Controlling your classroom can be a challenge for many teachers, myself included. When my students came back from winter break, I wasn't sure I had walked into the right room because it was so chaotic! Students were talking out of turn, forgetting to raise their hands, and being disrespectful to one another. I didn't know what to do. I went home that night and tried to figure out how I was going to take back control of my classroom.
Start by Pressing the Reset Button
I thought about how I'd established control at the beginning of the year. On the first day of school, we played getting-to-know-you activities, set rules and procedures, and did team-building exercises. All of those things worked for me then—would it be crazy to try them again?
The following day, I greeted each student as they walked into the classroom and asked them to put on a name tag. The children looked a bit confused but went along with it anyway. It wasn't until we started going over the rules of a getting-to-know-you game that one student raised their hand and asked, "Why are we playing this when we already know each another?" I simply said, "I think we need a little reminder of how we need to act in school, so we are going back to the beginning and doing what we did on the day that we met." This helps my class get into the mind-set of wiping the slate clean.
Create a Classroom Community
The first thing I did was get my students reacquainted with one another. I started with one of my favorite games: "Tangled Web." This game involves sitting with your students in a circle on the floor. Make a loop at the end of the ball of yarn and hold on to it. Then toss the ball of yarn to a student across the circle and call out the receiving student's name. The student who catches the ball says a fact about him or herself, such as whether he or she has siblings or pets, or plays a sport. Then have that student loop the yarn loosely around their middle finger, toss it, and call out the receiving student's name.
After everyone had a turn that day, I told the students to stand up and look around; the tangled yarn threads represented that they are all connected and that they need to work together as a team. We talked about teamwork and how if someone dropped their strand of yarn, then the whole web would untangle, putting the community feel of our classroom into perspective.
Get Students to Respect One Another
When you're having trouble controlling your classroom, it's important to teach your class the importance of respect and working together. A team-building activity can help. I had my class play another one of my favorite games, "Beat the Clock." It pairs unlikely students together in order to complete a task. I divided the students into teams of two—pairing shy students with outgoing students—and challenged them to find 10 classroom items that were on a list. Each team's list was different, and their goal was to complete the task in the time allotted (three minutes). This activity was a success, and not only did the students have fun while doing it, but they worked together well.
Set the Rules
Instead of reminding my students about the rules we had come up with earlier in the year, I asked them to think of a few new ones. The students brainstormed, and then did as I suspected: they wanted to reuse many of the same rules. However, some students thought we needed new rules on respecting others and raising our hands before we speak, which I thought was very observant. We also talked about the classroom procedures and what was expected of them, which was a great way to share my expectations and push my students to get back on track.
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After a fun-filled day of getting-to-know-you and team-building activities, as well as establishing rules and procedures, I'd wrangled my class in back in. However, I continued this process for the rest of the week, just as I did in the beginning of the school year. After all, Rome wasn't built in one day, so I didn't expect them to magically snap out of their winter break behavior. But within a week or so, my classroom was back to normal.