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A 5-Minute Strategy For Building Relationships and Engaging Students

Updated: Oct 21, 2019

Okay, so we know we need to build relationships with students. There is a ton of research to support this. But here’s something interesting: simply having social conversations or making small talk is actually the quickest way to develop those relationships. For some teachers, that’s awesome news since making connections is second nature. But for some teachers, this is some work. And besides, there is so much pressure to teach bell-to-bell (which I don’t actually agree with-but that will have to wait for another blog post). So okay then-- how do we fit in those social conversations?

One way is by doing a daily “Walking Check-In.” This is the incredibly fancy name I made up for what was essentially my “rounds.” Here’s how I did it in my class: When my students entered the classroom, I had“bellwork” on the board and I set a 5-minute timer. As the timer counted down, I walked around to every student and looked at what they were writing. I said, “Hi,” made a few seconds of small talk, scanned their work, and then stamped their paper. With a goofy rubber stamp. That’s it!

This is one of my favorite strategies and it is loaded with a whole slew of relationship building and engagement benefits.

  1. I was able to make social contact with every single student. It could be as quick and simple as, “Hey cool shoes.” or “I saw your game last night. Nice play.” or even “Hey, so happy to see you today!” Social conversation=relationship building!

  2. I tied the bellwork to the material and whenever I could, to their own lives. Relevance means engagement. I then used that few seconds for very quick formative assessment by glancing at their work which helped inform the rest of the hour. And I learned something about them from their responses.

  3. It communicated to every student that they were important and that I cared that they were on task.

  4. It gave the students a positive interaction at the beginning of the hour which set the tone for the rest of the class time.

  5. It saved me hours of grading later--I graded bellwork for completion which eased any anxiety over getting it “right” or “wrong” in only five minutes and allowed students to breathe and just answer the question. Later, I only needed to look for stamps to give out points.

  6. It got students in their seats and on-task right away. Students were engaged as soon as class started.

  7. Stamps! Every single student wants stamps. I taught 12th grade. I had 18-year-olds tell me that I forgot their stamp. It’s tangible. Tangible is good.

Okay. Troubleshooting this strategy:

  • Start rounds the minute the bell rings and you have started the timer.

  • Have your bellwork posted so any late students can start without interrupting your rounds.

  • Wait to take attendance, check emails, answer questions from students, and every other distracting thing until a later time.

  • Stop by every student’s paper for only a few seconds, long enough to interact and check the work. If you see someone struggling, circle back later i.e., during independent work time or build in time to go over the bellwork as a class.

  • Be consistent. Do it every day to make the routine predictable. Students will get so used to this routine that they will get in their seats and start on the bellwork right away.

Trust me when I say that logistically this works. I did it in classes of 30+, 5 times a day, 5 days a week. And it paid massive dividends. I swear by this strategy as a quick way to build those relationships and get your students hooked into the class.


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