During Back To School season, I’m always looking for fun and new activities to get to know their students and to help build community and norms. The first day of school in my district is a minimum day, and in the first two weeks, I can expect schedule changes and school and district wide lessons and activities. In addition to that, since I teach middle school at the moment, students have six teachers, all trying to get to know them too, making it challenging to do all these things while also setting myself and my classroom apart from all their other classes.
Cue those hashtag building blocks from the Target Dollar Spot (and they’re actually just $1)! Here’s an example of how I use them at the start of the year to help me build routines that we’ll use throughout the school year.
First, determine groups. This is meant to be a team activity so students can get to know each other and practice working together.
Then, just give students two minutes of play time. This gives them time to create freely and practice using the hashtag pieces.
Now is a good time to set up some team challenges. I ask students to create something within a category so students have the choice in what they’re building. For example, create a fruit, something that can be found outdoors, or even something everyone in the group enjoys. Collectively, it is fun to see the similarities and differences in what students create.
Once students look comfortable long the way, I raise the stakes. I ask them to create specific objects within a minute, separate their hashtags by color the fastest, or build the tallest free standing tower. Putting these constraints on the students provides them a new opportunity to practice problem solving and collaboration. If you’d like, you can even give points (usually when I do this, it’s pretty arbitrary and the winning team gets to learn a special handshake from me or gets to teach me a hand shake–something silly that we can continue on throughout the year or even just for a few weeks).
Since one of the goals of this activity is to practice skills like cooperation, communication, collaboration, and compromise, I make it a point to ask students about their teamwork. First we discuss as a class the skills that make up teamwork or collaboration, and then I ask students to complete some independent reflection about the teamwork their group was able to use or had difficulty using. Usually, the teams that I place students in are ones they will be in for a while so they have time to improve their collaborative skills within this same group.
Don’t let the routines you built establishing this FUN activity stop just because you’re now deep into content. No matter what you teach, you can find ways to build it into your content. For ELA, I build it in by asking students to build something that shows what they learned, something that stood out to them, or how it connects to them. Because I’m not always great at thinking on the fly, I made a list of over They include 35+ prompts that ask students to create based on what they’ve read. In fact, even if you don’t teach ELA and you read narrative or informative text with your students, there are prompts HERE for you!
Once your students know what to do with the blocks and how to work in teams with them, it is a great activity that can “break the norm” in a unit or even be left for emergency sub plans with a given text and reflection form.