How to Create a Positive Classroom Culture with S.T.A.R.

I'm super psyched to be linking up with the Secondary Smorgasbord (thanks ELA Buffet and Desktop Learning Adventures for getting this blog linky started) today!  We're all discussing ways to create a positive classroom culture.  

As teachers we all strive to create a classroom that brings the very best out of our students.  We all want our classrooms to be a place where students feel safe and encouraged.  Here's the thing though, a positive classroom culture is not something that happens by accident.  It's something that needs to be nurtured and built throughout the school year.  

Today, I thought I'd share four really easy ways to do just that.  Each technique works together to form the word "STAR."  
S - Set Goals
T - Team Building
A - Accentuate the Positive
R - Reach Beyond the Classroom

I like to infuse the S.T.A.R. positive classroom techniques in my lessons all year long...and I hope you'll find some that can work in your classroom, too!

Setting goals is essential to a positive classroom culture.  That's because when we set intentions to better ourselves, we naturally improve our classroom community.  While it's important to teach students how to set, measure, and reflect on goals, I think it's also powerful to set goals as an educator.  

As teachers we naturally set goals all the time.  However, have you ever shared your goal setting process and reflection with students?  This can be a game changer.  The next time you set goals whether it be for a unit you are planning or school event or for students' success rate on an assessment, share it with students.  Show students how you set specific, measurable goals, and then, show them how you reflect back on your goals.  Modeling goal setting is so powerful!

Here's a goal setting idea that's perfect for students at the beginning of a new school year.  With this activity students progress through a goal-setting guide

 Then, they create a fun speech bubble with their goal inside.  As a class they combine their goals on a bulletin board.  In the center of the bulletin board is a quote poster that says, "Take Our Word For It, It's Going to Be a Great Year."  This activity helps students not only set goals but it projects a spirit of positivity right from the start of school.  You can find a FREE download of this goal setting and bulletin board resource HERE

Team building is essential to a positive classroom community because when students have strong skills to work collaboratively, the entire classroom is a more positive place to learn.  Encouraging teamwork among students helps them improve their speaking, listening, and social skills.  One of my favorite ways to foster team building is with lessons that not only help students master critical ELA skills, but also encourage them to work together as a team.  

Here's one of my favorites.  In this lesson students practice reading comprehension and figurative language while they work cooperatively with their peers.  First students work together to put a fable in the correct order.  Then, they answer questions as a team.  Finally, they reflect on their experiences as a team using figurative language while making a pennant banner.  

This activity is just one way to encourage students to work together as a team.  You could also find a ton of team building activities at this website.  I've found that making time to teach students how to work together has done wonders for creating a positive classroom culture!

Let's face it, if we want our classrooms to be positive places then we need to make it a practice to recognize students' individual contributions.  It can be as simple as spending a portion of the class period highlighting students or creating a bulletin board filled with news clippings, pictures, and examples of students doing awesome things, or writing personalized notes on students' papers recognizing their efforts.  Or, it can be as elaborate as assemblies or awards.  The idea is to make time to point out what kids are doing right!

Encouraging students to accentuate the positive with one another is also a critical component of creating a positive classroom community.  I love getting students to do that with this simple activity.  All you have to do is hand out a piece of colored paper to each student.  Have them write their name creatively and boldly at the top of the paper.  Then, have a discussion with students about what makes a good compliment.  Brainstorm meaningful compliments together.  Then, explain to students that they will be writing compliments to their classmates.  Have students place the paper they created on their desk and instruct them to move to a different desk.  At that desk they should write a meaningful compliment to their peer.  

Then, challenge students to rotate around the classroom until they have written a compliment for everyone.  Students love this activity.  Their compliment-filled-paper becomes a treasured item and a reminder of the positive classroom environment where it was created!  If you'd like a FREE version of this activity along with others that promote kindness in the classroom, just add your email address below and check your email inbox!

