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I'm one of those teachers who likes to get to know her students. Call me crazy, but I believe that an open exchange between teacher and student breeds a positive classroom environment. Will I share all my deepest darkest secrets with my students? Show them my tattoo? Buy them beer on the weekends? No, of course not. But I will share some basic facts about myself and my life with them, in the hope that they will do the same with me. This is how I build rapport with my kids, and it's one of the key factors in my classroom management plan.
In order to have a quick and easy way to get to know more about my students, I like to build classroom quilts. Sometimes I do this right at the start of a school year or a new semester, and sometimes I wait a little while and use group building activities like this when my students and I have had a little bit of time to get to know one another first. This is really a fun, quick classroom activity that you can use any time of the year.
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Create a Classroom Quilt
For this activity, you will need a sheet of plain white paper for every student and a selection of coloring utensils. Tell each student to write his or her name in the center of their paper; then they will use the rest of the paper to teach their classmates something about them. I tell my students to draw pictures that represent who they truly are; it has to be something they are willing to share with the class, but it should be something that gives us insight into their inner selves.
I usually provide an example of this activity on my classroom board; I think group building activities work better in my classroom, at least, if I'm the one who starts them. By sharing information about myself first, I open up the floor for sharing time and let the students feel more comfortable participating in this classroom activity. Download a sample quilt square here to see what one would look like (if the person drawing it were actually a computer and not a person at all).
When students finish their quilt squares, they take turns sharing them with the class. Each student should introduce him- or herself and explain the things they drew on their pages. I preface this by reminding the students to behave respectfully when someone is speaking; anyone who violates this rule faces my wrath in a way that they are not likely to witness again. (I take my classroom group building activities very seriously, in case you couldn't tell.) When the students are finished presenting, I collect the papers so I can go over them in my free time and learn about the students in my classes through the things they drew.
In some cases, I like to display the pictures together on the wall, creating giant classroom quilts. To do this, I usually have the kids glue their white papers onto colored construction paper first and then we hang them up together. If I happen to be a floating teacher that year, or if I teach too many classes to allow that much wall space for this activity, then I keep the pictures and put them in the students' files so I can refer to them later. This would also work out well to make a cover for class folders or journals; you can do what you like with them, really.
By the end of this activity, we've all learned something about one another, and we've had a fun day of group building activities time instead of traditional instruction. By creating our own classroom quilts, it's a win-win.