5 Ways to Meaningfully Connect With Students

So many emotions are attached to the first few weeks of a new school year! Teachers and their students often feel a mix of excitement, anxiety, curiosity, nervousness, anticipation and more as the first day of school approaches, and it can be overwhelming!

I used to spend the first few classes going over procedures and getting right down to work, but I now spend the first several days building a classroom community and finding ways to connect with my students.  I'm sure that the impact it has on my classroom is absolutely worth the time to connect! Here are some of my strategies to build positive relationships with my students right from day 1.

When I began teaching almost 20 years ago, I would just read the names on my class list and figure out who was or was not there.  However, there was always the likelihood that I would mispronounce a student's name. As the bearer of a somewhat unique name (Addie is my nickname), I am well aware of the stress of waiting for the teacher to say my name on the first day of school - I would wait anxiously for them to read through the list of names and then pause when they got to mine as they tried to figure out how to pronounce it..  It was stressful and embarrassing.

So now I ask students to tell me their preferred first / last name.  Some students have a preferred name that is different from the one on my roster - it maybe a shortened version, a nickname, or a middle name.  As well, I hate the idea of mispronouncing a student's name. So to avoid all of this I now ask students to say their name to me. Their first and last preferred name - and I make notes on my roster to help me remember.  I also ask a fun question at the same time... it might be "salty or sweet?"  "chocolate or vanilla?".  I think it's important that I always go first - I say my first and last name and I answer the question.  I do a quick tour of the room and I can get all my students' name (nope... it's not in alphabetical order), I get the answer to a fun question and the students listen to each other's answers and more importantly, the pronunciation of everyone's name..  It might take me a few attempts to get someone's name correct, but it's so important to take the time to show all students that I value their name and who they are.

One of the first activities I do is a fun and easy way to get a quick gauge of my students!  I set up a series of posters around the room that ask a question.  I give each students a blank sticky note for each poster and then let them use their sticky notes to answer each one. The kids just pile their sticky notes on to each sheet as they walk around the room and I can collect them at the end of the class.  Because their sticky notes are anonymous I am more likely to get honest answers - I tell my students that I have no idea who has written what on the notes and that I will use their responses to help create lessons and support them through their learning.  You can also share some of your own answers with the class to help get them started.  Grab a FREE Set of Posters here!

Here are some possible questions you can add on to the blank question sheet I've included:
  • Would you rather write an essay or a poem? Why?
  • What new technology are you interested in learning about this year?
  • What type of environment do you learn best in? 
  • Describe the perfect classroom.
  • Suggest a song (school appropriate) that I could add to a class playlist.
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What news stories have caught your interest lately?
  • What are you planning to do after you graduate?
  • What frustrates you the most about school?
  • What do you wish more people cared about?
  • What do you wish school taught you?
Another way to connect with students is through a more detailed and personal Get to Know You Survey. (it's FREE!) And like many of my Get to Know You activities I always do the survey too and just as I ask them to share a few answers with the class, I always share my responses too!  This shows I'm willing to be vulnerable with them and allows them to get to know me as more than just their teacher.  It's amazing the things we all have in common when we open up and share.

As an English teacher, one of the first things I want to do is to get a sense of my students' writing skills so I can figure out what I need to focus on for the year.  I have my students complete a plot diagram of a significant event in their life - it's the perfect way to assess their writing, learn more about them, and I get to sneak in a review of plot / story elements at the same time!  Students complete a detailed planning page and then draw and write out their event on a two-page plot map.  This activity makes a great classroom display!

Throughout the year I really try to focus on keeping up the connections I've built with my students.  I use the first five minutes of every class to catch up with my students about their weekend, a big sports game, events in the news, share a book I've read, anything that I can find to chat with them about.  It's meant to be a fun and lighthearted way to transition into my class and it gives students a few minutes to shift from their last class into mine.

The way my schedule at school works, I only teach my students every second Friday. So I always have Fun Fridays (but really you could do it with any day - Thrilling Thursday, Wonderful Wednesday...)  On Fun Fridays I do my best to wrap up the class with something fun - it might be a funny video on Youtube, a quick word game, or a candy for everyone in the class.  The key is that my students know that it's Fun Friday and they look forward to the fun at the end of the period.  It's a simple thing, but my students LOVE it!

For more ideas check out these resources!

Room 213 - Back to School Getting to Know You Stations
Presto Plans - Classroom Challenge Activities

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