    If you happen to work with adolescents, you know that they can be a bit self-absorbed.  Students are often stuck in their own world.  However, I've found that if prompted, they have a deep desire to make a difference in their schools, towns, communities, and world.  That's why my final tip for creating a positive classroom culture is to set up opportunities for students to reach beyond the classroom.  Give students a chance to make a positive difference in others' lives and see how that impacts the culture in your own classroom.

    Here are some ideas to help students reach beyond the classroom:

    --- Have students write letters or design cards for residents in a local nursing home.
    --- Set up a reading-buddy program with a lower grade in your own school or district.
    --- Task students to complete a school beautification project.

    --- See if a local community organization needs help with their newsletter and have students write articles for the publication.
    --- Task students to complete random acts of kindness in their school, home, and community.

    --- Have students research community service projects that matter to them (Case for Smiles, Room to Read, Soles4Souls) and complete a community service project together.
    --- Let students turn their poems into place mats that can laminated and donated to programs like Meals on Wheels or Shelters providing food.
    --- Encourage students to assemble appreciation gifts for pivotal people in the community like police officers and fire fighters.

    The ideas for helping students help others are endless...and that's a good thing!  Giving students an opportunity to see the good in themselves by doing good for others is essential to creating a positive classroom culture!

    I hope you've found some easy ways to create and nurture a positive culture in your classroom.  If you're on the hunt for even more ways to make your classroom a better place to learn, be sure to sign up for the free set of kindness activities!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Mary Beth

      Nonfiction Text Features Bulletin Board

      Don't you love a bulletin board that is happy and bright...and educational?  

      Turn a set of 12 nonfiction text features posters into a bulletin board that can be displayed all year long!

      I know I do! Unfortunately, my husband (also a teacher), did not have the same standards for bulletin boards. In fact, take a look at the bulletin board that I'm pretty sure he had in his classroom for at least five years! Yes, five years! 

      Every summer as the new school year was approaching, I would beg him to let me change it for him...and each year he politely refused my help...until this year. Yes, miracle of miracles, my husband agreed to let me change up his bulletin board! 

      I didn't waste any time gathering materials for a bulletin board that would be more aesthetically appealing, but still be education. I assembled the following items: 12 nonfiction text features posters, patterned scrapbook paper, bulletin board paper, tape, glue, scissors, and string.

      All you need to create a fun nonfiction text features bulletin board are posters, scrapbook paper, glue, string, and a stapler.

      Then, I glued each poster to a piece of patterned paper. Since the scrapbook paper was a little long, I trimmed it first. Next, I stapled the posters to the bulletin board in a grid pattern (of course, these would be fun strung along a clothesline on the bulletin board, too).

      Glue the nonfiction text features posters onto fun scrapbook paper before stapling them to the bulletin board.

      Oh, and I had to get creative with the bulletin board trim because I knew my husband wouldn't have any. So, do you remember how I trimmed the scrapbook paper to fit behind the posters? Well, I just saved those trimmings and lined them around the board. This creates a fun patchwork border.

      If you don't have strips of traditional bulletin board borders, just use 3 1/2 inch pieces of scrapbook paper.  Stapled together, they give a super fun patchwork look!

      Pretty soon the posters were up...but I needed a sign.

      Display a set of 12 nonfiction text features posters on your classroom bulletin board for a fun display that you can leave up all year long!

      That's when I found this AMAZING set of FREE printable chalkboard letters! They were perfect, so I printed out enough letters to make the sign. As I cut them out, I also cut a little tab above each letter. I knew that this would make assembling the banner of letters easier later.

      In no time I had all the letters I needed. 

      Easy nonfiction text features sign for displaying on a bulletin board or in your classroom.

      Then, I folded over the tab on each letter. I placed the string under the tab and taped it down.

      Just like that my signs were ready and strung up above the posters.

      And...the mission of a creating a bright, fun, and educational bulletin board was accomplished. However, that wasn't even the best part!

      Looking for a fun and educational bulletin board?  Then, you're going to love this idea!  Just display a set of bright and colorful nonfiction text features posters.  String a sign along the top...and help students learn about nonfiction text features all year long!

