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Once students reach Middle School and beyond, teachers often believe that students must know each other already. As a result, team-building often gets skipped. Last year, I realized that some of my students didn't know each other after all. This moment came two-thirds of the way through the year, when I asked a student to get "Charlie" to help her and she had no idea who "Charlie" was. Team-building activities not only help students get to know each other; they also help build positive peer relationships. These relationships can make or break the progress in your classroom, so it's important not to skip team-building. In fact, you can use these activities at strategic points during the year to reconnect students or introduce new classmates.
Team-Building Activities for Secondary Students
Some of the following activities not only help build relationships but also work on problem-solving skills and building social skills.
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The Shoe Box or Paper Bag
Here, you can give each student either a shoe box or a paper bag. Have the students design the outside so it holds meaning for them. On the inside, they can place 3-5 items that hold importance in their lives. Each day, have 2-3 students present their symbolic representations to the class. Bonus: As a Language Arts teacher, you can tie this into a talk about symbolism.
At the end of class on day one, have students write 2-3 statements about themselves on a notecard. Each day, for the next few days, read a few of the notecards and have students guess who wrote the statements.
Class Photo Album
Designate a bulletin board to be a class photo album. As the class completes activities throughout the year, take photos and add them to the bulletin board. As a more high-tech solution, make an online photo album. Many class website designers make this an easy task. Weebly, for instance, allows you to add a picture slideshow to your website. Websites like Slideshare, Google Slides, and Padlet may also be used for this purpose. On Padlet, students can add their own photos with comments. Just make sure to monitor content and warn students that it may stay school-appropriate.
The Name Game
Also a great way to work on memory, this game involves students sitting in a circle, stating their name, and then stating something about themselves. Each student following the first student must state everyone's name and fact. Make sure that you go last so that students see that you also care about getting to know them!
Student of the Week
Each week, pick one student from the class to celebrate. Make sure this changes every week and that each students get a chance to get in the spotlight. You can either use Padlet to have students post positive comments to the student, have a designated bulletin board for the students to post comments on, or have students drop notes into a box during the week. It may seem cheesy, but many students enjoy receiving these notes.
Making sure students feel safe and cared for, like a family, in the classroom is important to foster learning. Oftentimes, the students who feel uncared for will make the least academic gains. Creating class spirit so that they class feels like a team can help. Allow the students to come together and create their own team name, chant, and symbol. Talk about team sports and what makes up a team. Discuss the relevance of this relationship to the classroom.
With this strategy, teachers can take information about students and place it on a bingo grid, then students use the bingo grids to get to know their peers. Students can take their Bingo cards around and find students who match the descriptions, only using the same student one time. Once they fill in a horizontal, diagonal, or vertical line, they "win" the game and can sit down.
Unlike the Student of the Week activity, here students can place any compliment about anyone in the jar. Pull out a few compliments at the end of each class period to help boost morale.
Find a Classmate Who...
You can easily find or create worksheets where students go around to find a student who demonstrates a variety of characteristics. For instance, have students find a student who likes playing basketball, a student who loves animals, a student with the same number of siblings, a student who has eaten sushi, etc. This might be a useful activity to create the day after students complete interest inventories or information sheets.
For this team-building activity, students get into groups and compile the commonalities and differences that characterize their group members. Once they are done, they create a poster that represents their group makeup. After all of the groups finish their posters, the teacher leads to a whole class discussion about how the unique talents and interests of students create a richer learning environment.
The Importance of Team-Building
Anyone who has taught middle school knows about the fragility of relationships between the students. Continuous team-building helps students get to know each other, helps support positive peer relationships, and helps students learn to problem-solve collaboratively. As students get older and need to work with others more and more frequently, they must learn the social skills to work well with others. These skills will not only help you as their teacher but will help them learn the skills they need to eventually get along with others in the workplace. Team-building is just the foundation to building upon relationships. The rest will come once students initially get to know each other and how they can best utilize each others' skills best.