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Team Building In The Classroom

24 Mar

Over the next few days, I’d like to offer up some ideas for team building exercises. I attended a conference a few years ago called COCA (Children’s Oncology Camping Association.) For 9 years now, I have volunteered every summer at Camp Can Do, a week-long sleep away camp for kids with cancer. It is the most rewarding, enjoyable week of my entire year, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. When I was offered the opportunity to attend COCA, I jumped at the chance. There, I learned great ideas for fun icebreakers and team building activities that don’t necessarily have to happen at camp. After struggling with some animosity between my students, I decided to use some of the ideas from COCA in my classroom. Especially at the beginning of the year, I spend the first 5 or 10 minutes of class letting my kids learn how to work together.

Would You Rather…

We’ve all played this game, either at slumber parties, amongst coworkers, or sitting around the dinner table. I personally love to think about my answers to these questions, and it’s always interesting to hear what others say. I also like to play this with my students. We put a line of masking tape down the center of the floor, and they all stand on it. Then, as I read the question, I indicate which side of the line they should step to, depending on their answer. There’s always one kid who likes to be different despite what the answer is. There’s always one who changes his mind if everyone else steps the opposite way, even if he can’t explain why he’s switching his vote. And then there’s always the two students who argue back and forth over why it’s better to be deaf or blind. This little game is definitely a conversation starter, and a great way to read your students’ personalities without them even knowing it.

Would You Rather…

Visit the doctor or the dentist?
Watch TV or listen to music?
Be invisible or be able to read minds?
Have a third arm or a third leg?
Be hairy all over or completely bald?
Be the most popular or the smartest person you know?
Be handsome/beautiful and dumb, or be ugly and really smart?
Repeat 4th grade for a year (at your current age) or spend a month in jail?
Always be cold or always be hot?
Always lose or never play?
Only be able to whisper or only be able to shout?
Be blind or deaf?
Be stranded on a deserted island alone or with someone you don’t like?
See the future or change the past?
Be three inches taller or three inches shorter?
Live to be 100 but have health problems, or live to be 50 and healthy?
Have to always say everything on your mind, or never speak again?
Not be able to sleep or not be able to walk?
Be trapped in an elevator with wet dogs or 3 large men with bad breath


Don’t Be All Up In My Grill

11 Mar

Everyone who’s ever watched Seinfeld knows what a close-talker is. I, personally, have about a three-foot personal space bubble. When someone I don’t know that well bursts my bubble, it’s uncomfortable. Not only does it make me uncomfortable but it puts me in the awkward situation of trying to back up without insulting the person. Sometimes, the person is so imperceptive that they don’t pick up on my body language and they move into my bubble all over again. Interestingly enough though, personal space isn’t the same for everybody, and it varies greatly from culture to culture. In Asian cultures, particularly China, the concept of personal space is nearly nonexistent. Strangers regularly touch bodies when waiting in line, while people in Scandinavian countries, for example, need more personal space than we do. And anyone who’s ever taught kids with emotional or behavioral challenges knows that their personal space can be infinite. “Don’t touch me,” and “Back up” are phrases I hear in the hallways all the time.

Looking deeper at my streetwise students, I realized how much of their confrontational vocabulary and actions centered not only around their personal space, but more specifically around their face. Allow me to provide examples:

1. Knocking off someone’s hat: Not recommended, unless you are looking to start a fight. If you are, this would be an excellent way to do it.

2. “In your face” (exclamation): something you would shout after you just beat someone badly in anything competitive, for example if you just dunked on them on the basketball court.

3. In your face (verb): To be in someone’s face in not a good thing, and it will be requested of you to “Get OUT of my face.” You’re too pushy, you’re too close, you’re asking too much.

4. Mush: If you find that you got in someone’s face, you might get mushed. That’s the act of placing one’s hand on another person’s face and pushing the person backwards. If you see someone get mushed, sh**’s about to go down.

5. Grill: Can be used in 2 ways. You can grill someone, which means to stare them down. Will probably be met with “Why you grillin me,” unless it’s a member of the opposite sex, in which case it might be a compliment. OR, you can be “up in someone’s grill,” also bad. Similar to getting in their face.

6. Save face: Finally, what you might do if you realize you’ve made a mistake and now you need to cover it up. May or may not work.

This isn’t rocket science. Everyone knows not to touch someone else’s face unless you’re invited to do so. But it really got me thinking about our faces as this sort of portal into ourselves, the front door to letting someone in. So what do we do in our next art class? We make masks. On each others faces. Risky? Yes. Worth it? Definitely.

I offered them an out. If they felt really uncomfortable, they could use a plastic face mold instead of another person. But most of them paired up and got to work. We called them “Emotion Masks,” because after they created the mask on their classmates face, they later added details to show a certain emotion of their choice. We got some amazing results and I couldn’t believe how well they worked together. Smearing Vaseline and plaster strips on someone else’s face was taking a big risk for some of these kids, and yet they worked together and didn’t even get mad when plaster water dripped down their necks. I’m not naive…if their partner had been up in their grill the next day, all bets would have been off. But for 45 minutes, to be in their face was finally ok.

Get the full lesson plan here!