Making Time for Classroom Community

Community is central to the philosophy of English 100. Small class sizes, peer review, and student conferences are all pieces of the curriculum that aim to create spaces for students and instructors where everyone feels included.

As a program, we talk a lot about this goal and how to achieve it. When we have the opportunity to meet with our instructors—who join English 100 from departments across campus—, we always take a few minutes to learn a bit about each other. We hope that activities such as icebreakers, interviews, and even improv games not only build a positive space for that day, but also helps instructors develop relationships around writing and teaching that last beyond any single meeting.

However, the time constraints of a 50-minute class can be one of the biggest challenges to making time for community building. For instructors, those 50 minutes can already feel like an impossibly short time for all of the day’s goals, and community building activities can be time consuming. Some require planning and set up, including rearranging the room and time to explain the activity.

Because of the demands of a short class, English 100 instructors have developed strategies for balancing this time limit with the need for community building. One of the most popular approaches in English 100 is to use quick “check in” questions at the beginning of each meeting. These are low-stakes questions, usually answerable in one word, that each student answers.

Here is a list of examples developed by English 100 instructors:

  • If you could adopt a fictional character into your family, who would it be?
  • What superpower do you wish you had?
  • What’s the worst superpower?
  • What show are you binge watching right now?
  • What has been the highlight of your week?
  • What is your complaint of the week?
  • What one word best describes your week?
  • What’s your favorite place to eat?
  • What is the story of your name?
  • What is one of your favorite family traditions?
  • Where is a place that someone would not find you in town?
  • What is your favorite internet meme?
  • All time top 5’s, such as all time top 5 movies, songs, books, etc.
  • If you could have any job, what would it be?
  • What is the last thing you searched on Google?
  • What is being a Badger?
  • Versus questions: cat vs dog, pancake vs waffle, etc

These quick questions have become a favorite strategy for community building in English 100 for a few reasons. First, it makes community a daily routine of the class, not something done during the first week and then abandoned. This can be especially helpful for sustaining engagement through dips in semester energy. These quick questions also gets every voice heard at the very beginning of the class and helps establish the space as an inclusive one.

As this activity shows, building the community central to English 100 doesn’t always require devoting a large portion of class time. Even small differences, like an opening question, can make an impact.