How to Use Writing to Build Classroom Community
Building classroom community is no easy task! It takes thoughtful and purposeful planning of community building activities and consistent implementation. Just a quick activity or two during the first week of school is not enough to build lasting relationships and a strong classroom environment that will last all school year long. To build a classroom atmosphere where students feel safe to take risks and a strong sense of belonging requires repeated relationship building throughout the entire school year.
Written language is a powerful tool that can be used to show each and every student what a valued part of the classroom community they are. This makes writing activities a great way to build classroom community and a positive classroom environment. One way I like to use writing to build classroom community and positive relationships among students is through a monthly letter writing project we start during the first month of school. It is engaging, quick, and bucket filling. #teacherwin
There are many reasons why I love to use writing to help build classroom community all year long. Monthly letter writing activities are a great way to foster new friendships, strengthen old friendships, and create a sense of belonging. Student written letters also offer and support the social emotional well being for each child. Each month when students write letters to their classmates they are sending one person the message that they are important, valued, and liked. The specific and personalized letters that the students receive each month leave a lasting impression on them and create memories of our year together. It also provides each student a meaningful memento that they can take out and reread on a difficult day, share with family members, and remember the time that they spent in our classroom home. This activity is truly perfect for any grade!
Another added bonus for writing monthly community building letters is that students are given ten opportunities to write friendly letters. This increases their writing fluency, strengthens their understanding and ability to use the correct friendly letter format, and encourages communication skills beyond technology! You can even go one step further and have students practice envelope writing skills by addressing the envelopes to the recipient at the school's address. Set up a mailbox to go even further and enlist the help of students to "mail" the letters!
This quick and fun letter writing activity builds student self-esteem and classroom community at the same time. Added bonus, the students have monthly opportunities to practice their communication skills, too! My students love when we write notes to one another in the classroom each month. Sometimes, I get in on the fun by participating, too! Here is how I set this up in my classroom each month:
1. Have students write their name with pencil on a small piece of paper and fold it into fourths. Put the names in a bucket.
2. Have students one at a time; randomly draw a name from the bowl, making sure that they did not pick themselves. If they did pick themselves, have them show you before allowing them to select a new name.
3. Students then write a letter to the student whose name they picked. Their notes should include specific examples about the student they selected. I encourage my students to write “remember when's”. These are times when the letter writer and recipient did things together during the school year. Remind students to write kind, specific, and positive statements about their friend, instead of “you are nice”. I have read letters from the past as models or written one together with the class about another teacher as a model so that the students understand what they should be writing and be including in their letters.
4. When all students have completed this activity, select one student to read his or her letter aloud to the class. Then that student will give the letter to the student they wrote to. Then that student reads their letter, continue reading in this manner until all letters are read. You may also choose to have students simply present letters in private, too.
By using the same and easy to follow, system each month when writing these letters it allows consistent instruction for the students and no prep for me. Since the steps stay the same, but the students' friendly letter writing skills get better, it helps the letters that they write become more polished with each month that passes and helps to build stronger relationships with others as the year goes on.
Building a strong classroom community and strengthening collaboration skills is a must in any classroom! Community building reading and writing activities are a simple way to include community building activities in your classroom. Welcoming students, encouraging team work, and creating a positive environment allows for all students to feel safe and succeed. Make community building an important part of your classroom system by using writing as a means to make connections among all students.
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About the Author:
Jeanine has been teaching elementary students for 16 years, specifically third and fifth graders. When it comes to teaching, Jeanine includes her love of reading and writing into every lesson. She loves teaching writing and having the opportunity to bring out the author in each of her students. Jeanine holds a BA from Western Connecticut State University in American Studies and Elementary Education and an MA from Fairfield University in Educational Technology. In addition to being a certified elementary teacher, she is also a certified Reading Specialist for grades K-12. Living on the north shore of Long Island means that her free time is spent at the beach where she enjoys outdoor activities, reading, and spending time with her husband and three children.
To build ongoing classroom community, students will be writing friendly letters to another student each month. This quick and fun activity builds student self-esteem and classroom community at the same time. As an added bonus, the students have monthly opportunities to practice their communication and writing skills, too! These letters make great memories from the school year.