Bonding with THAT student

We all know that positive relationships are the key to a successful classroom. By now, it’s probably easy to see which students you are naturally clicking with; those who you understand easily and who understand and trust you. You are probably also noticing a few who you struggle to communicate with; those who might not seem that interested or engaged in anything at school.

Angela Watson, a National Board Certified teacher and education consultant, has a developed a strategy called the 2×10 strategy that can help you start to build a relationship with even the most distant and hard to reach students.

The strategy is simple: find time to talk for 2 minutes (that’s 120 seconds) to that student for 10 school days in a row about something that they are interested in. Sometimes it can be something as simple as a chat about how you BOTH hate getting up so early for school – that’s something I can almost guarantee that you have in common!

There are some obstacles to this strategy: like time, that fact that at first that student may not want to talk to you, and that a it may take a few tries to find that common topic of interest. If you find that to be true, click here for help. But, if you give the 2×10 strategy a try with just one student, I think you will see great progress in relationships with hard to reach kids.

Activities to Build Classroom Community

This post is a list of links to activities you can do to get to know your classes or advisement kiddos and help them learn about each other. Since I am sending this to all of Bode, you might check with your team if you want to do one of these in regular class to make sure you don’t all choose the same one. Using them in advisement shouldn’t be a problem, because there is no student overlap there. These activities aren’t just good for the beginning of the year… this will live on the blog forever, so remember it’s here when you have any little bit of unplanned time all year long!


Foodie Friends
In a circle, each person states their first name and a food item that begins with the same letter. The next person says their name and food and each of the previous person’s. Teacher goes last! – no supplies needed

Use a Bingo card with nothing in the squares (choose a card that has enough spaces for every student to be included). Hand out one to each student. Have the students walk around and sign each others’ cards (you made need some free spaces). Each student can only sign each card once, and there should be a different name in each block. Put all students’ names in a container. Draw out a name, and that person must stand up and say something about him or her self. People mark that name off of their card. You can have prizes, like candy, for when students get a Bingo.
Access blank cards that you can manipulate here <-


Success to me…<- click for printable form
Have students list 5 things that make them feel successful. You can do it on loose paper and have them share out, or you can print this “fancy” form and display their answers in your classroom.

10 Team-Building Questions <- click for questions
Circle up as a group and answer some interesting questions – no supplies needed

Switch Sides If… <- click for questions
Stand on opposite sides of the room and ask questions – no supplies needed

Back-to-School survey <- click for survey
Ask students to fill out the surveys, then have them grab a partner and ask them to share 4 or 5 answers. Then have them switch to another partner and share 4 or 5 more. Repeat 4 or 5 times.

Inner Circle, Outer Circle
Have students stand in a circle. Tell every other student to step back one step so there is an inner circle and an outer circle. The students in the inner circle should turn around and face the students in the outer circle. Adjust the circles so that students stand face-to-face (teacher may need to join the circle if there are an odd number of students. The teacher then asks a questions from this (or any) list: Inner circle, Outer circle questions
The students standing face to face should share their answers with each other. Give a few minutes for this exchange, and then instruct one or both of the circles to rotate. For instance, say, “Inner circle move two spaces to the left.” Ask another question and have students share that information with each other. Continue in this manner until a series of 10 questions is shared.


Model Building
Divide students into teams of three. Give each team two boxes of identical building materials. This could be anything such as Legos, blocks, even toothpicks and marshmallows or a combination of all of these. Set teams up at tables as far away from each other as possible. Ask each team to work together to build a structure from the supplies in one of the boxes and place it back into the box so the other teams cannot see it. When all structures are complete and in boxes, have teams switch boxes. Give each of the team members positions as “explainer,” “messenger” and “builder.” Only the explainer can see the structure. He must describe the structure to the messenger, who in turn relays to the builder instructions on how to build it. The builder must create an exact replica with only the instructions relayed through the messenger.

Drop the Ball
You would need golf balls, straws, and masking tape for this activity. Separate students into small groups. Each group receives 12 straws and 18 inches of masking tape. They get ten minutes to build a container that will catch a golf ball dropped from about ten feet. Each groups selects a “ball dropper” and that person stands on a chair and holds a golf balls at eye level. That group places its container on the floor where it thinks the ball will land. Each group gets 3 attempts to catch the ball. If a group gets the ball to go in and stay in, they get a prize.

A Group that Works
Have each student individually finish this sentence on a piece of paper: “My vision of a group that works is…” Then put students in small groups and have them discuss and combine their individual ideas. Each group should also draw a picture that represents the ideas of their combined group. Finally, each group shares out, and the teacher  combines all groups into a whole group statement.

Some ideas from:

What about Late Work?

Photo Credit: Gokik via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Gokik via Compfight cc

Late work is a hot topic in the middle school teaching world. Middle school is the first time that students are expected to travel from classroom to classroom, keeping track of up to 9 assignments a day, depending on the school they attend. Many students struggle with some aspects of this transition, and completing class work on time can become quite a problem. I do not have a solution to the problem of late work and grades in the middle school, but I have been searching for a theory that keeps students’ interests at heart, but does not put an unfair burden on teachers.

