence starters to spur their thinking and writing. There are endless possibilities, but a few examples include:

  • I love _____because___________
  • I wonder ___________________
  • I am happy when __________________
  • I am scared when _____________
  • I worry about _______ because________
  • I hope to ________________
  • I am sad when _____________________
  • In the future, I will _______________

Students could share their projects to the entire class or in small groups.

4) "Find Someone in this Class Who . . . " Scavenger Hunt

A scavenger hunt is an easy way to get students out of their seats, talking and interacting within minutes! The teacher can easily create a sheet (there are many variations on the web) listing several categories with a line next to each one. Then students circulate and must find someone who has experienced each category. (For example, "Has been to the ocean," "Has a brother and a sister" or "Has broken a bone.") The student must ask for their classmate's name and write it on the line next to the category. The teacher could collect the sheets, choose different items to share and, depending upon the class and comfort level, ask students to share more details about a specific experience.

5) Two Truths and a Lie

This activity is commonly used as an "icebreaker" and works great with students who don't know a lot about each other. The teacher first models the activity by writing down three statements about himself/herself on an index card and explaining that two of the statements are true, but one is a lie. (For example, "I can play the guitar" or "I was born in New York City.") Students can talk in pairs and guess which one is the "lie." Then each student writes two truths and one lie on an index card. Students can share their statements in pairs, small groups or to the entire class and take turns guessing each other's lies. The teacher can facilitate a follow-up discussion by asking students to share more about their "truths" either by speaking or in writing.

6) Four Squares

The Four Squares activity helps students get to know each other better, while getting both writing and speaking practice. The teacher models how to fold a piece of paper into four boxes and numbers them 1, 2, 3 and 4. Students then write a different category/topic next to the number at the top of each box. The categories could include: family, what I like about school, what I don't like about school, places I've lived, my favorite movie/why, etc. Students are given time to write about each category and then asked to stand up. The teacher then instructs students to share their "Box Ones" with a partner, then "Box Twos" with a different partner, and so on. This activity could be varied in multiple ways -- different topics to write about, number of boxes, how it is shared, etc. It could also be used at any point during the year. For example, it could be used at the end of the semester with a box for the student's biggest accomplishment, one for the biggest challenge, one for goals for the next semester, etc.

What are other ways you encourage positive student relationships in your classroom?

Katie Hull Sypnieski is Larry Ferlazzo's co-author of the book The ELL/ESL Teacher's Survival Guide, from which this blog is an excerpt.

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