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A Beautiful Beginning: Tips and Resources for Creating a Safe Classroom Environment

August 27, 2012

“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being.”

—Goethe

For many of us, the first day of our new classes is right around the corner. For many students starting classes is frightening. Our learners will be meeting new teachers and students. They will have to get used to a new routine, class schedule, and sleeping and eating schedule. They will have to adapt to new rules and new environments. Sounds a little overwhelming, but as teachers we have the ability to make the experience less frightening. We can alleviate some of this stress by creating a safe and welcoming environment. If we do this at the beginning of our classes, our students will feel more comfortable participating, making mistakes, and using the language they have learned.

Tips for Creating a Safe Environment

I hope the following tips and resources will help you in creating a safe environment for your learners.

Tip #1

Let Them Know You Believe in Them

All students should feel they can succeed in your classroom and that you aren’t holding their past against them. Some of your students may have had behavior problems.

  • Greet them at the door with a smile, handshake or hi‑five!
  • Let your students know they all have a clean slate and all can be successful if they choose to.
  • Call their parents the first week of school and tell them something positive about their child.
  • Find more parent engagement tips in this post, Tips for Engaging Parents.

Tip #2

Surround Them with Motivation

When our students walk in the classroom, they should feel inspired to learn. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Post motivational posters around the classroom.
  • Write a quote on the board each day they walk in the room. Have them submit their own favorite quotes as suggestions.
  • You can find many inspirational quotes and posters bookmarked in my Pinterest!

Tip #3

Establish the Ground Rules for Respect

  • Gather in a circle and ask students to tell you what is acceptable/unacceptable behavior towards each other.
  • Let your students know the signals you will be giving them when they need to stop what they are doing and listen to you, line‑up, etc. Try using nonverbal cues so that way you never have to raise your voice. One example is when you are getting the class to be silent, raise your hand and put your finger on your mouth. As students see this, they will also raise their hands until the entire class has their hands raised and is quiet.
  • If a student misbehaves, speak with them privately versus embarrassing them in front of the class. If you begin instilling fear in the first week then you will create a wall between you and that student.
  • Try not to grade anything the first week of class but instead have various participation activities so the students feel they are starting off successfully. When I have to give grades the first week, I give them free 100s activities. Basically, the student will get a free 100 if they complete a task like sending me an email, posting on the class website, filling out a survey, etc.

Tip #4

Build Relationships

Students need to feel like they can approach you with problems, questions, and ideas. That means they need to get to know you! Here are a few ideas:

  • Have them interview you! Give students slips of papers and have each student write a question for you. Don’t have them sign their names. Collect the slips in a bag then pull each out and answer the question. Remind students to be respectful in their questions and make a clause that you have the right to not answer a question if it’s too personal.
  • Create a collage that gives students important information about you. Then have the students guess 3 things about you according to the collage. You can create a digital collage using Glogster or ThingLink. Then have students create their own collages where their peers will guess 3 things about them.

Students are less likely to pick on each other if they feel their peers are their friends. The first few days of class are great for getting our students to build relationships with each other. The following are some icebreaker ideas.

Hotseat

Play a hotseat game where students are gathered in a circle and the person in a designated hotseat is asked questions. You can start off in the hotseat and have students ask you questions. One hotseat game I play is Who? What? When? Where? Why? Students ask questions during the first round that begin with What? In the second round they ask questions that begin with What? As they ask the questions, I write the correct form on the board.

I Can Circle

Students gather their chairs in a circle. You stand in the middle and begin. You will be playing this game with them which means there will always be one more student than a chair. The person in the middle says something he/she can do. The students who can do this will run to another chair, including the person in the middle. Whoever is left standing must say something he/she can do.

More Resources

You can find more ideas in these posts:

What other ideas do you have?

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Comments (1)

Juan Uribe(Guest)

Hi Shelly!

Loved your article. It makes such a big difference having a positive start. The beginning of a course is a moment of discovery, of hope, of being given a new chance, of new potentials. I liked very much the part of greeting students at the door and making contact with their parents by giving good news. The first impression is everything!

Thanks for sharing and for promoting better first days for students and teachers all around the world!

Send you a big hug,

Juan

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