3 Ways to Build Better Classroom Relationships
For many years now I have worked hard at forming relationships with my students as well as have them forge relationships with each other. I do this rather selfishly because I know that any group of people who have to work together, do better if they actually enjoy each others’ company. And this is very important in a Music class because each student needs the talents of the others to perform with them in ensembles. BUT these close relationships were not always the case!
I had a class in 2007 (I think!!! It was a while ago!) that did not, and would not work together. It was an equal split of boys and girls, and the girls were all vocalists and the boys all instrumentalists. It seemed logical to me that the boys would want to help the girls and play for them, but no way!!!! These boys just refused point blank to do anything other than they had to, end of story. This was probably the most frustrating class I had ever taught, despite all of our encouragement and offers of bribes, these boys would not help the girls. The girls did help and support each other, and we did get through the HSC, but it would have been much easier with some extra support from those boys. So I decided in the future to never have this happen again, and that meant really working on how I approached the class and how they bonded with each other.
So lets fast forward to 2016. I was in a lesson with my Year 11 class last week, and one of students werer leaving us to go and live in another country, and it was her last lesson. I have to say it was quite sad, we had all made good friendships with this girl, and she will be sadly missed because she is a talented pianist and will accompany any student that asks her. It was when she was going, and all of the students were signing her school blouse, that one of them said “Miss, this is the only class that we are all friends in, it’s sad that XXX is leaving, we will all miss her”. At that point it occurred to me that, even in 2 and a half terms, we had really bonded as a class and everyone was glad to be in the room and enjoyed the lessons.
So what is that makes my students enjoy my classes and want to be there? Well it’s quite simple, we have fun! So below are a few ideas that you can use in your classes anytime to help you students create lasting relationships and want to be at school and in your class.
I have lots of games that I use at the beginning of every school year. These games help me find my natural leaders and followers. A few of my favourites are “Where the Wind Blows”, “Welded Ankle” and “1 to 20”.
To play “Where the Wind Blows”, every student, except one, should be seated in a circle. The person in the middle says “ Where the wind blows, it blows people with ……” and everyone with that instruction must get up and switch seats, aiming to not be the one in the middle. Now things they say could be—people with short hair, people with shoelaces, people with glasses, etc.….. I always put a couple of rules on this one, simply because I have some enthusiastic players who dove for the same seat and someone hurt themselves, and an ambulance was called 🙁 BUT they were OK, and I still play the game. This game lets everyone see what they have in common, and breaks down some barriers. This is certainly a game that gets students moving and laughing.
To play “Welded Ankle” you line all of the class up against, for example, a wall, but any straight line will work. The students must link arms and have their feet touching the person either side of them. The aim is, as a group, and without breaking the “welded ankle” they must get to a certain point in the space. If the line breaks, they must start again. I have taken up to an hour to play this game! It is really interesting watching the students play this one, it reveals a lot about their character—who gives up, who leads, who follows, who sabotages, etc… Sometimes it is fun to play this one as a competition, and it’s even better played outside.
The “1 to 20” game is a go to game that I use at the beginning of the year, but then at the end of a lesson as well to settle the class down. It is simple, as the control freak, I start with calling out ONE, then students are to count off, randomly to 20 (or any predetermined number). BUT, if two or more students call out the same number, you start again. It took one class I had, all year to get to 20!!!! But it also took a class I had last year, one sitting to get this—it really depends on their personalities and their ability to listen and cooperate with each. I will explain at some point to the class that the reason I play this game is to get them to work together, and we have a discussion about why that is important.
The other game that is always fun to play is “Corners”. This is in my store as a FREEBIE! It is a perennial favourite that my students ask to play.
