As a teacher, you know how important it is to create a positive, responsive classroom environment that promotes learning and appropriate behaviour. But wouldn’t it be great if you had an easy way to do this?
Thankfully there exist tried and tested activities that can quickly improve students’ moods and improve their attitude to work – by focusing on the emotional and social factors that influence learning. By using activities that promote connection, creativity, energy and focus, any teacher can create a classroom environment in which students feel safe, supported, and eager to participate.
Here are five different types of activity (with examples) to promote a positive atmosphere, improve attitudes to learning, and develop a sense of connection and community in your classroom.
1. Activities to increase ENERGY in the classroom.
Use this type of activity to start a session, introduce a new topic or idea, or to invigorate (or even wake up) a flagging group. When high-energy activities are used effectively they can change the mood in a room very quickly, helping to instill a sense of excitement, engagement and focus.
Example: Chewing Gum Stretch
Ask the students to stand up and to imagine they are chewing a big piece of gum. Encourage them to really enjoy chewing and moving the gum around in their mouth. Then suggest they blow bubbles with it – the bigger the better – until it bursts. Now suggest they bite the chewing gum between their teeth and pull outwards as far as they can, maybe wrapping it around their fingers. They should take the gum out of their mouth and begin to stretch it in all directions. Ask them to pull it apart as far as it will go, and try to lift their left leg over the top, then the right leg. Now suggest they roll it up into a ball and throw it to the ground. Get them to stand on the gum and try to lift each leg in turn from the gooey, sticky mess they are standing in. Keep reminding them how sticky and strong it is.
You get the idea. You can play around with this concept all day, as long as it enables the students to have a good stretch and a good laugh. This is a wonderfully creative way to get students to stretch and physically warm themselves up without realising it. Just remind them to dispose of the gum thoughtfully, and not swallow it!
2. Activities to promote CALM.
Use this type of activity to lower the energy in your classroom by inviting students to settle down and quieten the busyness of their minds a little.
Example: Heavy Breathing
As a quick experiment ask students, whilst breathing at their normal rate, to see how many in-breaths they can take without breathing out. Most people manage around six. This gives us an idea of the lung capacity we use at rest – perhaps one sixth, or about 16%. This is a good metaphor for life in general; we use only a fraction of our full potential.
The next part of the activity is simply a relaxation exercise. Breathe in through your nose for a count of three, then hold for six seconds; breathe out slowly through your mouth for a count of six seconds; repeat three times.
On each in-breath ask the group to imagine breathing in fresh, clean air. Suggest that they visualise it filling their lungs and body with energy and power, and that it will enable them to be their best today. As they hold their breath, ask them to imagine all that energy and power spreading through their entire body, from the hair on their head to the tips of their toes. On each out-breath tell them they are releasing tension and negative thoughts from wherever they are in the body, draining them away till they’re gone. Ask the students to focus on what they are about to learn in the lesson ahead.
This type of breathing technique has been used for thousands of years across many cultures and can be very useful in the classroom to relax students, leaving them in a better state for learning.
3. Activities to encourage CREATIVE THINKING.
Use this type of activity to help students become more innovative and able to find new solutions to problems.
Example: Future Intros
I often wonder what it would be like to zip ahead in time and meet my future self. What would I be like? What would I be doing? Will my clothes be back in fashion? Would I go for a drink with myself? (Note to self: make friends more often.)
Allow the students five minutes to think and make notes on their future selves (let’s say twenty years in the future). Ask them to flesh out this person in as much detail as possible. Then ask each student, in turn, to walk to the front and introduce themselves to the group as their future self. The structure below is a good one to follow for the basic introduction.
My name is … and I am … years old. I live in (insert country/town/planet here).
I am a (insert profession here). The best thing about my job is …
I could never have achieved this without … Knowing what I know now I wish I had … when I was at school.
Thanks for listening. Bye.
This activity works wonders for confidence and gives the students permission to rehearse their success and feel what it’s like to be doing the things they dream of. Embellish this fun exercise with a couple of ridiculous intros first to build up class confidence. Why don’t you give it a bash now and see where you might be in ten or twenty years’ time?
4. Activities to foster a sense of CONNECTION.
Use this type of activity to foster a sense of community, inclusion and belonging in your classroom.
Example: Warm Welcome
There’s no better place to set the overall tone of a lesson than at the beginning.
At the start of the session ask the students to give each other a warm welcome. Get them to shake the hand of the person sitting next to them (or everyone on their table); to greet them with a ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’; and to either pay them a compliment, or offer one reason why they’re looking forward to working with them that lesson. It’s a bit like speed dating for beginners but a lot less awkward, and they don’t have to pay for it. This is a lovely little warm-up activity that helps lighten the mood and create a relaxed and supportive working environment.
5. Activities to develop FOCUS.
Use this type of activity to help students learn to concentrate on their work and avoid distractions.
Example: Should’ve Gone to Specsavers
When the students are seated and comfortable explain that you have changed five things about the classroom. They then have three minutes, in pairs, to guess what you’ve changed.
Although the students spend a lot of time in this room, when did they last really look at it and notice the things going on around them? We all look – but do we really see? To be fully open and focused requires us all to look at things in a different way as if through a new set of eyes. You may be surprised by what you see or miss on a regular basis. To see this in action, go to YouTube and instead of funny kitten videos, search for ‘awareness test moonwalking bear’.
Would you like more activities like this?
Rob Plevin’s latest book ‘Change the Mood of the Noisy Class’ is jam-packed with 102 tried and tested activities to improve students’ mood and boost creativity, connection, and focus in your classroom; also included is a bonus suite of downloadable resources and printables.
Get your copy by searching for ‘Change the Mood of the Noisy Class’ by Rob Plevin on Amazon and start transforming your classroom into a place where students love to learn
Rob Plevin was a special-ed teacher and deputy head before spending the last 15 years helping teachers, lecturers, parents, carers and youth workers to connect better with children. He provides free training and downloadable resources from his website at www.needsfocusedteaching.com.