Build Community Across Your Grade Level Team

A MiddleWeb Blog

My students come into sixth grade accustomed to being with one teacher and the same group of students all day. After joining middle school, they mix with over 100 other students and at least seven teachers.

My school does a great job of organizing large scale bonding activities – Classroom Without Walls experiences, activity days, and orientation – but I wanted to look at smaller activities that we can do as a team to create community and bond the students.

The goal is for students to feel seen as individuals while also feeling like they’re part of something bigger.

The first step was to learn names and a bit about each other. One way was to create “Guess Who” games with student and teacher photos. I had initially thought of scouring eBay and thrift shops for old board games, but Amanda Sandoval, a history teacher on Twitter, created an electronic version.

Guess Who?

She generously shared her version for others to use. Using yearbook photos from the previous year, I personalized the game to our community and shared it with all the advisory teachers. Students were able to practice names and see their peers’ full faces (Singapore, where I teach, still requires masks indoors).

3 Likes, 1 Dislike

Another fun activity was a Pear Deck slide called “3 Likes, 1 Dislike.” Students make a slide with images of 3 things they enjoy and one they don’t. Once the slides are made, the teacher runs the Pear Deck and students guess what the one disliked item is.

Some students felt happy when others seemed to know them while others set out to intentionally challenge their classmates.

Two Trues and Lie: the Teacher Edition

Each advisory on my team is responsible for decorating the hallway bulletin board for one month. During the first month, we interviewed a variety of teachers that we thought students should know, then posted Two Truths and a Lie with their photo and name.

The students could then slide a card out that says what the lie is. Throughout the year, other advisories decorated the bulletin board with riddles, jokes, student polls, and summer vacation wishes. The bulletin board is student-owned and a place to entertain each other.

Whole Team Activities

Most of the ideas above involve working in small groups, but we are so grateful that our COVID restrictions have opened up enough that we can gather as a whole team to share a space. These gatherings can be fun (everyone loves when we break out the BINGO cage) and meaningful (saying goodbye to a departing student; this happens frequently in international schools).

We try to carry our community building throughout the year, including the last day of school. We end the year with a massive Kahoot game: we survey parents about their kids and ask for baby photos, then compile it all into a fun game where they are all represented. It sends all the students into summer break feeling seen and known.

If you’re feeling ambitious, you can take on a grander bonding activity. Every Friday our school allows students to wear a red shirt for school spirit, rather than the typical white polo uniform. Based on a student idea, our grade decided to tie dye “Class of 2028” shirts together. It was hectic and fun, and every time students wore their (admittedly pink) shirts on Fridays, we felt closer.

Students research tie-dye methods and plan their technique.

Finally, we host an annual “Activity Day” on campus, where students compete in an Amazing Race with different sports and then participate in a variety of Minute to Win It games. The final block of the day is the students’ choice, where teachers offer an activity they enjoy, and students from different teams can sign up for what appeals to them.

This year we had 27 different options, including making s’mores, calligraphy, dodgeball, and swimming. A student said to me, “I wish school was like this every day!” Her exhausted teachers might not have agreed, but a few times each year is ideal.

Most of these activities can be expanded or contracted to fit the time you have. The main idea is that you are putting in the effort to bring students together in a memorable and fun way to feel like they belong.

What’s next for my team? I’m inspired by street art superstart JR’s photo collages and would like to add more photos of students to our learning spaces. If you have other suggestions for bonding students and creating community, please share them in the comments.

Megan Kelly

Megan Kelly has been teaching English and History internationally since 2003, most recently in Singapore. She has a Master of Arts in Teaching and is passionate about literacy and learning through play. She tweets at @33megan33. See all her ELA and history teaching tips for MiddleWeb here.

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