Back to School Community Building Resources

Back to School Community Building Resources | Looking to establish a strong classroom community at the beginning of the year? These back to school resources allow you to learn about your students while building a positive environment where community can grow throughout the year. Help students connect with new classmates while practicing important reading and writing skills. | #backtoschool #backtoschoolactivities #upperelementary

Looking to establish a strong classroom community at the beginning of the year?

These back to school resources allow you to learn about your students while building a positive environment where community can grow throughout the year.

Help students connect with new classmates while practicing important reading and writing skills. 

Like most teachers, I used part of my summer to prepare activities for Back to School. I spent weeks scouring Pinterest, revamping old resources, and creating new ones to fill those first few weeks back. I tried to have a good mix of new activities and beloved old faithfuls.

To help save you the hassle of searching high and low for resources, I'm participating in a Summer Stock Up with several other teacher bloggers who are doing the work for you.  Each blogger is featuring at least one resource that will ensure your Back to School goes smoothly. Plus, we're giving away a portion of each resource for free. There are fifteen categories guaranteeing something for everyone!

I'm featured in two categories - "Reading" and "Getting to Know You Activities." First up is my  "Literature Circles: Training Wheels for Starting Book Clubs in the Classroom." 


Resource One: Literature Circles Pack

Do you use book clubs? I absolutely love them and start incorporating them into my weekly schedule as soon as possible. 

My view of Literature Circles and Book Clubs has changed over the years. When I first started using reading groups in the classroom, I followed more of a “Literature Circles” approach. Students were divided equally into groups, each group assigned a title to read, and each student assigned a specific job to complete. I thought this design was the perfect way for students to read and share literature with their peers. 

However, as I learned more about the workshop approach to teaching reading and writing and my understanding of the importance of choice and self-selection grew, my opinion changed. I no longer see structured “Literature Circles” as the best way for students to interact together while reading. It’s easy for students to become locked into thinking solely about their assigned roles rather than being reflective and thinking independently.

So rather than using traditional “Literature Circles,” I now use “Book Clubs” in my classroom. 

In this model, students meet together several times a week to discuss a common book. They work together to determine a reading schedule, make commitments to completing the work, and are responsible for their own discussions. I feel this is a better model of encouraging deep thinking and asking students to take control of and be responsible for their own learning. 

While this model is ideal, it can be difficult to incorporate into some classes. Students accustomed solely to direct instruction often struggle to break away from being told what to think and do.  They are not used to inquiry in any sense and flounder when placed on their own. 

In these cases, I like to start reading groups with traditional Literature Circles as a model.

We work together as a whole group reading one common text and learning different roles within small sharing groups. The roles serve as models for conversation starters and the traditional process gives students a sense of the work involved in participating in student-led reading groups. Once I see that students are capable of leading their own conversations, I break away from the assigned roles, allow students to select their own texts, and move into Book Clubs. 

The resources contained in this product enable you to start Book Clubs with a traditional Literature Circles approach. My recommendation is to use these tools like training wheels - there to support your students just long enough for them to learn the process and then remove. 

Some years, I would pilot Book Clubs with a select group of students who were either of a higher reading level than the rest of the class or had prior experience with clubs. In addition to helping me differentiate instruction at the beginning of the year, this also created a group of fabulous peer models later in the year when I started book clubs with the rest of the class.

There are a few ways of managing the sheets. Typically, I would run double sided copies with the “Daily Superhero Log” sheet on the front and a different role sheet on the back and run enough to give each student sheets to last the entire book. After hole punching, I would put a stack of sheets into the prongs of each student’s folder so that no pages were lost. This worked especially well with younger students.

With older students, or groups who liked to write and draw more than others, I copied the pages differently. I would run doubled sided copies of the “Daily Superhero Log” and give each student enough copies to last for the entire book. Then, I would run separate copies with the Role sheets on the front and extra writing sheets on the back (these are titled “My Role Today”). This gave students extra space to complete their work, if needed. I placed a piece of colored cardstock between the two sets of sheets, hole punched the stack, and placed inside the folder’s prongs. The cardstock served as a simple, inexpensive divider so that students could flip easily between the different kinds of sheets. 

