This is how to build community in the first weeks of school!
A couple weeks ago, I shared a simple yet impactful community-building activity on Instagram and TikTok that went viral in the teaching community. With well over a million views between the original and follow-up videos and enthusiastic feedback from thousands of teachers, its having a big impact in classrooms around the country!
Why did it go viral? Probably because…
It's no-prep. It takes just 2-3 minutes. And it helps to establish a community of gratitude and appreciation in your room while getting students to show some love to one another. And its worked wonders in my classes over the years.
I call it, "Post-It Praise" and students love when we do it. At its core, this exercise is designed to foster a sense of gratitude within the classroom while encouraging students to express appreciation and encouragement for one another. Over the years, I've witnessed the transformative power it holds.
How This Community-Building Activity Works
For any lesson involving group or partner work, as an exit pass, you distribute post-its or scrap paper to each student. They are then given three prompts to choose from:
- Who is someone in class who helped you today?
- Who is someone in class that made you feel good about yourself today?
- Who is someone who had a breakout performance today?
And with the help of fellow teachers on Instagram and TikTok, I added some other great prompts like, “Who is someone you saw step out of their comfort zone today?” You can check grab the list here for free. And despite the list of great prompts, I would only provide 3 options each time to avoid overwhelming them with choices.
This simple framework allows students to reflect on their peers' contributions. But the magic happens when they take the time to appreciate one another.
The Impact of Peer-to-Peer Praise
When a few volunteers share their 'shout-out appreciations,' something extraordinary unfolds. Instead of teachers solely thanking students for their efforts, students are now recognizing each other, making their peers feel appreciated and valued. The result? Toughest students blush, and the most withdrawn ones crack a smile. You might even discover these heartfelt notes tucked away in folders or binders months later.
Some Social Proof:
But what about those students that are left out!?
Now, you might wonder about students who don't receive shout-outs and did not receive a post-it at the end of class. Here, we impart a vital lesson in social-emotional learning. We emphasize to students that expressing appreciation and gratitude benefits us as much as it does the recipient. It builds inner strength and fosters genuine joy in making others feel good about themselves. This is a core of social-emotional learning and character development.
However, we still strive to ensure everyone feels appreciated. If you notice some students receiving no shout-outs, one of these options should work.
How to Ensure Everyone is Appreciated
- You can appreciate those students in front of the whole class
- Encourage all students to appreciate someone new, especially if they noticed someone overlooked previously. Make it a rule that you cannot appreciate the same student twice or at least twice in a row.
- Engage student leaders to look out for those who need recognition and ask them to give a shout-out at the end of class.
- Do this activity at the end of the week and start the week by anonymously assigning a peer to each student- and give them a blank ‘appreciation card’. It’s then each students’ job all week to make note of positive things they see that student doing- asking questions, participating in their groups, smiling, helping others, etc. And at the end of the week - maybe with seven minutes left in class - you give students more time to write their notes and then deliver them. This ensures everyone gets appreciated and feels the love!
It works because its simple!
This activity reaffirms my belief that some of the most potent and effective classroom strategies are deceptively simple. We often overcomplicate things when small, simple strategies can create sometimes massive impact.
Incorporating this activity regularly can cultivate a culture of kindness, teamwork, and helpfulness among your students. By encouraging them to appreciate one another, you'll foster not just a classroom but a community where everyone thrives together.
If you give this strategy a shot, I’d love it if you tagged me in it- @history_4_humans on Instagram and TikTok!
And one last thing, if you are history teacher looking to create a culture of passionate learners in your classes, check out my course, “Make History Engaging, Exciting, and Empowering.”