15 Minute Ideas for Fun, Culture, and Connection in the Classroom

By Naomi O'Brien

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During my 10th year in the classroom, I decided to add on to the way I built relationships and connected with my students. I wanted my students to feel connected to each other and our learning space as well.

I wanted this practice to be 2 things:

  1. Really fun for them.
  2. Really easy for me.

This is how my daily 15 minute activities began. I made time after recess before we started math. (It was also a nice way to transition back to learning from running around outside with their friends.)

I chose a different activity to do each day of the week for 15 minutes only. 1:00-1:15.

Wanna know what we did each day? Let me tell you:

Monday: Show and Tell

On Mondays we had Show and Tell. (The slide below is available for free in my Free Resource Library along with a Culture Corner Slide. Enter the password, or sign-up with your email to access it!)

To set this up, I told my students that Show and Tell was a special time to bring something to show their friends and tell them about it. We walked about how it could be anything as long as they could talk about it.

We went over what a good speaker does and what a good listener does.

I wrote everyone’s name on the board. We had two people present every Monday. I drew stars next to their names and reminded them on Fridays to bring something for Monday. They were so excited, they rarely ever forgot. I cycled through the list over and over all year long! This activity was great for working on speaking and listening skills.

During Show and Tell time, I projected the slide above and each student had 4-5 minutes to present. I also encouraged my listeners to give compliments, ask questions, and give feedback after the speaker was finished.

Tuesday: Team Building Challenges

Tuesdays were for team building. I created various challenges for my students. It took them a few weeks to realize that it wasn’t about winning the challenge- it was about working together.

I use a ticket reward system in my classroom, so groups that worked together earned tickets whether they won the challenge or not. Before long, students grew to be more kind and effective communicators.

Students worked to figure out how to put a set of pictures in the right order.

My students worked in groups of 4. Each week I chose 4 new team captains and allowed captains to choose their teams.

Some of the challenges I had them work together on was:

-Putting a puzzle together the fastest (but they each had their own pieces they were in charge of)

-Building a cup tower

-Linking paper clips together

-Building the tallest tower with index cards, blocks, or cubes

-Working on Word Searches

-Building a bridge that could support a book.

I also created a resource with a few team building challenges that my students had so much fun with each week!

Click on the image to be taken to the resource
Students used a ruler for this one!

Like I said earlier, I wanted these tasks to be easy for me. I usually looked around at whatever I had on hand, and made a challenge out of it.

I would remind them that they had to work together, support each other, and problem solve as a group.

When time was up, I would point out the great team work I saw. I would also highlight words of encouragement I overheard students using. I really focused on the behavior I wanted to see repeated the following week.

Because groups were different each week, this helped students, that weren’t in the same reading or math groups connect and work together and get to know each other.

Wednesday: Culture Corner

Culture Corner took place on Wednesdays. This is a time when students could volunteer to share something from their culture. “If this is the way you do things, it’s a part of your culture.” was my motto, along with, “Different people do different things in different ways, and that’s okay,”. I blogged about how I center culture in the classroom here. (The slide below is available for free in my Free Resource Library. Enter the password, or sign-up with your email to access it!)

“No strangers to culture, because we started the year learning about our own, my students were eager to share each week. Sometimes they taught their classmates how to count to ten in their home language, and other times they explained the way they celebrated a certain holiday or about their religion.

We had 15 minutes set aside for this once a week, and it was always a hit! After a student presented, since they were the expert, they would answer questions their peers had. They also received compliments about what they shared.” Read more about this here.

Thursday: Early Day

On Thursdays, my students went home at 1:00. We didn’t have our daily time slot available, but I did try to fit in some game time before lunch when I could. I bought a bunch of UNO card packs and other card games. We would spread out in different groups and get a good game going before lunch for 10 minutes.

Friday: Reflection Time

Fridays were for reflecting about the week and also journaling in a notebook. I put on some music and allowed students to work in a comfortable area. Sometimes they could just write/draw freely about their week and other times I gave them a prompt:

-What was challenging for you this week?

-How were you a good friend this week?

-How have you grown as a person? (One student recognized he was regulating his emotions better!)

-What made you laugh this week?

-What is something new you learned this week?

This was also a great time to teach lessons about identity, friendship, feelings, or other small lessons I wanted to fit in that weren’t exactly a part of a core content area. We did a whole unit on our identities and learned more about who were were on the inside and outside.

This could be a time where you ask students what they want to learn or focus on and spend time engaging in that topic.

You’d be surprised what you can do in just 15 minutes!

Identity Lessons

To start our identity lessons, I taught them about my identity. I wrote my name on chart paper and circled it. Then I began listing and drawing parts of my identity around that circle (race, gender, age, likes, dislikes, hobbies, etc…). I even asked my for my students’ input about the parts of my identity they could see.

Then I told them new things about me that they couldn’t see and didn’t know. They were shocked to discover I played Mario and was a daughter.)

We talked about how alllllllll of that made me who I was. Then we went through some reflection journals I made (available below) and we did one page each week until we finished.

It was nice to take a break from rigorous academic content for a short time each day. My students really looked forward to these activities and they helped us all bond and connect with each other in a new and fun way!

I hope these ideas were helpful!

Check out a few of my identity resources below!

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Naomi

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Hi, I'm Naomi

I have been teaching elementary students for over 10 years. Effective reading instruction and accurate social studies at the primary level are huge passions of mine! 

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