Starting the new school year with intentions of building a respectful and inclusive learning environment ensures all of your students feel welcomed and are engaged with the material. Doing some introductory cultural activities during the first week of school will lay the groundwork for healthy relationships all year long. Demonstrating to students that their culture and background are valued in your classroom is good not only for nurturing healthy relationships but also for creating an environment where everyone can learn and thrive academically. Try these activities and ideas during the first week of school to get to know your students and to help them build friendships with one another.
“My Ten” activity
Ask students to emulate the New York Times column “My Ten,” in which famous authors, actors, chefs, and others share their top ten cultural must-haves. Invite them to share what foods, books, places, people, or hobbies they cherish. Have students narrow down their list to their top ten, and then have them share in whatever way you want. They can create a physical poster or publish their lists on a class digital bulletin board. They could also respond in writing or tell a partner.
Don’t forget to share your own top ten to help your students and their families get to know you. You could include it as part of your culture corner in your classroom. Get more ideas, activities, and discussion questions from this lesson plan.
“FriENN Diagram” activity
Students can get to know one another and find out the commonalities and differences they share with this activity. First, they interview each other to discover different aspects of their cultural identity, then write them down in a Venn diagram to see what they have in common. Students can take turns asking each other the questions provided, or come up with their own.
You can have students do this activity with a partner, or create “FriENN Diagrams” with several classmates to get to know one another. Start on page 12 of this document for more detailed instructions and worksheets for this activity.
Global explorations activity
Get students thinking about the broader world and help them explore their curiosities with this activity. Provide students with a blank map of the world and ask them to label as many countries and bodies of water as they can. Then ask them to share, either in writing or out loud, which places they want to learn more about this year. What do they already know about different places in the world? What interests them about these places?
Collect the maps and save them. At the end of the school year, repeat this activity. Show students their maps from the beginning of the year and the end of the year. Ask them to reflect on what they have learned and what they still want to know. This is a great way to show students their progress and give them a sense of accomplishment for all they have learned about the world during the year.
Give students the chance to develop greater agency over their learning by helping them set academic and personal goals for the new school year. They can be related to a global initiative your school or class is undertaking, or language learning if that is relevant to your students.
Once students finish sharing or writing down their goals, have their classmates brainstorm ways each student can meet their goals through specific, actionable things they can do weekly, monthly, etc. You can guide these conversations and help students set realistic goals they can achieve. This sharing of goals creates more meaningful relationships among students and encourages them to help their classmates succeed.
Starting the new school year with these cultural activities will get students to open up and develop strong relationships with each other and with you. Setting a positive, respectful tone allows for deeper learning, more engagement, and greater success for everyone. For more resources, see ways to start the school year strong and tips for setting up a welcoming classroom.
We’d love to hear—what are you doing to kick off the new school year with your students? How do you build strong relationships in your classroom? Share your wisdom by tagging us on social media and using the hashtag #UnitingOurWorld.