As the freebie for this resource, I'm offering my Close Reading and Stop and Write Thinkmarks

I copy these on cardstock front to back, laminate, and give one to each student at the beginning of the year. Students keep the thinkmarks in their book boxes and use while reading independently. They serve as reminders of ways to annotate texts while reading and great places to stop, think, and write about their texts.

To download, head to my Facebook page and click on the pink "Summer Stock Up" tab (on the left side of the page).  

UPDATE: Now that the Stock-up is over, this resource has moved to The Treasury. You can receive access to The Treasury by signing up here.


Resource Two: Back to School

At the beginning of the year, I love incorporating favorite read alouds with activities that help me get to know my students and build community amongst the class. A few years ago, I created a Back to School Getting to Know You and Read Aloud Activity Pack and it quickly became a favorite that I use every year. 

The pack contains 10 "Getting to Know You" and community building activities – enough to spread out over the first two weeks of school. In addition to answering questions about themselves and learning more about each other, you can use these activities to gain initial writing samples and keep for student portfolios. It also provides meaningful activities for students to complete independently while you work on those beginning of the year assessments.

All of the activities were designed with simple graphics to help save your ink and allow student work to shine through.

Here's a quick overview of the activities inside.

Part One: Getting to Know You Activities

1. Friend Detective. This activity has three parts. During the first one, students use their “detective” skills to interview someone they don’t know. Next, they use the information from their interview to complete a Venn diagram that shows how the new friends are alike and different. Last, each student introduces the other to the class using information from either the interview or the diagram.

2. Time Capsule. I use this to learn more about students and as their first writing sample. It can be sent home for homework the first week or completed in class. The perfect activity to keep students busy with meaningful work while you catch up on beginning of the year assessments.

3. Meet and Greet. Great for breaking the ice and getting kids up and moving. Students walk the room asking each other questions until they find someone who fits the description in each box. 

4. Snowballs. Have a timid group? This is sure to change that! Students write a fact about themselves before crumpling their papers and throwing them across the room. They run to find a “snowball” near them and read what is written on the page. This repeats until they’ve written ten separate facts on ten different pages. Be warned - it’s a surefire way to warm up a quiet class!

5. Taking a Trip. Students make a plan for their “journey” this year by setting goals in eight areas. Completed booklets are kept in portfolios, brought out during mid-year conferences, and returned at the end of the year. 

Part Two: Read Aloud Activities: 

These 5 activities accompany the following popular read alouds you may already have in your classroom: 

1. "Ish," by Peter Reynolds. Students draw “ish” self-portraits celebrating areas they haven’t yet mastered, but want to one day.

2. "Have you Filled a Bucket Today?" by Carol McCloud. Students identify positive behaviors that would make them "bucket fillers" and negative behaviors that would make others think they were "bucket dippers." They create a picture and pledge to be bucket fillers throughout the year. 

3. "Those Shoes" by Maribeth Boelts. As a class, discuss ways in which having a friend is better than having anything else. Students identify what they want most (game, shoes, etc.) and then write how having a friend would be even better than receiving that object. 

4. "Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!" by Dr. Seuss and Jack Prelutsky. Students draw a picture of their ideal imaginary school and write why it is ideal, what it contains, and create a teacher that is its “star.” 

5. "The Incredible Book Eating Boy" by Oliver Jeffers. Students identify what they love so much they would eat it if possible. They create an image of themselves eating parts of what they love and write several paragraphs explaining their drawings. 

Part Three: Partnering Cards:

I’ve also included 16 sets of Partnering Cards to provide you with a very simple way to pair or group your students.

They are perfect for days when your technology isn’t working - or if you don’t have technology at all! 

I'm giving away the "Snowballs Writing" portion of this resource as a freebie for you. It's a great way to get kids up and moving and can be used all year long as story starters and more. 

To download, head to my Facebook page and click on the blue "Summer Stock Up" tab (on the left side of the page). 

UPDATE: Now that the Stock-up is over, this resource has moved to The Treasury. You can receive access to The Treasury by signing up here.


Like the freebie, but want the complete resource? Both are on sale right now in my TPT store.

You can also enter to win them for free! *GIVEAWAY CLOSED AND SALE HAS ENDED*


More Resources

Looking for more Back to School resources, ideas, and tips? Here are a few related posts:

Want more ideas? I’ve created these boards for you on Pinterest:


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