      The best part was the remnants of the old bulletin board in the trash can. It was reason enough to celebrate! 

      If you're looking to spruce up one of your bulletin boards (or your spouse's), then you can download all 12 of the Nonfiction Text Features posters for FREE HERE (for a limited time).

      Create a fun and educational bulletin board with this set of 12 nonfiction text features posters!

      Thanks for stopping by,

      Mary Beth

      P.S.  If you're looking for more fun ways to help students learn about nonfiction, then, you might want to check out these popular resources:




      15 More Ways to Make Learning Fun!

      Are you looking for ways to amp up the fun factor in your classroom?  If so, then you're going to love this list of 15 easy ways to make learning FUN!  
      When students are having fun learning, everything is better!  Check out this list filled with 15 easy ways to make learning more fun!

      1.  Set up stations of food like grapes, carrots, and graham crackers and task students to write a five senses poem describing how each food looks, tastes, feels, smells, and sounds.

      2.  Play music in your classroom while students work.  Or, have students rewrite music lyrics in response to a reading passage.  You could even have students design playlists for characters or novels.

      3.  Tap into the sense of touch with shaving cream.  Have students spread out some foam shaving cream on their desks and then challenge them to spell out words from their spelling list.  Or ask students multiple choice questions and they can write "A, B, C or D" in the shaving cream.

      4.  Use pictures to inspire writing.  Display interesting pictures from National Geographic and use them as a springboard for a writing prompt.  Or collect a bunch of pictures of different houses around the world.  Then, challenge students to describe their houses.  Finally, post the pictures around the room and have classmates guess which house each student wrote about as he or she reads the description out loud.

      5.  Bring in the candy.  Perhaps not the healthiest idea, but candy is an instant learning motivator.  Hand out a snack-size pack of m&m's to kids and have them write a persuasive advertisement. Or, around Valentine's Day, hand out conversation hearts that students need to incorporate into a letter.

      6.  Collect a set of fun review games that you can play if a lesson ends early.  Games like Stump the Student where students create questions about the day's lesson that they think will challenge their classmates are especially fun.  Find a set of 12 lesson extenders HERE.

      7.  Play hot potato as an anticipatory set or closure of a lesson. Just have students stand in a circle.  Then, give them an item to pass around (this is the hot potato).  Pose a question to a student and then she has until the object makes it back to her to answer it correctly.  If she doesn't know the answer, she can ask a classmate for help.

      8.  Get students playing charades to teach and review all kinds of concepts.  Students can play emotion charades to learn about making inferences.  Or, students can play charades with quotes or plot events from a story.

      9.  Play bingo!  Pass out a blank bingo card to students and have them fill them in using words from a word bank that you provide.  The word bank can be based on any unit of study or vocabulary list.  Then, call out clues for each word.  When students cross out five words in a row they win!

      10.  Get improvisational!  Students love playing improvisational theater games, and many are adaptable to reviewing and teaching classroom concepts.  For instance, students could play Party Quirks based on characters from a novel they are reading.  Or, students could by Hitchhiker based on vocabulary words.

      Here's my son putting together food packs for Stop Hunger Now at his school

      11.  Remind students that there is a world outside of the classroom by involving students in community service projects like Stop Hunger Now.

      12.  Set up pen pals with a classroom in another town, state, or country.  You could even have students write to younger students in your own school district.

      13.  Have students write letters to the men and women who serve in the military through programs like Operation Gratitude. Students' letters are included in care packages to deployed troops, new recruits, veterans, and wounded heroes.

      14.  Play a global guessing game with Skpe in the Classroom's Mystery Skype.

      15.  Set up Google Hangouts or Skpe sessions with guest speakers.  Imagine giving students an opportunity to interview an author or a classroom of students located somewhere else in the world.

      BONUS! - Infuse creative writing lessons into your instruction! Students love the opportunity to write creatively. Make it a habit to give students a chance to flex their creative writing muscles. Challenge them to write a 6-sentence passage without repeating a word. Or, have students write one sentence at a time in a small group. The options are endless and they all making writing and learning FUN! Click here to receive a set of 5 activities instantly!

