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Language In the Classroom Blog Series: Building a Classroom Culture

Hello friends! I am SO excited to introduce a new blog series that I am writing with my sweet friend Nicole over at Allison’s Speech Peeps! Nicole is a speech and language pathologist and one of the BEST SLP’s I’ve had the privilege of meeting! She is super passionate about student achievement and integrating classroom activities and content into the speech and language room.  Last spring, we had an idea to bring a blog post series to you this year, which will focus on the importance of language skills within the classroom. Like Nicole, I am passionate about integrating language development and language skills into my first grade classroom. Language skills are truly the foundation our students need to be able to read and write successfully!
Every month, Nicole and I will write a blog post that discusses how to integrate language skills into a content area. Nicole will write tips, activities, and ideas that can be used within the speech and language room and in a small group. I will be sharing ideas to use within the whole classroom setting. Together, we hope you find a multitude of informative, fun, and easy ways to boost the language skills and focus for your students. We know the power students hold when they are grounded in solid and successful language abilities, and we hope you experience this as well!

 This month, we are discussing how we integrate language skills while we are building and setting up our classroom culture. There are so many opportunities to build language skills while we are building a classroom culture. Many times, as classroom teachers, we are so focused on the “classroom culture” part, that we may not even stop to think how language is a part of these activities and ideas that so many of us do on a daily basis. Let’s get started!

 Do you know there are a handful of students who enter our classrooms every year who do not even KNOW how to appropriately greet a fellow child, much less an adult? Taking the time to individually greet students every morning helps them to HEAR and be exposed to polite, respectful greetings.  “Good morning, Bobby!” is a very simple phrase that some students need to be taught how to respond to.  I ask my students to say “Good morning!” back to me. I also encourage students to use my name when doing so. “Good morning, Miss DeCarbo!” is what we love to hear when students walk through the classroom door. While preschool teachers do an excellent job at making morning greetings a priority in their classroom, we often forget the value of a simple morning and afternoon dismissal in the primary grades. At the end of the day, it’s important to me that I tell each child to have a good afternoon on their way out. I also make sure to praise them and tell them that I can’t wait to see them tomorrow. Often, simply modeling this social gesture helps students take ownership of it. 

 In today’s day and age, it is uncommon for students to shake someone’s hand and introduce themselves. But guess what?! It is such a VITAL life skill!! Students need to leave our schools understanding how to look someone in the eye, shake their hand, and introduce themselves. It is a life skill they will use within the workplace and within their everyday lives. Many students are not taught this important skill at home. As teachers, we have the opportunity to make sure this necessary skill is used in school. Some students will need LOTS of practice looking someone in the eye and using their words to do this. This is a great lesson to implement during those first few months of school as students are learning one another’s names.

I believe children have amazing hearts. They have so much empathy for others and such a desire to comfort, help, and encourage. However, some students do not know how to express that empathy that they feel towards others with their words. Holding meaningful classroom discussions that make students think about the empathy and choice of words they would use in a specific situation helps them to develop the language and wording they would use when the situation plays out in real life. I love to use my Let’s Get Chatty! pack while I’m teaching kindness and empathy within meaningful conversations. The pack contains lots of real photographs and posters that require students to think through the situation and decide what they would SAY and do if they were in it. Modeling appropriate language, reactions, and phrases the students can use during the conversation is SO powerful!

 Teaching kindness is important when we are developing a classroom culture. A teacher can do a million and one activities and top notch lessons that are devoted to classroom culture, but if students are not taught how to interact with one another, the kind culture we desire will never develop. We need to teach our students what kind friends SAY to one another and we need to use and review that language EVERY DAY. Make a chart with your class and post it in the classroom. Add kind phrases and sentences that kind people would use with one another to the chart throughout the year. I believe that teaching really little ones to say “I’m sorry,” is great, but as our students get older, we need to explicitly teach them to elaborate on this thought. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you in line. I know I hurt your feelings and I won’t do that again,” is a more elaborate apology that we can teach.  Start small, with simple, short phrases.  As the year progresses, expand on these sentences to encourage students to elaborate and include detail.  Your students’ writing – and your happy classroom of kind friends – will thank you!

 While this tip is not a “student activity,” how you set up and design your classroom can actually have an effect on how easy it is for your students to collaborate and hold conversation with one another.  Think about your own house. My favorite spot in my house is our kitchen table. It’s not fancy – but it brings people together. We have had family dinners at that table, and many nights where friends have gathered at the table for snacks, coffee, meals, and just to chit chat. Our classrooms are no different. Arrange seats in pairs so that students can use the areas to read together, discuss, collaborate, and complete partner work. These kinds of seating arrangements encourage conversation and interaction among students. A classroom with desks is isolation can set a tone that says “Every man for himself!” A classroom with group seating, partner seating, table seating, etc. can set a tone that says, “We are here to learn together, talk to one another, and share ideas with each other.”  One of my favorite spots in my classroom is a little rug that has two ottomans on it.  It’s my favorite because it is one of my kids’ favorite spots. They love to sit there together to do writing reviews, play math games, and read to one another!
This one is probably a no-brainer for teachers but it is a good reminder! Teach students HOW to praise one another! Make an anchor chart of encouraging words and phrases, practice praising one another during morning meetings, and use many different variations when you are praising your students. This not only promotes a classroom culture that says, “We are here to support one another,” but it teaches students how to praise one another. 
A great activity for this is to have your kids sit in a circle at the end of the day. Tell students to praise the friend sitting beside them by telling them something great they did that day. Give students a sentence starter if they are younger. Encourage students to use their friend’s name. For example, “________, you did a great job at ___________ today!” You will love seeing your students’ faces light up – both on the receiving side and from the student giving the compliment or praise. This is a great way to help students interact positively with one another. It also ends the day on a happy, supportive note! 🙂
I hope you found this first blog post in our new series helpful and encouraging! Helping to develop language skills within the classroom does not have to be time consuming, costly, or overly complicated. Often, it is simply a matter of elaborating on the activities and lessons that we already do on a daily basis. Integrating language skills can not only set the foundation for strong readers and writers, but it also helps students to become well-rounded, successful little people who can communicate effectively with those around them! 
I hope you take some time to check out Nicole’s side of this topic, over at Allison’s Speech Peeps! It’s filled with many great ideas! 🙂 We’ll be back next month with ideas on integrating speech and language skills with reading, decoding, and articulation! 

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One Comment

  1. I totally agree with you on this topic, especially on saying what they are sorry for. It's to easy just to spit out I'm sorry and never really think about what you are sorry for. I also teach my children to say I forgive you or I accept your apology. Many time they say "It's okay", but it wasn't okay. I explain to them that it's not okay for someone to say or do something that hurts you, so don't tell them it was. But kindly accept that they are acknowledging that they did something wrong and forgive them. Then move on, don't keep being mad.
    Pauline @ First Grade by the Sea

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