I recently came across an article by Rick Wormeli entitled, “Late Work: A Constructive Response” that outlines ways to teach students the importance of punctuality and responsibility without indiscriminately lowering grades for every late assignment. I highly recommend reading it to anyone who struggles with finding the right late work policy for their own classroom.

Mr. Wormeli has been in education for 33 years and has taught math, science, history, English, PE, and health. He has written many books on education, including Meet Me in the Middle and Fair Isn’t Always Equal. He is much more an expert than I am on effective classroom policies, so I want to share here some of his thoughts on this topic that stood out to me.

Regarding giving no credit or severely lowered credit for late assignments, Wormeli says:
“Let’s deal with late work in ways that lead to students’ personal investment in learning. Driving an assignment into the ground doesn’t serve anyone. While there should be consequences for not meeting deadlines, we can still spend time
investigating the situation before arbitrarily lowering the grade.”

He also stresses that it is important to remember that middle school students come to us as 11 or 12-year-old children and leave us 4 years before they will be considered adults:
“We are teaching young adolescents who are learning [adult-level] competencies for the first time. To demand consistent, adult-level competence of middle schoolers is inappropriate. We have to walk students through mature decision making and action-taking regarding their time.”

Recurring late work is undoubtedly a problem in middle schools. To get the full value of Mr. Wormeli’s thoughts, read his article: here. Don’t be afraid to try something new if you feel that what you are doing hasn’t worked. And by all means, if you have discovered a late work policy that works for you, please share!

What Successful Teachers Do Differently

These 5 things are from a list called 25 Things Successful Teachers Do Differently I guarantee all of these things are going on in our school! I thought it was a good reminder as we head into April and May.

Successful teachers have clear objectives
How do you know if you are driving the right way when you are traveling somewhere new? You use the road signs and a map (although nowadays it might be SIRI or a GPS). In the world of education, your objectives for your students act as road signs to your destination. Your plan is the map. Making a plan does not suggest a lack of creativity in your curriculum but rather, gives creativity a framework in which to flourish.

Successful teachers have a sense of purpose
We can’t all be blessed with “epic” workdays all the time. Sometimes, life is just mundane and tedious. Teachers with a sense of purpose that are able to see the big picture can ride above the hard and boring days because their eye is on something further down the road.

Successful teachers are able to live without immediate feedback
There is nothing worse than sweating over a lesson plan only to have your students walk out of class without so much as a smile or a, “Great job teach!” It’s hard to give 100% and not see immediate results. Teachers who rely on that instant gratification will get burned out and disillusioned. Learning, relationships, and education are a messy endeavor, much like nurturing a garden. It takes time, and some dirt, to grow.

Successful teachers have a positive attitude
Negative energy zaps creativity and it makes a nice breeding ground for fear of failure. Good teachers have an upbeat mood, a sense of vitality and energy, and see past momentary setbacks to the end goal. Positivity breeds creativity.

Successful teachers expect their students to succeed
This concept is similar for parents as well. Students need someone to believe in them. They need a wiser and older person to put stock in their abilities. Set the bar high and then create an environment where it’s okay to fail. This will motivate your students to keep trying until they reach the expectation you’ve set for them.

Help for the Unruly Class

This post is NOT just a list of things students want from their teachers. I promise, if you read to the end, there is practical advice and an activity to help reform your unruly class (we’ve all had them).

However, education research continually shows that the biggest key to classroom management is the teacher’s attitude toward the students. Even (especially) with the students who seem hardest to love. So it is important to focus on the teacher-student relationship in any discussion of students behavior.

Research shows the when students have a positive bond with their teacher, they behave in more academically and socially productive ways. There are lots of lists of ways to promote that relationship, for example research from Memorial University of Newfoundland and anecdotal evidence from the 25 years of teaching experience of Angela Maiers, an education specialist. But basically it boils down to this:

  • Smile
  • Connect with them on topics beyond school
  • Speak to them in the same way that you want them to speak to you
  • Challenge them
  • Create an environment where questions are welcome

But even when we do all these things, sometimes we have groups of students who struggle to meet the expectations we have set out for them. When that is the case, it can be helpful to use the What? So What? Now What? protocol to get them back on the right track.

This Google Doc contains the teacher directions and student worksheets to use if you want to try this exercise in one of your classes, but here is a short breakdown of the process:

1. Acknowledge to the class that as a group you have a problem (or problems) that need to be addressed in order for the class to function at its best.

2. In groups, ask the students to clarify what the problem/s are and why they matter.

3. Have each group share their thoughts.

4. Have each student individually write about how they are personally going to affect this change in the classroom.

In a groups with a strong teacher-student relationship, taking the time to go through this protocol can often clear up many of the seemingly small yet daily problems that can spiral into an unmanageable class if left unchecked.