      A classroom filled with students having fun while they learn is the absolute best!  Check out this list of 15 ways to do just that!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Mary Beth

      15 Easy Ways to Make Learning Fun!

      Learning AND teaching is way more enjoyable when the fun factor is turned up!  Check out this list filled with 15 simple ways to make learning a whole lot more fun!

      The truth is learning AND teaching are way more enjoyable when the FUN factor is turned up!  Check out some super easy ways to make learning fun!

      1.  Get out the crayons and colored pencils and let students draw to show their understanding.  Have students sketch the main events of a reading passage.  Or, challenge students to draw a comic to showcase a concept they're learning, like theme.

      2.  Create hands-on learning experiences for your kinesthetic and naturalistic learners.  Take students on a walk and have them write descriptively about what they see, hear, and feel. 

      3.  Design group activities for students with strong interpersonal intelligence.  Have students work together to give powerful feedback during peer conferencing or work on large-group projects like creating a newspaper for a book the class has read.

      4.  Let students connect to who they are and how they feel by tapping into the intrapersonal learning style.  Give students an opportunity to study alone anywhere in the classroom, school library or even auditorium.  Make it a practice for students to reflect on what they learned.

      5.  Encourage students to sit on their desks while learning new ideas or sharing thoughts with classmates.  Or, have students sit on their desks when they "spirit read" a short story or novel.  Explain that "spirit reading" means that they will each read from the chapter whenever they feel like it.  You, as the teacher, won't cue them when to read, instead they'll need to chime in when they feel ready.

      6.  Throw things all around the classroom.  Make learning fun by having students respond to comprehension questions on a worksheet and then fold their answers into a paper airplane.  Next, challenge students to launch their airplanes...the furthest flight (with the most right answers) wins!  Or, have a classroom ball that you toss around the room when asking students questions.  

      7.  Break the "no talking" in class rule and let students chat up their classmates.  Pose a challenging question to students and have them call out their opinions and thoughts.  Let students pick their own seats so that they can talk to their friends about what they are learning and thinking.

      8.  Instead of having students read quietly, have them read in silly voices.  Challenge students to read passages like a pirate or as if they are underwater.  Find more FREE fun ways to read aloud HERE.

      9.  Pass out gum in class instead of taking it away.  Gum has actually been proven to stimulate thinking, so it's a great idea to hand out gum during standardized assessments.

      10.  Instead of requiring students to learn from you, have them learn from each other.  Have the class design a learning unit or lesson plan for a new concept.  You could assign small groups a type of figurative language, and require them to teach a lesson to the class about each.

      11.  Give students choice.  When students get to make choices about their learning, the lesson is instantly more fun.  You could have students choose their daily warm-ups, their independent reading books, and even projects during school break.

      12.  Get students moving.  One of the best ways to craft engaging lessons is with learning stations.  Set up centers of activities that students can rotate through to make learning a ton more fun! 

      13.  Provide opportunities for students to share.  Book talks are a great way for students to report out on the books that they read. Or, set up a Literacy Cafe in your classroom with hot cocoa.  Then, after students complete a piece of writing they can share it with the class "open mic" style.

      14.  Create an integrated study. In the real world, subjects overlap.  That's why creating lessons that integrate multiple subjects makes learning more fun!  Check out this integrated Ancient Greece unit or this study of Famous Women across content areas.

      15.  Keep students guessing.  Designing activities that keep learning novel really gets students excited about learning.  Try this with homework assignments.  Instead of having students turn in a regular assignment, give that same assignment a twist.  Tell students that they need to write all their answers upside-down or in secret code. Find 25 more homework twists HERE.

      BONUS!  I've compiled a list of 15 MORE ways to make learning fun. Plus, there's a link to an exclusive FREE resource in the post. Just click HERE!

      Are you looking for easy ways to make learning more fun and exciting?  Then, you're going to love this list filled with simple ways to make learning more fun!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Mary Beth

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