Classroom community is always my biggest goal at the beginning of the year. We do lots of different activities ranging from being a friend to taking care of yourself to not making your teacher go absolutely insane (necessary.). My absolute favorite activity, though is when we read Chrysanthemum and talk about how mean words can make other people feel.
I always start this activity by reading the book by Kevin Henkes.
I read it with my sweetest voice for her and my most snooty voice for Victoria. Man I just can’t stand that little mouse! I don’t say much about how mean they are. I just read it.
Then I give each student a big heart made of construction paper with their name written nice and big on it. I tell them I want them to make that heart as beautiful as they can using lots of color and design and of course, doing their best work. I give them stickers to put on there and let them work until they are just about in love with their hearts. “Can I take this home?” they always say, which makes me hurt a little inside because I, unlike them, know what is coming.
Then I tell them to bring their hearts to the carpet where they show them to their new classmates with pride. “Wow,” I say. “Those are the most amazing hearts I have ever seen!”
Then I tell them they have to crinkle their hearts.
I explain, “We are going to read Chrysanthemum again. Every single time someone says something mean about her, you must crumple your beautiful heart a tiny bit. Every time someone says something nice, you can try to smooth it back out.”
So I read. They crumple. And sometimes a student even sheds a little tear. This is not fun but it is necessary. It brings the idea home.
When I finish the book, we try to smooth out the hearts the best we can but the wrinkles just won’t go away. I tell my sweet students that this is just like when we say mean words to or about another person. We can apologize. We can try to make it up to them, but we can never, ever take those words back. The students start to nod sadly. Some still don’t get it, but a lot do.
Then we make a circle and everyone gets to share something that would make them feel sad. Lots of friends nod their heads and we make a list of things that we should never, ever say.
I put the hearts up around a quote and refer back to it a LOT in the first week and then periodically through the year. This alone will not cause your students to be nice to one another, but it definitely helps those friends who are visual and kinesthetic learners.
This is my wall this year. The quote says ” It is easier to leave mean words unspoken, than to fix a heart that words have broken.” We talk about what that means and I get lots of serious nods. I just love how students “get it.” They want to be good friends to each other, they just need to know how.
I am always searching for new ideas to build classroom community! If you have a great one, please share!