Greeting Your Students
This is such a simple but effective idea. As students walk into your class say hello to each of them individually. It is great to get an “eyeball” on them—just to see how they are travelling for the day, and then what mood to expect them in for the class. When I am on playground duty, or even just walking the corridors, I will always greet my current and past students. A simple hello and smile can make such a huge difference to each student. There are so many of our students out there that do not see an adult before they leave for school in the morning, or even they have not had any actual conversation with any person before class, so that little hello can be the thing that lets them know that someone recognises their existence. I know that this really does sound simple, and maybe a little unreal, but I know that sometimes that I have been the only person to acknowledge the presence of a student, and I am thinking of one young man in particular that I will go out of my way to say hello to him when I see him—because he does not have many positive connections outside of school, and I have not had this young man in my class for over two years, but I still worry about him.
Making Lesson Content Fun
This is one that I use a lot! Quite a few years ago, my principal paid for every single staff member to attend a Kagan Workshop. This workshop was a game changer for me! It opened up ways to engage my students in lessons in ways that I did not know were possible. If you ever have the chance to do some training with these amazing educators, please do yourself a favour and go! Look up their resources and you will find a huuuuge collection of ways to support your students in learning. I have a couple of “go to’s” that I use a lot—Inside/Outside Circle and Think/Pair/Share.
Inside/Outside circle can be used in so many ways, that it will be favourite of yours too. Firstly arrange your students in two concentric circles—facing each other. Each student should have a person opposite them. Now you can use this activity for revision, class building, or any other way that you choose. I like to use it with my Bell Ringer questions. Mainly because not all students like to discuss things with a large group. However you choose to use this strategy, it doesn’t matter, but the process is the same. Each student should have a question/answer card—maybe spelling words, terminology, content, formulas, etc… You nominate which student goes first—inside or outside, they then ask the question to the student opposite them. If the answer is correct, they congratulate and then the other student asks their question. You can set a time limit on this if you like too. If the student gets it incorrect, the questioner gives them the correct answer and repeats the question—this time the student should get it right. Each student then swaps cards, and one circle moves one place to their right/left—whichever you choose. You keep repeating this until they have gone around the circle, or when time permits. There are sooo many benefits to this activity, and sooo many ways you can use it!
The other one is Think/Pair/Share. For this one, pose a problem—whatever you want, again the Bell Ringers work well for this activity, or even lesson content. Give each student time to think on their own about the problem. After the time is up, they are to share their answer/idea with their partner. After the time is up, each pair then shares with another pair. At this point you can ask each group to nominate a speaker and they then stand and give the groups’ answer. Again this can be used in sooo many ways!!!
A few years ago I asked my Year 12 class what and how they would like to learn the content. There were quite a few ideas—mostly the usual, but one stuck out! In a previous life I was a professional dressmaker and the students asked if we could play Snakes and Ladders. So I thought about it, and then made a life-size version—about the size of a double bed quilt! I use this game quite often and mainly for students to learn musical terms. Each student is the actual game piece. We roll the dice, I ask them the meaning of the term, if they get it right they move the number of places on the dice. We just keep playing until we get a winner. Sometimes we sit around the edge and have game pieces—a piece of folded paper with our name on it, and play in that way too.
Another fun game, even for my Year 12’s is Bingo! They love it! Especially when I have lollipops for prizes. It is a simple game, it takes up some time, they still learn their musical symbols, and everyone enjoys the process. Quite a few years ago I taught Math. In these classes, I would tell the class to set up a Tic Tac Toe grid in the back of their book, then we would use a set of timetables—and the students would fill out the table with their own numbers (and they then couldn’t blame me because they chose the numbers!!!) I would then just call out the number or even the “2 x 2” and they would cross off their “4” if they had it. When all 9 numbers were gone on their grid, we had a winner. It was great—everyone had fun, they were learning their tables and I just had to have a supply of prizes.
Memory is another game that they all enjoy. I have quite a few different sets that I use in class. I use this for spelling words and match to the definition, instrument cards and names/families, terms and definitions, music symbols and definitions/names, and even some treble/bass clef sets of matching names and notes on the stave. My students love it, I made these sets years ago and still use them today!
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Julia from Jooya