George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

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.

Was this useful?

Comments (9) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Selena Trotter's picture

These are great activities to get to know one another. I've played many in my life and with my students and usually always have fun with them. Building more meaningful relationships can also be a challenge, as the day in and day out experiences can affect classroom ties. Activities like builds fun activities into every classroom day that the students can just have fun with. It helps to destress kids and allows them to look forward to classroom time so that they can interact with each other in fun ways. It builds in student engagement. Have fun!

Kadie White's picture
Kadie White
2nd Grade Teacher in Las Vegas

I fully agree that building positive relationships in the classroom has a profound role for both student achievement and teacher satisfaction. I have used several of these techniques with much success myself. Recently I have been considering incorporating at student reflection activity into my classroom. I really like the set up you suggested here. I think that it provides enough guidance for young students to accomplish while also allowing personal freedom. Sharing in groups is a great reflective and collaborative skill for students. I also appreciate the dynamic flexibility of the "four squares". It would be a great activity to incorporate into numerous activities. Thanks for sharing these ideas!

Theresa's picture
5th grade regular education teacher from Lewiston, ME

Each year I have my students complete a learning styles survey and a multiple intelligences survey. I then have students move around the classroom to form groups based on different aspects of learning style. We discuss how differences in learning styles can be very advantageous. Students can find peers with whom to study who enjoy group work. When doing project-based learning, students can chose to work with students who have strengths in different areas to build a more rounded team. Because each student will have definite strengths, every player is recognized for their strengths which builds confidence.

Brian H's picture
Brian H
Teaching in Japan

Good relationships are key to teaching language learners. I like the activities you mentioned. Im going to try the "All About Me" activity. I think this can be used even with low level learners if there is a set target language pre-rehearsed. I have tried a variation of the Two truths and a lie activity. It worked well. With low level learners we first talked about "I can____." and "I have ____." The students then came up with their own true and false sentences. With my class group work tends to drift off task (another blog topic) but it worked well with the entire class (about 20 students).

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

I've referenced this in another thread, but I'll mention it here too: There's a variation on 2 Truths that's called 2 Truths and a Wish. This icebreaker is one we use here at Edutopia with new staff, and it's a great way to find out what a person aspires towards.

Julie Amisi's picture

Building relationship between students and teachers is important. Teachers have to find the best ways to fully include students in group conversations. An environment where all students can communicate and actively participate shoud be created for resolving issues. There are some students who have some invisible barriers of attitudes and perceptions, so teachers should help those students t become more open and understanding in organizing some activities even out of school.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

Larry, thanks for calling out this is especially important for ELL students. It's important for teachers to build an atmosphere that fosters a safe and empathetic environment so that ELL students can feel comfortable forming relationships. There's a recent community post that explores tips specifically for creating that kind of environment for ELL students, which you can find here:

Susan Dihle's picture

While I like these ideas a great deal for younger students or for those who are new to the school, in my current situation, they are not as applicable as I would prefer. Because I teach middle school students, most of whom have been in this school for years (unlike me since I am new to this school), most of the getting to know other students activities are unnecessary for the vast majority of my students. That said, I can and will pass on some of these suggestions to other ESL teachers who teach younger students at the same school.

Alexander Baca's picture

I found this article to be very helpful and will use it as a future reference when I finally start teaching ESL overseas. It's great to see and read about how other teachers approach different ways to create a sense of community in their classrooms. It's vey important for students (and teachers) to coexist and take part in a healthy, welcoming environment.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.