I’ve always believed building healthy relationships with my students is vital to their success in my classroom. I take time to get to know their names, usually on the first day of classes, and work on getting to know their interests and passions throughout the year. However, over the past few years I’ve realized that I usually end the year feeling like most of my students know me pretty well and vice versa, but I’ve realized they sometimes hardly know each other. Sure there will be a handful of kids that have close friendships in class, but there have been numerous times I’ve told a class, “Oh yeah, so and so is not here today”, and multiple students will respond with, “who?” Considering we spend almost an hour and a half together two to three days per week, I think students not knowing each other is unacceptable. This semester I have challenged myself (and therefore my students) to increase class culture with the goal of having students leave my class feeling more connected to one another.
To start this process, I turned to an old technique used by teachers from early childhood education to college level courses. I downloaded a clock template and made plans to devote at least 20 minutes for our first day back for students to find their new “clock buddies”. In each class, I asked my students to be completely honest with me and raise their hands if they’ve ever ended a school year without talking to everyone in class at least once. Every hand went up. Then I asked if they’ve ever ended the year without knowing everyone’s name in class. They all raised their hands again. I told them I wasn’t okay with them ending our year together like this so we would use our clocks to make some changes. I was happy that no one seemed to complain.
I will be honest and say that when I tried this with my first class, chaos ensued, mostly from lack of proper planning on my part. I had seen this activity done in professional development sessions before and assumed I could handle it. After my brief introduction and discussion, I passed out the clocks. Luckily my first class only has 14 students, so it was easy to manage them even after confusion erupted. For the first few minutes, everything went fine. Kids were walking around and asking each other to be their partner for a specific time. But then I started hearing the same thing, “Wait, I already have you on here. But I need a 2 o’clock!” “I need a 7 but already have them on here and not her but she has her 7 o’clock filled!” Before I knew it, the whole class had two to three open time slots and we couldn’t figure out who didn’t already have each other or who did. I started laughing and said, “Hold on, let me do some research real quick”. After Googling “clock buddies instructions”, I realized my mistake and that they needed much more direction instead of just “fill up all your time slots!”
I thanked my students for participating so well and for being my guinea pigs since they were the first class to do this activity. I even had a couple of sweethearts try to figure it out and give suggestions of how to fill the missing time slots. Instead of trying to use the clocks we had, I told them we were going to recycle our first set and use the instructions I found after they returned from lunch. They didn’t seem to mind, mostly because my error worked in their favor to do something fun twice in one class period.
When they returned from lunch, I passed out new clocks and told them we would only fill out numbers 1-6. I explained the expectation was that they listen to and follow instructions, and to not write anything until I said to do so.
Following the instructions I found made the process much easier, but I still added my own steps as I saw necessary. To begin, I had everyone stand up. Then I said they had to partner up with someone from the OPPOSITE side of the room. I stood on a chair so I could easily see the whole class. I made sure everyone was partnered up and then announced, “Okay. This is your 12 o’clock partner. Exchange names. Make sure you have the correct spelling and know how to SAY each other’s names. Then ask your 12 o’clock what their favorite color is and why.”
I repeated this process for each time slot, making sure the kids picked someone from opposite sides each time since they tend to still flock to their friends. I also ADDED to the questions they had to ask each other. 12 o’clock partners had to discuss favorite colors, 1 o’clock partners had to discuss favorite colors and music, 2 o’clock discussed animals, and by the time we made it to 6 o’clock partners they were discussing favorite and least favorite classes. I disliked the fact that I had to cut off discussions for the sake of finding new partners; it meant students were actually talking and getting to know each other a little better (even if it was orchestrated).
When we got to the 4, 5, and 6 o’clock time slots, we did start to have a few issues of people not having a new partner, but I simply started asking who has been with the partner-less person and who has not. I split up partners to make new ones, which is why it is important to keep reminding students NOT to write anything until given that instruction.
After establishing 1-6 clock buddies, I told students to take a picture of their clocks just in case it falls out of their folder. I made the clocks on purple paper to make sure it’s easy to find in their folders that stay in my classroom, but if you know students well, you know students always find a way to lose what you want them to keep. I explained to my kids we wouldn’t use the clocks every day, but that we would be using them often for different reasons.
The next class day, I planned for students to use their clocks to find new seats. As they came into class, I greeted the first few students by telling them to get their folder, get their clocks and sit by their 5 o’clock partner, and to pass it on. By the time the bell rang for class to start, only a couple of students were still pairing up and finding a new seat.
Immediately I noticed a change in my room. The students that always sat next to each other were no longer sitting next to each other. And if they were, they still had at least one different person sitting next to them. Before I started class, I told them to ask their 5 o’clock how their day is going and let them talk freely for 2-3 minutes. I noticed my shyest kids sharing, even if it was quickly and quietly!
We continued on to our silent reading portion of class, and after reading, I again had students specifically share with their 5 o’clock partner:
Again, even though this is orchestrated, students who don’t normally talk to each other were talking to each other, and this time about books! And, again, if you know teenagers, you know they don’t always stay on topic. I didn’t mind that their conversations veered off topic so long as it was after they met my expectation. Their veering off topic actually meant they were talking about things that were interesting to them, and therefore getting to know each other.
We are moving into our second week of classes and I plan to use the clocks to find new seats again this week, but using a different number. Pretty soon my kids will figure out this will be a normal thing, and I hope to have to provide less instructions. I am excited to see how this impacts class culture in each class period since they are all so different, and I will post and update at the end of the semester.