Building Class Connections and Managing Partners

Per Ola Wiberg - Viltjouren - Emergency on Ekero for Animals - Bird and Cat - Ekero, Sweden - 2008

Photo by Per Ola Wiberg. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Wandering somewhat aimlessly, I stumbled onto this excellent collection of team-building activities. I always strive for the ideal of creating a genuine sense of class community. It can be tough. I try to work on team-building activities early in the semester or year to help students become comfortable and familiar working in pairs, small groups, and, eventually, as a whole class. If successful, this really pays off when we tackle potentially sensitive activities, like sharing one’s personal writing and commenting on the work of other’s in revision circles.


One strategy I recall as I write this is something called “Connections.” Those instructing my preservice English Ed cohort introduced this game using some sort of plush toy (a bulldog, perhaps? I do recommend something soft.). Someone would raise their hand to request the toy and share something–an event, a thought, an idea–before passing it on to whomever raised their hand with something that connected to whatever he/she said. So, it went around the room, until time ran out or everyone who wanted to speak took the opportunity to do so.

Depending on the kind of day it was, we might go from five to ten minutes (keep in mind these were almost day-long class sessions). We cherished this “game.” It became a relaxing outlet and ongoing class ritual, a way for us to reaffirm our community, negotiate our growing identities as teachers, and share common experiences, triumphs, and frustrations. No one was required to speak; but, eventually everyone shared something. By the end of the semester we were a stronger community and thankful for the opportunities to connect and re-connect every time class reconvened.

Though I’ve never tried it, I can imagine this working in a high school classroom, with necessary time restrictions, as an occasional Monday “get back into the groove,” warm-up. I still really like this whole-group, community building activity.

Clocked Connections

I still struggle finding creative and quick ways to group students for small group activities; but, as far as dividing students into dynamic pairs, I quite like what I call Clocked Connections. Inspired by Clock Buddies, I adapted that strategy to have students interview and be interviewed by fellow students in addition to writing each other’s names in corresponding time slots.

I model the directions by asking a student the #1 question–“What is your favorite book?”–recording their response, and writing their name in the 1 o’clock slot on my clock. I don’t tell them that the clock will serve as a template by which we will pair up for the rest of the semester or year. I encourage them to talk to those they might not know very well or have, maybe, never spoken to. And, to avoid confusion, I emphasize that if they have written Johnny’s name at one o’clock, their name MUST appear in Johnny’s one o’clock. I let them come up with the 6 o’clock and 12 o’clock questions for themselves to see what whacky questions they’ll come up with and make them write a little more.

At the conclusion of the activity, students return to their seats, share some of the tidbits they found about their classmates, and help me learn new names!

At this point I offer them some quote about friendship. This one, from Aristotle, works well: “Wishing to be friends is quick work, but friendship is a slow ripening fruit.” There are, obviously, many quotes to choose from. I like this one for its brevity and use of metaphor. We briefly discuss the metaphor and what Aristotle says about friendship–like a sweet and nourishing fruit, friendships require work and time to grow. I tell them that, just like learning a new skill or building on an existing one, they have to clock in the time.

On that note, I tell them they will use this clock to visit and re-visit old friends. I ask them to keep this sheet to help us pair up for in-class activities so that I might ask them to meet with their 3 o’clock friends one day or 6 o’clock friends the next. After the initial time investment, Clocked Connections becomes quick and effective way to take care of how to pair students up. At least one partner can usually be relied on to locate their clock and find their way to a friend.

This entry was posted in Classroom Management, Community Building, Constructive Learning, Education, English Education, Lesson Ideas, Lesson Plans, Planning, Secondary Education and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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