Mix It Up to Build Community

Ann Larson Ericson

by Ann Larson Ericson

For Middle Level

This week I marked my twenty-second first day of school as a teacher. You would think after so many first days I wouldn’t have anything to be excited about, but every first day of school is as exciting as that very first one way back in the '80s! It’s always exciting for me to meet my students for the first time and to begin our yearlong journey together.

A top priority during the first week of school is to build relationships with students and help them build relationships with one another. One way to help students learn more about their classmates and to keep cliques from forming is to mix up the seating chart each day for the first week of school.

The first day, I arrange students in order of something obscure, such as their house number or phone number or birthday. I post the seating chart on the front board, and they find their seats, make themselves name cards, and begin their detective work. 

Their job is to confer with people near them and figure out what criteria I used to determine their assigned seats. While they work on that, I circulate, learn names, ask questions, and observe.

The second day, I reuse their name cards and arrange their seating according to a different attribute. Again I wander the classroom and learn more about my students.

On the third day of school, I generally plan a small-group activity, and the students are assigned seats in groups of four. We start with a game like Common Ground that gets kids talking and learning about one another. At this point in the week, I begin to see camaraderie and laughter as classes begin to take on personalities, and we begin to become a community of learners. 

By the end of the week, I can start to turn the seating chart arrangements over to students. We typically end the week with the game Line Up, and students seat themselves according to the Line Up order. This is one more chance for interaction, conversation, and fun.

Mixing up the seats all week takes some preplanning and organization. It takes some time away from immediately delving into the science curriculum, but the payoff in terms of the relationships and community built is well worth the time. By the end of the first week, the students and I have learned everyone’s names and a little bit about each other.

Mixing up the seating helps students realize that knowing everyone and building our community is a priority in our room, and that sets a friendly tone that carries through the entire school year.

Ann Larson Ericson has been using the Developmental Designs approach in her classroom for more than nine years. As a Developmental Designs facilitator since 2011, Ann has helped educators implement the approach in their own classrooms. She is the 7–12 Instructional Coach at Community of Peace Academy, a public charter school on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota. Before starting this new position, she taught high school chemistry and physical science at Community of Peace Academy. 

Posted September 2014

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