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Building a Community of Active Listeners

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

Back to School 2022 definitely feels better than it did in 2021! Students can safely work in groups, share supplies and everyone is at school, in person! It feels almost normal! So, unlike past years, team building activities will work again because students won’t be social distancing. One of my favorite community building activities to help students get to know each other and build the foundations of a respectful and kind classroom is writing Buddy Biographies.

Buddy Biographies are just that - biographies written by students about students! This is an activity with multiple parts that culminates in your students first writing piece of the year.

To begin, I set the stage for connection. Students complete two "getting to know you" activities in order to talk to as many of their classmates as possible and discover things they may have in common. The first activity is called Speed Friend-shipping. You got it - sort of like speed dating but without the romance ;) The entire class participates by asking and answering questions with one other classmate, for 1 minute at a time. When the timer goes off, or the music stops, one row of students must move one chair to speak to another classmate. In the second activity, students are placed in small groups to ask silly questions that all start with "If you were a..."

In groups of 3, students practice interviewing their group members. They will learn about the similarities and differences among classmates in this fun, unstructured activity.

The goal of these activities, besides helping students get to know each other, is to reflect on the positive things they saw, heard and felt when asking questions and sharing their responses (and what didn’t work!)

We come together after these two activities to collaboratively decide what Active Listening is and create an anchor chart that stays posted the whole year.

On Day 3 of this project, I introduce what a biography is. Prior to this, I make sure to stock my classroom with some of my favorite biography books, including Malala's Favorite Pencil by Malala Yousafzai and Kera Ascoet, Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne and Six Dots: A Story of Young Louis Braille by Jen Bryant. By the time we start to talk about biographies, students have an idea of what the author's purpose is and hopefully have a better idea about what information is included in a biography. Together, we review the criteria for a successfully biography.

I also talk to students about how information is gathered if the biography is being written about a living person: by conducting an interview. We reflect on our conversations about active listening and what might be important to do or say in an interview. From here, students are told they will be pairing up to interview a classmate and complete their first writing piece of the year: a biography!

Cue my favorite way to pair students up: Partner Pair cards! Using partial images of an easily identifiable object, students must find their other half (or third, or fourth!). In this case, it is their other half. This will determine biography partners and avoid the sometimes awkward, sometimes disruptive "find a partner!" free-for-all.

The next week is full of exciting interviews, rough drafts, peer edits and finally, publishing the final copy! My favorite part of this project is the look of pride that students share when they see their hard work about a new friend going up on the bulletin board!

Ultimately my goal is to build community in my classroom. Strong relationships with teachers and school staff can dramatically enhance students' level of motivation and therefore promote learning. Students who have access to more strong relationships are more academically engaged, have stronger social skills, and experience more positive behavior.

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