5 practical ways to build rapport with your students: Activity 1

By on July 28, 2014

Building rapport with your students is critical. Students need to feel comfortable learning in your classroom and they need to feel safe (and encouraged) to explore ideas and ask questions. Students who trust you will work hard every day and be open to learning from you.          

Students do not need another friend, but they need another positive role model. They need someone who will inspire them to be better people, better students, better friends, and better family members. For me, rapport building is about having fun with your students while teaching them lessons along the way. The debrief is where the lessons are learned. No matter what activity you ask your students to do, I recommend following it up with a thoughtful debrief. Ask questions like…


“What did we just do? Why did I ask you to do it?”

“What did this activity teach us?”

“What did you notice about your classmates’ behavior during this activity?”

“What was challenging about this activity?”


These types of questions can help students process their experience and therefore learn from the activity. Sometimes I have to guide students to the lesson, but most of the time, if the activity is set up correctly, my students can make meaning on their own. In fact, more often than not, my students have more profound things to say than I do. One rule of thumb when setting up rapport building activities: less is more. Tell students what they cannot do but try not to overload them with rules. Part of this experience should be about them solving problems and thinking of solutions.


Although rapport building happens all year, there are a few things I have done in the first few weeks that helps me communicate to my students that I care about them and their education. This is Activity 1. I will blog about the other four activities over the next four weeks.


Activity 1: Silent Alfa-Seating Chart

When: First day of class
Instructional Minutes: 20-30 minutes with a good debrief
Summary of Rules: No talking and students seat themselves alphabetically

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  1. Place one notecard on every student desk.
  2. As students come in the room, ask them to sit wherever they like (they will be moving shortly).
  3. Once everyone is seated, quickly introduce yourself, welcome everyone, and get them engaged in the activity.
  4. Explain how you like to seat students in alphabetical order by last name.
  5. Explain that they will be seating themselves alphabetically by last name without talking.
  6. Show them where in the room the As sit and Bs and so on until you identify the X, Y, Z group.
  7. Ask them to stand. Tell them that the only rule is that they cannot talk.
  8. Send them to task. I usually say, “Seat yourselves.” As they move around the room, you will see all sorts of strategies emerge. Let them experiment. Some will use the note card. Some will write on the whiteboards. Some will even discover your seating chart or roster on your desk. Let them be creative and work through the activity. Keep time so that you can talk about how many minutes it took for them to find their seats. You can use this time to motivate other classes, too.
  9. When they are all seated, tell them how long it took them to find their seats.
  10. Then, ask them if they think they are seated correctly. Responses will vary, greatly.
  11. Get your roster and take roll. Stop if there is an error and ask students to move seats. Only move one student at a time. Keep track of the amount of errors.
  12. Once everyone is in their correct seat, begin your debrief.

Things to notice:

You will see leaders and followers emerge. Some students will completely check out and sit at a random desk. The leaders will start snapping fingers and pointing at students. The leaders will mobilize the group.

Strangely enough, honors students have the toughest time with this activity. Maybe it is because they don’t want to be wrong. Maybe there are too many leaders. I’m not sure why, but honors and advanced students take twice the amount of time to complete this activity and they are less accurate than other classes.

The Debrief:
Ask students to explain what they were thinking while they were shuffling around and finding their seats. You can ask, “Was it hard? Did it take longer than you expected?” Ask students to describe what was happening in the classroom. “Did leaders emerge and help others find their seats?” You can also ask, “What problems did you run into? How did you solve them? Are there other ideas that could have been tried?” After students have some time to reflect, share some of your own observations. They like knowing what you saw. Some students will nod their heads in agreement and others will try justifying their actions.

The Purpose:

Yes, this is a fun way to seat my students in alphabetical order, but the real purpose of this activity is to build rapport and to set the stage for the rest of the year. I explain to my students that they will be pushed to think critically in my classroom and expected to work together as a team. I expect students to lead and not give up when a task become too great or too challenging. I use this activity to show how we can grow from reflection and improve each day if we are open to evaluating the decisions we make. Silent Alfa-seating Chart is a simple activity that has plenty of teaching moments.


Next Steps:

I don't recommend reading your syllabus to them. Not at this point. Your students are ready to learn. They are inspired. They are curious about you and the class. It’s important to follow this activity with a text that is relevant to your students’ lives. Talk about their futures. Talk about their dreams. Talk about how they perceive life, themselves, and others (consider reading something from Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens). Lead your students through another meaningful learning experience that is highly collaborative, utilizing pair and small group discussions.


Next week, I will post the second activity: Tour de (use your last name with a French accent).


Join the conversation below and by letting us know how this activity went in your classroom, or share another great rapport building activity that you have used so that our community of inspired educators can learn and grow.

Share with Colleagues and Friends

The Conversation

Mrs. Peterson Mrs. Peterson 8/19/2015

First day of scchool activity

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Mrs. Kidd Mrs. Kidd 9/1/2015

What part of Coveys book do you begin with?

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Mr. LeMaster Mr. LeMaster 4/1/2016

Hi Mrs. Kidd. I was just reading through my 2015 posts and discovered this message. I usually start with Paradigms and Principles.

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