Listening, Speaking and Culture Building, Oh My!

If you are looking for a brain break that helps build the culture in the classroom while working on students speaking and listening skills, then Categories may be what your class needs.  This brain break came about as a way to create a safe environment that would help ease students into participating through listening and speaking. In order to promote better whole class discourse, which is my TRC research team’s focus this year, I knew that I needed to build listening skills, encourage speaking skills and create a classroom culture where everyone feels psychologically safe.  Categories has been a great way to build these skills as it includes every member in the classroom in the listening and speaking process.  

As the slide on the right reveals, there are four simple rules in Categories. First, everyone stands up.  Then, a student is selected to start the brain break. This student selects one of the hidden categories shown on the slide and the direction to which students will answer.  The second rule is that each student must name something that belongs in the revealed category. Once their turn is complete, the student sits down. Everyone else in the room is listening intently because no repeats are allowed which is the final rule.  It is considered a success if the class makes it around the entire room without a repeat. A victory is declared if the class can successfully complete two of the three categories.

The beauty of this brain break was that the entire class worked together as a team to help build the class culture, and they practiced some of the skills that it takes to be a member of a team. In addition, students had an opportunity to share their voice and actively listen to their classmates.  A wonderful side effect of this brain break was that it let me learn a little about each student in the classroom. 

During this brain break, I reminded the students that the class was working as a team.  I let them know that they needed to respect everyone’s time to speak by listening. I also instructed them to use their voice so that everyone in the room was able to hear their response.  My experience has taught me that every class has its own personality and that is what makes this brain break so unique. It allowed me to help each class work on the skills they needed to improve on, whether it was listening, speaking or culture building. My first block of students had many great qualities; however, they were my talkers which was both good and bad.  When we did Categories, they loved to really connect with their classmates’ responses which helped build the culture in the classroom; however, it interfered with their ability to fully listen to all responses. On the other hand, my second block of students contained my quiet talkers. It was almost a given the students would ask their classmates to repeat their answers because they were not projecting their voices.  This class worked on building confidence to speak in class and voice volume as the listening piece was already in place. Finally, my last block had virtually gotten Categories down to a science. They were listening and responding in a manner that almost always made them successful.  

Today, Categories continues to be a brain break that is regularly requested by my students. I have come to realize that the students love the challenge of the brain break.  Some students love playing so much that they have been thinking about different categories outside of class and have been submitting their ideas for me to use. Their ideas have been amazing and I always make sure to give credit to those students who submitted an idea.  This little recognition has really helped to elevate the classroom status of some of my students.

In a recent round of Categories, the topic which was submitted by a student was, “Childhood TV shows.”  As the class worked through the challenge, the culture of the room lit up as connections were being made between students.  I could hear students say things like, “Oh my gosh, I forgot about that show,” and “I loved that show too.” It also gave those who were sharing increased status in the room.  Lots of connections, smiles and laughter happened with this category…one that I am not sure that I would have come up with on my own. I so love the creativity of the students!

As part of my ongoing investigation into the mechanics of whole class discussions, Categories has proven to be a simple and easy way to work on listening and speaking skills while building the culture of the classroom.  This activity has also been a great way to practice an inviting and inclusive whole class discussion.   

Give it a try and see what transformations and connections happen in your classroom!

Leave a Reply