I started by reading The Crayon Box that Talked, by Shane DeRolf. This is a great book for any age group. It is a rhyming story about crayons that don't like each other, but quickly realize that when they work together, the picture looks beautiful; more beautiful than if it were just one crayon that created it.
Before the Activity: My class did a great job reflecting on good examples of when they would need each other to do something. We discussed how everyone is special and has something to offer. I really pushed the idea that rather than focusing on the negatives about a person, we should embrace the positives. Forget the negatives! Ignore them! We even touched on forgetting the past! Oh my!
Activity: I gave each student a puzzle piece. Their job was to use colors that represent them and draw pictures, symbols, and/or words that describe what they have to offer to the class, and what makes them unique.
After the Activity: I loved this activity!! It just so happened that we had a student absent, and it worked out better than I could have imagined. After we completed and shared our puzzle pieces, we put the puzzle together. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was upset that Nicole was absent and we couldn't add her piece. They kept saying, "Our puzzle isn't complete! We need Nicole's piece!"
*Quick back story of Nicole: She is the sweetest girl, EVER! She has a lot of learning differences, and leaves our classroom at 12pm everyday to get extra help from a local special ed school. One of my goals this year has been to help make her feel a part of our class even though she leaves half-way through each day. Eventually, she will be at our school full-time. Yay!
Nicole came back (she pulled a muscle in her neck. Ouch!) I showed her our puzzle and how HORRIBLE it looked without her piece to add. I asked her to please draw her unique and special qualities on it, and share it with the class. This request in itself is crazy because everyone in our class knows that the morning journal time is sacred and should never be interrupted - but our puzzle wasn't complete!! She was more than happy to, and shared it with the class. Afterwards, I went over to the puzzle and placed in our missing piece. The class cheered and were genuinely so happy that she completed our puzzle. It was magical.
I got an email later that day from her mom telling me that Nicole had the best day! She explained to her all about the puzzle piece and how great she did in math. (I told her that she answered my question better than I could have!) Nicole's day started off great, and got even better!
These are the kinds of things we need to do to make sure each of our students feel accepted and happy - not just Nicole, but all of our students. It just so happened that I had someone absent to make this activity a thousand times more effective, but it would have done what I wanted it to without that amazing coincidence.
We don't get back our first few weeks of school. This is the time we have to build up confidence, create acceptance, and practice caring. So much academic learning will be able to happen after I build a foundation for it. And that is what I am doing now. Every day I am looking for ways to make my students rely on each other, or realize their importance. I hope you are able to make things like this happen in your classroom. Every kid deserves it!