We Aren’t a Class, We Are a Community! 8 Ways to Get Children Excited about Learning with You!

“If you think of learning as a path, you can picture yourself walking beside her rather than either pushing or dragging or carrying her along.” ~ Polly Berrien Berends

The first month of school is critical for laying down the foundations for a successful learning journey with children. During the first month of school, we need to make connections with learners and welcome them into our community. We need to show them we look forward to their unique contributions and help those who feel they don’t have anything to offer discover what they can contribute. When we show children we care, they will go to great lengths to learn. They will also leave our class with enriching memories. The following suggestions will help you lay the foundations. Good luck on your learning voyage with your learners this year!

Let Your Actions Speak Volumes

Stand by the door and give high fives, hugs, or handshakes and offer a big smile. Each kid should feel every day that we are happy to see them.

Create a Class Theme

Think of a backstory that will frame what you want to accomplish with the children this year. For example, check out the Field of Dreams theme by Mr. Foteah with pictures of his classroom. Your students could be Mr./Ms. Doe’s Superheroes, Ninjas, Tigers, Knights, Jedi Warriors, Wizards, etc. When you choose a theme you build relationships and excitement. You can decorate your room with this theme, set learning missions for your students, and have materials decorated with this theme.

Change Your Terminology

In my classes we don’t complete “homework”, we have “missions”. For example, they have a mission to take pictures of the vocabulary words each week and add them to the word wall. They have missions to play language games on the computer or on a mobile device to practice phonics or vocabulary. They have missions to create drawings, make materials, and practice scripts for their digital storytelling projects.

Kids have negative connections with certain words and when they hear them they turn off. If you want them to complete a task, then make it a challenge or mission. Kids will spend 100s of hours playing a video game to reach another level. They do this because the “work” is not represented as work, but instead a test of their skills and strengths. When they are on missions, they can see themselves as heroes or warriors.

Help Them Find Their Genius

Each child should walk into your classroom knowing they have a clean slate. No child is “the bad kid”. Maybe that child misbehaved in the past with other teachers, but not you because you care about finding what makes that child special. You get to be the difference in that child’s life. Create activities in which every child can reflect on what he/she is good at and how he/she can use those skills to improve the learning environment. Also, do not fail any children the first few weeks. I am working on the idea of giving my students badges for missions completed that help them reach various levels of mastery within the class. Do not make examples of children. We want each child walking in feeling like success is reachable. We want them to begin motivated and not shut us out or dread the rest of the year going to your class.

Establish Relationships

Have icebreakers where learners get to know more about each other and develop friendships. This will lead to less bullying problems and fighting. Here are 3 activity suggestions:

I Can

In the “I Can” activity learners sit in chairs in a circle. One student stands in the middle and lists one of his/her skills, such as, “I Can” jump 2 feet, touch my tongue to my nose, and so forth. If the children in the circle can do the activity they must get up and run to another chair. Whoever is left gets to be in the middle.

Pass the Ball

  • Students sit in a circle.

  • Each student says his/her name.

  • Introduce 1 ball to the circle.

  • Give students the ball & instruct them to roll it to another student.

  • They have to say the student’s name & ask a question.

Toy Mingle

  • Each student brings in a favorite toy.

  • Divide the class into 2 lines and seat them across from each other.

  • The teacher starts the timer for 1 minute and the pairs play with each other.

  • They switch partners.

Let Them Contribute to the Classroom Environment

Encourage children to contribute to their learning environment and they will make the connection that they are part of this community. An idea is to put butcher paper on one wall and allow them to add drawings, quotes, comics, and images to the wall throughout the year. Make sure it’s detachable in case learners put something inappropriate. Have them design the class website, wiki, or blog.

Connect with Their Parents

If the parent likes you then the child will respect you more. If you make a negative impression on the parent then that child will know and have added fuel to disrespect you and not listen to you. Create connections by sending each parent a positive message about the child within that first month. When you have to discuss the child’s behavior later it will make the process much easier. Parents will be open to listening and not have the impression you are out to get their child.

Create an Environment for Play

I love learning stations and have seen some incredible examples of children learning stations in the schools I have visited. Reading stations, technology stations, game stations, color stations, and so forth should look inviting. Children want an experience. One creative idea for a learning station is a dress-up station with various props and costumes. Another type is an imagination station  or invention station where children get to use various art supplies to change the environment or have access to a variety of recycled materials they can use to create an invention. You can include imagination cards for the children to grab and be inspired.

More Resources

What other ideas do you have?

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Shelly Terrell

Shelly Sanchez Terrell is the author of Learning To Go and The 30 Goals Challenge for Educators. She is also an adjunct professor, teacher trainer, and international speaker. She has trained teachers in over 25 countries and is a founder of the Bammy Award-winning #Edchat, the ELTON-nominated ELTChat, and The Reform Symposium E-Conference. She is the host of American TESOL’s Free Friday Webinars and shares regularly via TeacherRebootCamp.com, Twitter (@ShellTerrell), Facebook.com/shellyterrell, and Google.com/+ShellySanchezTerrell. She has taught toddlers to adults English in various countries including the US, Germany, Croatia, Slovenia, and Greece.

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