“I hate it when they make us do team building activities in our back to school staff development days!” I’ve read all sorts of memes about that. There’s just something about doing an activity that feels forced and takes us out of our comfort zone. But what if the activity was natural and comfortable? Is there really such a thing? I say, yes! And I say it can be done in your classrooms too.
When I provide staff development for my colleagues, I make every effort for it to be meaningful, easy, and possibly something that they can take back to their classes. Today was no exception.
It was our Back to School Staff Retreat. (I don’t know why we call it a retreat. We never retreat to anywhere. It’s always in our library and is our first day back after summer’s end. But,… I digress.) Today we had hours of announcements, going over the staff handbook, learning new information, and… sitting. Fortunately, I get to provide our staff with opportunities to engage with their peers and get out of their seat. I get to facilitate the “team building”! Yep! That oh-so-popular team building.
Yet, as I stated earlier, I believe that these activities can be relaxed and easy to do. One of my favorite activities is actually a teaching strategy. I like to use teaching strategies as “team building” because not only does it bring staff together, but it is an activity that they can take back to their classrooms and use. It can allow the staff to experience something that is engaging, purposeful, and easy to replicate. The activity that I’m referring to here it “Vote with Your Feet”.
This is a teaching strategy that gets your students (or colleagues) out of their seats and expressing their opinions. An element of comparison is included as the students get the opportunity to consider their opinion and those of other participants. This may lead to considering the opinions of others which may cause a change in opinion or a solidification of the opinion held.
In addition, by engaging in this physical activity, students are actively participating in their learning, which helps them later recover information gained from this strategy.
I’ve used this in my classrooms and with staff. Each time has been fun and successful. You might use it as:
- A “Get to know you” activity at the beginning of the year/term. (As I did with my colleagues.)
- As a preparation for a persuasive writing assignment.
- A method to teach cause & effect, and fact & opinion.
- A way to discuss an author’s statements or to analyze a character’s actions or motives.
- An opportunity to explore a current event, civil/human right, a challenge in society, ethics, etc.
- A way to deeper explore a hypothesis and have students predict the result of experimenting around they hypothesis. Or even to debate a theory.
So how do you use this strategy? It’s not difficult and it takes very little prep. Here are the steps that I’ve used.
- Before beginning the activity, create various statements that will evoke an opinion. These could be opinions about life, current events, a text read, getting to know each other, or so much more. Example: “Would you rather…? Or “I like/will/need, etc…” Or “Do you agree with the author that…” For my colleagues, I started with something safe and pleasant. I asked if they had children, grandchildren, fur babies, or none of the above. We continued with questions about social media choices, languages known, preferences of seating arrangements in the classrooms, and into deeper questions about beliefs around teaching.
- For yes/no or A/B statements, have students make two lines facing each other on either side of the classroom or meeting space. Assign the space in between the 2 lines as the “yes” space or the “A” space. The lines they stand in will be the “no” or “B” space. (You can also have multiple choices and have students stand in the four corners of your room based on the opinion choices, much like I did with the questions about children above. Example: Having children was corner #1, grandchildren corner #2, fur babies was for corner #3, and none of the above became corner #4.)
- Remind students that there are no wrong or right answers and that minds can be changed. It’s all about opinion. Also remind students to be respectful of others’ opinions.
- Read the first statement.
- Students move to the space that fits their opinion. Example: “What ice cream would you rather eat…a) vanilla or b) chocolate? If a student would rather eat vanilla, they would move to the center, while the students that would rather eat chocolate stay in their line.
- Provide the students time to confer with the other people in their position/corner. This allows for safe conversations since those in the group are in agreement. They may take 2-5 minutes to discuss with the students in their space why they have made this decision. This may be helpful to students when they are asked to explain why. (No one should be forced to talk.)
- Ask for students in one of the spaces to share why they chose that position.
