At the start of the year, drop the curriculum for three days if you can. Use this time to really get to know your class and for your children to get to know one another – and you. Establishing relationships early on can reap benefits in the long run. This time will also help you to get some great displays up of your children’s work, to give them a sense of ownership of the room. The following tips are some ideas that can be used in the first few days. They are in no particular order and are drawn on experiences from teaching in KS1, KS2 and a class of children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Ask them what they’d like to learn
On transition / change-over day get them all to write down something that they would like to learn during the coming year. Bear this in mind when planning for the year – it’s easy to incorporate their requests and by doing so you are personalising their learning. If you don’t see them for a ‘changeover day’ ask them to write things on their first day of school.
Create personalised pegs
Get the children to draw themselves and write their names for their pegs (on ‘changeover’ day if possible). You will be learning their names as they are drawing and their pictures give clues to what they like. Get them to draw another one to use for a ‘star of the day’ display or similar positive behaviour management approaches. Alternatively, they could be used on a birthday display e.g. a birthday train or for a learning styles display (see below).
Develop class rules together
Establish exactly what happens in your room i.e. ‘This is where we meet every day, to learn and have fun’. Then establish class rules. Make a deal with the children – if they do certain things in the classroom, you will do certain things. Get the children to establish things that they should do and the things they would expect you to do in return (no more than 5 each). Display the rules in the classroom and get the children to illustrate their favourite. Promise to uphold your end of the deal if they uphold theirs. By giving them ownership of these rules, you are placing the behaviour management firmly in their hands. You can then ask questions like, “Sarah, is Samantha following the class’s rules? Would you like to help/remind her?”
Learn about learning styles
Help the children learn their own preferred learning styles through questionnaires and activities (some available in TES resources). Make a display of the visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners (some children may be in two places). You can refer back to this many times. It will help children understand how they are learning – “We are doing it this way, because it helps the kinaesthetic learners” – and it will also help you understand their needs as learners.
Play team games
Play some collaborative/team/trust games to learn how they work with one another (see links below). Use rainbow cards (a set of plain coloured cards with 6 of each colour, or 4 if you want smaller groups) or playing cards to give out randomly, to mix up the children. Groups are formed when you say, “Find someone with the same card as you.”
Paint caricatures of yourself as a famous person – someone you would like to be. Write a couple of sentences in a speech bubble saying something about yourself, as that person.
Create ‘wanted posters’
Create ‘Wanted’ posters with short descriptions underneath or secret agent files (resource for the latter on the TES site).
Play name learning games
Play a ‘name learning’ drama game. This and other games can be found at dramaresource.com
Develop activities based on what they’ve said they’d like to learn about
Pick one of the things that the children said they would like to learn about on changeover day and create a short activity for it. Tell the children why they are learning about it (e.g. because George requested it).
Create a ‘why box’
Create a ‘Why box’ for the children to post questions in. Establish a time each week when you are going to open the ‘Why Box’ and try to answer questions together. You will have to establish an important rule – only sensible questions get read out. The questions they ask may tell you additional things about their interests.
Create a passport for each of your class members. In it they can give you lots of personal details about themselves.
Identify ‘smart areas’
Help the children to identify their ‘smart areas’ e.g. word smart, number smart, nature smart etc (from optimal learning). Create a display that shows who is smart at what. Help them identify a famous person that they are ‘smart like’. Think about what they can do in the future to become more like that person (develop their aspirations). The knowledge that you gain from this will inform planning – and the group leaders you select in different subjects.
Go on a resource hunt
Get younger children to go on a resource hunt. They could then create their own labels for resources around the classroom. They will get to learn where things are in the classroom, as well as practising writing skills. You will get to learn about their work ethic from observing them.
Have the children redesign the learning environment
Have a ‘Grand Designs’ or ‘Changing Rooms’ afternoon or day and get the children to redesign the room that they are in, or create their own design of a perfect classroom. You may be able to incorporate some of their ideas and it will give you a sense of what they like to do.
Draw a ‘bag full of me’
Show the children a bag with 5 objects in that show what you are like as a person (e.g. chocolate, football shirt, model mini, toy dog, travel guide). Get the children to draw 5 things in a bag shape that they would have in theirs.
Create a ‘me collage’
Give the children an A3 sized outline of a person, then let them cut out pictures from magazines of things that they like to fill it.
Some useful resources:
http://www.tes.co.uk/teaching-resources/ you have to sign up, but it’s free and fab!
More about Sheli Blackburn
Sheli is a Primary AST for drama and creative ICT. She wrote this post in response to the recent ukedchat discussion on this topic, but I thought deserved to be a stand alone post rather than just being included in the discussion summary. I’m sure you’ll agree.