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The new school year is approaching and with it a whole new group of students. So much of our year, it seems, is spent building up connections and getting used to the unique dynamic of one particular group. But then each year, we have to start over from scratch. To soften the blow of starting over, I’ve come up with these ideas for back-to-school team building activities to use in middle school ELA.
What do you think you could make out of a stack of cardboard, a roll of duct tape, two plastic cups, a plastic bag, and some string?
This first team-building activity idea is to get your students to do just that: they will invent and advertise a product of their own creation using only those items described above. Challenges like this that push students to think divergently are great for team building. They provoke students to think of a variety of solutions, instead of just one, helping them to develop a skill set that will be of particular use to them in the ELA classroom.
Here’s how it works…
On the surface, the prompt will seem like a challenge: first, they will think, “how many things can you invent with just these items?” But trust me, you and your students will be surprised at just how creative they can be with this.
Ok, so this team-building activity idea comes with one small caveat: you have to turn into a zombie. Well, not literally. That’s just your part in the premise: the teacher has become a zombie and the students need to turn them back into a human. And of course, the one copy your school library has of Beginners Guide to Zombies is missing the page that explains just how to do that…Classic.
This escape room activity is a great way to activate your students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills while working together as a team and building a classroom community. You’ll have them solving puzzles and riddles from the remaining pages of this imaginary zombie book, from which their answers will reveal the encryption and—through that—the key ingredients needed to rescue you, their new teacher! Let’s hope they can, otherwise, it’ll be a very strange school year.
Here’s how I like to implement this activity in the classroom:
I let students visit the first five stations in whatever order they choose, but tell them that everyone must complete the sixth station last. This is because the last station is where they will discover zombie encryption code from which they can make their zombie-to-human mixture. I personally don’t just stop the activity when one group has discovered the answer. I keep it going and determine the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. place. I’ve found that a little healthy competition to be a great way to really break the ice with my new classes.
Picture this. It’s 1978. You’re a construction worker in downtown San Francisco (stay with me), and you’re part of a team that just discovered a ship buried 20 feet below ground. How in the world did this get here? you wonder. How was it never discovered until now? Who owned the ship?
When I first heard about this idea from John Spencer, I thought hey, what a great back-to-school team-building activity for the ELA classroom. I knew this prompt would make for a great inference activity. At the time, I didn’t know that it’s actually a true story! How cool is that? Maybe you know about this already, but hey I didn’t, and it made me like this activity even more. This is how it works:
To make the most out of this inference activity, I like to help students organize the way they structure their responses and theories so that we can easily share and compare answers as a class.
I don’t know about you, but my classrooms are often filled with student-athletes. It seems sports are less an interest than an obsession for many of my students. In this activity, you can engage these students in an effective team-building exercise. With the sports mash-up challenge, students get to develop a new sport that combines elements from other different sports. This idea of mashing up sports together isn’t a stretch: some sports already do just that. Think of water, polo, for example, which mixes swimming, soccer, and polo. Or ultimate frisbee which is really a combination of frisbee, soccer, and football.
I find that the sports mash-up challenges make for great back-to-school team-building activities to use in middle school ELA. One way of looking at the classroom, after all, is as one big team, and this sports-related activity will help your students see the similarities between their teammates and their classmates.
Here’s how you can make sure your team gets off to a good start this season…
If you want, you can let your students include drawings of what the sport will look like being played. And if you’re up for it, you may even be able to try out a few of the sports as a class! I know if I were a student, this would be a pretty memorable day in English class…Maybe you can have the students vote on which sports invention are their three favorites, for example. This will help you decide which ones to play. It also turns the activity itself into a kind of competition.
Curiosity is one of the keys to learning. If we can help our students retain their sense of curiosity while giving them the tools to explore what makes them curious, I think we’ve in many ways succeeded. This last team-building activity gives students the opportunity to do a deep dive into something that they’re curious about and share with others. Maybe one student has always wondered why shadows get longer, for example, while another wonders what the history of video games is. With the wonder day activity, students will get to learn all about something they might not otherwise learn in school. I like to use Wonder Day as a chance for students to collectively act on their curiosity and share what they learn with others.
This team-building activity also serves as a great opportunity for you to teach students effective research practices at the beginning of the year. Here’s how I use this activity in the classroom:
Is there anything you’ve wondered lately? Maybe you’d like to take part in Wonder Day yourself!
I hope you found this back to school team building activity list useful! If you liked these back-to-school team-building activities for middle school ELA, you might also be interested in checking out 5 Outside the Box Creative Writing Assignments for ELA.
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