By the end of a school year, it’s hard for students to remember way back to the beginning. The first few weeks, or even months, of a new year, can be a difficult time for younger students. Whether students are dealing with homesickness, a brand-new class without any of their close friends or starting fresh in a new district, this uncertainty can inhibit their ability to learn and grow in the classroom. As the teacher, you play a vital role in creating a classroom community that fosters learning, social skills and positive associations with school. Here are five tips for fostering a sense of respect and community in your elementary school classroom from day one.

Introduce Yourselves

As simple as it sounds, a student’s main hindrance from fully engaging in the classroom may be not knowing other students’ names. If students don’t know what to call each other, how can they truly connect? Bonus: you’ll be able to put names to faces much faster!

For the first few weeks of class, kick off every day with a fun name game. Let’s look at one example from the Orange County Department of Education called “Introduce Another.” Have students fill out a short questionnaire with a mix of basic and creative questions. Pair students up and instruct them to talk about their answers with another student. Each student will be responsible for introducing their partner to the whole classroom. Instead of simply introducing themselves, this gives students a chance to practice their listening skills from day one and hopefully make a friend.

Write a Constitution

Communities center around shared values. Students are likely to feel more pride and ownership if they have a hand in setting rules and values for their new classroom. We Are Teachers suggests asking students to brainstorm five or six main guidelines for the classroom constitution. After a collaborative discussion and a classroom vote, write the new pledge on a large sheet of paper or poster board and ask students to sign their names if they agree. Pin the constitution where it is easily visible to all students and periodically remind students how these agreed-upon guidelines can help shape positive, helpful behavior in the classroom.

Incorporate Gathering Spaces

Classroom layout affects communication and collaboration. Sure, facing every student’s desk straight ahead with two feet of space on the side may keep the volume down, but it will also make it harder for students to work together. When it comes to classroom planning, it’s important to create an inviting gathering space perfect for group reading sessions, projects, and activities. As one Scholastic blogger writes, “Studies have shown that warm colors and soft spaces are welcoming to children and create a secure and nurturing ‘nest’ from which they can grow. Lots of pillows, soft toys, fresh flowers, soft clay or dough, and items for water play create a homelike environment.”

Leave at least a corner of your classroom open as a flexible work and gathering space for students. Consider kid-approved touches like beanbags, picture books, coloring supplies and learning toys to make the space appealing. Community-building within your classroom will happen naturally in such a pleasant environment.

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Increase Student Participation

Nothing fosters a sense of community like asking students what they think about certain issues, whether you’re voting on what to name the class pet or discussing themes from a class book. It’s helpful for students to see their options clearly laid out in multiple choice form, and to observe that their vote contributes to the discussion visually. Instead of fielding verbal suggestions from every single pupil—which can quickly devolve into chaos—teachers can use polling in PowerPoint to conduct easy group surveys. In addition to promoting tablet- and computer-literacy, interactive surveys embedded in PowerPoint allow young learners to see the results of their vote play out instantly. Say goodbye to the days of endless tallying!

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Assign New Groupings

Every student wants to pick their partner for projects, precisely because it’s familiar. As a teacher, you can build community links by mixing up groupings and asking students to work with partners they don’t yet know. Whether you decide to completely randomize your groupings or pair up students based on how their strengths can complement each other, every new partnership is a chance for two students to form a bond and learn to work in teams.

When you’re aiming to build a classroom community that inspires confidence in every student, consider everything from layout to decision-making style. As a teacher, you have the power to help students create meaningful relationships and associations that will serve them long into the future.

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Aman Shams wears many hats as an experienced Digital Marketer, Affiliate expert, Serial Entrepreneur, Advisor, Consultant, and Trainer. Started as a teenager, he excelled in making money online doing SEO, SEM, and SMM. Now he runs SkimBox, a digital marketing company full time and helps start-ups maximize their marketing and sales through web and mobile.