10-Minute Community Builders

By Amy Martin

The beginning of the school year is an especially good time for community-building activities. Use them to help set a positive tone with students and to create routines that your class can use throughout the year. (Of course, community-building activities are useful at other times of the year too.)

Here are some activities adapted from Morningside Center's 4Rs Program (Reading, Writing, Respect and Resolution) and Resolving Conflict Creatively Program that can be built into your morning meetings.

The introduction of these activities will take longer than 10 minutes. However, after the first day, each activity is shaped to take no longer than 10 minutes. There are many possibilities for you to adapt these ideas.

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions about these activities! Please email us at: lmcclure@morningsidecenter.org


PUT-DOWNS & PUT-UPS

Introduction:

Ask, "What is a put-down?" Sometimes people say hurtful things to one another. Such remarks tell a person that he or she is no good, not important, and "less than" other people. That's why they are called "put-downs."

Ask for two or three examples of put-downs. It's better not to list the put-downs on the board or on chart paper: Writing them may provide reinforcement for the language.

Discuss:

  • Where do people learn put-downs?
  • How do put-downs make people feel?
  • Why do we say put-downs?
  • If people in the class say these things to one another, how might it affect the group?

Ask the class to think of put-ups, that is, kind and friendly things to say to each other. List the contributions of chart paper.

Discuss:

  • How would these words make someone feel?
  • What would be the effect on the class if we used these phrases instead of put-downs?

Have students turn to the person next to them and share a put-up with them. Add more ideas to the chart.

Put-Up Box

Create a box for put-ups. Ask students to write new put-ups on a card whenever they say a put-up or when they hear someone else say one and deposit the cards in the box. (You may want to provide a certain time of day for the students to contribute to it the put-up box so that it doesn't become a distraction).

Every morning meeting you can pull an idea from the box and share it with the class. Remind students to write their names on the put-up cards so they can be recognized and to ensure that a variety of students participate. Add their new ideas to the put-up chart.



GOOD LISTENING

Introduction:

One of the ways that people cooperate is to listen to each other. Ask for a volunteer from the class to come up front and tell you something. While the person is talking, model poor listening (looking away, fidgeting with clothes or hair, doing something else). Ask how the person felt while you were doing this. Ask the class what they noticed.

Now have the person tell you the same information, but model good listening (attention focused on the speaker, positive body language, no interrupting, repeat back what was said).

Ask students to pair up with each other and practice good listening for about 30 seconds each. Make a good listening checklist to post on the wall. A kindergarten class might create a pictorial list of just two or three good listening qualities, while third-graders could create a longer list of words.

You can model good listening at every morning meeting. Each morning, write a message on the board for children to discuss. (For instance, "Talk to the person sitting next to you about what happened in the story we read yesterday.")

Ask students to pair up and to listen well to each other as they each talk about the message for about 30 seconds. Afterwards, ask the children to name the ways their partners listened well. Add new strategies to the chart.

Ask if there are strategies that are easier to do than others (for example, keeping eyes on the speaker may be easier to do than repeating back what was said).

Meeting Monitor

One way to encourage students to continue to improve their listening skills is to create a "meeting monitor" to observe one meeting a week. Work with the class to create a checklist of positive listening strategies. Every time a positive strategy is used, the meeting monitor places a mark next to that strategy. The class can then see their progress and work on the strategies that need improvement.

We welcome your thoughts and suggestions about these activities! Please email us at: info@morningsidecenter.org.

Amy Martin is a teacher in the New York City public schools.

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