With each fall comes a new class… a new group of students who have yet to learn each others’ names and personality traits, become friends or at least learn to tolerate and work with each other during the school day, or “gel” into a cohesive community of learners.
One activity I liked to use every fall in my third grade classroom to help start instilling the ideas of both individuality and community was student self-portraits.
First we would spend some time talking about similarities and differences in general (looks, age, personality, family size, likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc.). Then I would lead the discussion towards first impressions and getting to know each other. Usually a student would bring up the idea that our faces are a major part of how we share who we are. Do we smile and look people in the eye when we meet? Or do we seem unfriendly/unapproachable? And although they still seem so young on that first week of school, even third graders think that hair styles and clothing choices are other important pieces of that “getting to know each other puzzle.”
After that and a brief look at a variety of artists’ self-portraits for fun, my students would spend the next hour or so consulting the mirror to check on details like eye-color and nose shape, sketching, erasing, asking their neighbors and me for feedback, and finally producing self-portraits that were for the most part incredible likenesses of themselves.
These self-portraits were featured on our main bulletin board for the first month of school. The students loved seeing each others’ pictures, comparing and contrasting characteristics, and noticing when new personality traits shown through as they got to know each other better.
These self-portraits were also a big hit with the parents at our open house!
As October rolled around and I began changing bulletin boards, I would pack these self-portraits away for safe keeping. In the spring, I “secretly” added them to our class art fair display. It was always a blast for my students to see themselves again, notice how much both their features and artistic abilities had changed over the year, and remember back to that first week of school when friendships were new and our classroom community was just beginning to form.
I Like Myself, by Karen Beaumont and David Catrow
Marvelous Me: Inside and Out, by Lisa Bullard
The One and Only Special Me, by Rozanne Lanczak Williams
We’re Different, We’re the Same, by Bobbi Jane Kates
What I Like About Me! by Allia Zobel Nolan
You Be Me, I’ll Be You, by Pili Mandelbaum
So how do you start the community building process in your classroom and help your students on that journey of getting to know each other?