At the beginning of the school year, teachers want to send a message to their students:  “We are a community of learners, together we will challenge each other and share with one another.”

We have a variety of ways to go about doing this and for some, they try to do it through the arts.  In infusing my beginning of the year activities with the arts, I am hoping also to say to my students:

(1) “I value your creativity and individuality.” and

(2) “I want you to grow as an individual and as a part of our community.”

These two messages are key to a SEAL teacher!

In previous posts, I have blogged about ways to build community throughout the year with music making and listening and through a communal piece of art.  But at the beginning of the year, I do some quick activities that are based in the arts that help to establish our class as a community that values each other and the arts.  Here are a couple of activities I do:

Names and Movement

This activity is great for learning names and giving insights to your students.  It celebrates their unique qualities through movement.  Your reactions to each student’s contribution in this activities role models how much you appreciate the diversity of your students.  ALL through movement! A perfect SEAL activity.

Have the class stand in a circle and one by one have the students say their names while doing a movement.   The movement can be a simple arm wave or an elaborate, dramatic gesture.  The key is not to think too hard about it when coming up with it.  The rest of the class then repeats the name and accompanying movement three times back before moving on to the next person.

This simple activity is a must for my first day of school but also is fun to do throughout the year.  You can really get a handle on personalities, interpersonal relationships and how students are feeling at that particular time.  Not to mention it REALLY helps me to connect new names to faces for a the new school year.

First Time Doodles

In my fourth grade classroom, I have students make “My First Fourth Grade Doodle”.  It is a mostly blank piece of paper with a simple, nondescript mark on it.  The students are asked to create whatever they want with that mark  for a period of time such as at the beginning of the day, beginning of the class period or during any free time they may have.  You can also carve out some time in your schedule if you so desire.  Sometimes, I will assign the doodling on one day and tell students it is due in a day or two giving them ample time to return to their work and fill up the paper.

The true SEAL part of this activity occurs when it’s share time.  Students are able to see (with the guidance of the SEAL teacher) that even though everyone got the same mark on the paper, there were so many variations.  Sometimes you’ll find that a couple of kids drew something similar.  Note that as well!  Guiding conversations around the art that students created is a wonderful way to build both social awareness and relationship skills.

Understandably, this can be seen as an elementary activity, but it is really good for the middle and high school years too.  It builds oral skills as students are encouraged to share what they have done with you, a small group, or the whole class.  You may discover a hidden talent.  It can also become the inspiration for a story or poem.  You can search inside the doodles for patterns and symbols, lines and colors.  They can become the topic of a descriptive essay or the springboard for vocabulary work with your ESL students.

This year I intend on having students keep their doodle for some time, going back to it for various other integration opportunities.  We’ll see what comes about from that.  There are many possibilities!

Enter to Music

This is so simple to do and can be so effective.  Set the mood for your classroom by playing a piece of music.  Classical works, big band is great and even contemporary music can invite the kids into your room and get them focused.  It’s amazing what a room filled with music can do to draw people in.  My choice for the first day with kids: Glenn Miller’s String of Pearls played on a loop.  It is chill, yet invigorating; not too slow, not too energetic; just right for getting kids in and getting them ready for the day.  Here’s a link where you can learn more about Soundtracking Your Classroom.

Creating a classroom culture that accepts a variety of art forms AND accepts and encourages good social relationships is important to do from the start of the school year.  Never underestimate the power of the arts in ALL kinds of learning!

What types of community builders do you use with your students?