- Students in the opposite space may ask the students to defend their reasoning. (visa/versa) After each discussion, allow participants to reevaluate their thinking. If the defending student/s manages to persuade the others to now share his/her opinion, the opposing students may change their mind and move to the other space.
You can easily vary the activity by having:
- Students stand in a circle and the inner space is the “yes” or “A” space.
- Students stand on a continuum line and vote for where their opinion lies between “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree”. (See steps below)
- Students stand or sit instead of moving to a space.
- Conduct a “vote”, then instruct students to read a piece of text, watch a video clip, or observe some other form of information. Next, have the class vote again. If reading a text, I recommend that you instruct students to highlight any evidence that they might find that will support their opinion. Take data regarding the vote. If you do a second vote, collect the data again and discuss or analyze any differences.
If you’d like to try the Continuum Line style then you’ll need to use the following steps:
- Before beginning the activity, create various statements that will evoke an opinion. These could be opinions such as: “I am a loyal friend.” “I enjoy using technology to study.” “I believe that…” etc.
- You might want to place tape or draw a line on the floor as well as make 2 signs that state “I strongly agree” and I strongly disagree” to place at the two opposite ends of the line.
- Explain that the imaginary or physical line represents the various levels of agreement and disagreement we might have with a topic.
- Point out the ends of the continuum as “strongly disagree” and “strongly agree.”
- Explain that each person will choose to stand anywhere on the line in between these two points. Model the different positions on the line with a sample question or statement. Use personal background knowledge or text support as your evidence.
- Read the question or statement that you created previously and that fits your needs. I recommend reading the question or statement twice and to give students about 30 seconds to determine where they might chose to stand on the continuum.
- Students will quietly move to place themselves at a point on the line.
- Once everyone has voted, have students near each other on the line discuss why they selected that level of the continuum. They should be able to determine the evidence that they will use should they be asked.
- Use follow-up prompts to invite individual, paired and/or full group reflection on individual and group opinions.
- “What did you notice about the responses?”
- “What did you learn about the opinions of others?”
- “How might these statements or opinions cause us to think differently?
- “Why is this important?”
- “How does this change your understanding?”
- “How can this information help you moving forward? Etc…
So now you’ve got the steps. But what are some of the types of questions you might ask? The options are endless. However, I believe many of you would like some suggestions. Here you go:
- Would you rather…?
- I agree or disagree with the author when he/she stated…
- I like/need/want/hope/am/have….
- Is it better to ___ or ___?
- Is this a fact or opinion? (Statement)
- In your opinion, should we…?
- The text stated … Do you agree or disagree?
- If you used ___ strategy, stand (place). If you used (a different) strategy, stand ___.
- The best ____ is _____.
- And many more…
When I use this strategy with my colleagues, they find it casual and easy. They don’t mind talking about the topics, and knowing that others are in agreement helps them to find commonalities in their peers that they may not have known otherwise. I find this especially helpful for our new colleagues who may be feeling alone and unsure about how they will get to know the others on the staff.
When I use it with students some like being able to give their opinion without having to say a word, while others love the opportunity to talk with their peers and to “argue their case”. It also provides the teacher with beneficial data about students’ communication skills, confidence, understanding of a concept, and even some of the dynamics within the classroom community.
No matter when I have used this strategy, I have always been able to provide some sort of safety and ease about the task. Students find a natural way to express themselves; physically, verbally, or both. Today, my colleagues learned numerous new things about their peers; even about those that they have been friends or coworkers with for a very long time. In fact, I was told by one of our primary teachers, “That was my kind of team building.”
To that, I say, “Yeah!!” and “Do you think your students might like it?”
“Oh, for sure!”
So do I really hate team building? My answer is “No”. Are you one that dread the team building activities and who posts the memes on social media to express your frustration? Perhaps this might be an activity that you might like to incorporate into some of your teaching, to share with the leaders of your staff development, or for your own facilitation of team building activities. I trust that you and yours will find an equal amount of success. I’d love to hear your stories about “Vote with Your Feet”. Please feel free to share!