This post details my own classroom experience running a weekly classroom meeting. I will be sharing how-to run effective classroom meetings with a schedule and specific plans to help children learn and apply interpersonal skills for their social emotional well being. My hope is that you will be able to implement these strategies to start your own classroom meetings or improve your routines and outcomes.
Why Have Classroom Meetings?
I am a strong advocate for social responsibility being taught and reinforced at school. Class meetings allow you to teach things that are not be written in your Math, Reading, or Science curriculum, but are equally important and deserve your time.
Children will learn how to express feelings and emotions in constructive ways. They will learn to deal with anger issues and how to calm oneself down. They will build the skills needed to independently solve problems. They will learn how to make and maintain healthy friendships through listening, expressing themselves, taking turns, and playing games. Most importantly, effective classroom meetings mean there are opportunities to connect as a class and share and learn from each other. Through sharing our good and bad feelings, we can relate to each other. We can share what we are thankful for, give compliments, and solve problems together. Classroom meetings allow us to grow as a group and individually.
Having taught class meetings in primary classrooms over the years, I have seen great results. I have seen children learn to cope and handle difficult situations with ease. I have witnessed children go from needing a lot of help to deal with anger and issues with friends, to being completely 100% independent in doing so. I hope that you will see similar results.
Classroom meetings can take place at any point during the day and for as long as you see necessary. I prefer to have our meetings on Fridays in the afternoon. That is the day and time that we are finishing up work and decompressing from the week. Children have just completed a full week of activities and playing with friends. They often have plenty to talk about and share. Our meetings usually last around 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the lesson and need for talk time.
We start every class meeting sitting together in a circle at the carpet. I like to set an intention for the meeting to get children focused and ready to listen. We use our chime and some deep quiet breathing to clear our heads and calm our bodies.
I review a few rules about respectful listening (looking at the speaker, listening to what they are saying, having a calm body). We remind ourselves that the only person allowed to talk is the person with the “talking stick” or any item that you have chosen for children to hold when it’s their turn to speak. We wait for everyone to look and sound ready and we begin.
Temperature (Sharing Feelings)
We take turns going around the circle and passing our “talking stick” or other item. We take turns giving our temperature out of 10 to express how we are feeling at the time (0 being not good and 10 being great). Children can say their temperature and give a reason if they wish. For example, I am an 8 because I played a fun game of soccer with my friends at lunch. As we go around the circle, if children are not ready for their turn, they can have a pass and we will come back to them.
During our very first meeting, we spend a lot of time learning about the scale of 0 to 10. I encourage children to think about their feelings on this scale and how even if they are having a bad day, they are probably are not a zero. This requires practice and help. I give examples along the scale to illustrate this for them. Having a small chart with the scale on a number line with some examples is helpful.
Gratitude (Giving Thanks)
This is another variation to include instead of temperatures during meetings. Take turns going around the circle and expressing gratitude for something. It can be absolutely anything. We use the words “I am thankful for…” when the talking stick comes to us. For example, I am thankful for the nice weather outside or I am thankful for my mom because she takes good care of me.
Again giving gratitude is something we spend time learning about initially. We share all the things we are thankful for and brainstorm them on a chart for ideas in the future. I encourage children to be authentic and to think with their hearts when it is their turn. Some children prefer to use an idea from the chart or an idea they have heard from a friend, which is fine as well.
Bouquets (Giving Compliments)
I teach children that a bouquet of flowers is something you give someone you care about to say something special. Giving each other compliments and saying nice things is like giving a friend a bouquet of flowers. This helps children visualize the importance of saying nice things. We discuss how it makes them feel when someone says nice things to them and we brainstorm ideas during our first meetings. We talk about the difference between a “surface” compliment (I like your haircut!) and a “deeper” compliment (You are a kind friend!). We agree that deeper compliments, the ones that are about our character and who we are, are more meaningful and require more thought.
Children put up their hands for a turn to give a bouquet to a friend in the circle. We practice and I supports them to use the line “I have a bouquet for… because…” These are very powerful! Often as children give their bouquets, more hands go up as others remember things they want to express to their peers and appreciate. Not everyone has to give a bouquet during a meeting, just those that want to.
Beefs (Problem Solving)
It is important for children to learn problem solving strategies that they can eventually learn and use independently. During the “beefs” portion of effective classroom meetings we talk about and learn problem solving strategies. There requires teaching ahead of time about the different ways to solve a problem.
Teach students that when a problem occurs they can do a few different things:
Tell the person to “STOP”
Say how it makes them feel “It makes me feel… when you…!”
Suggest a solution to the problem
Walk away and leave the situation
Get help from an adult you know
There needs to be a few rules set during this time to avoid intentionally hurting feelings. Limiting the number of “beefs” expressed during a meeting to 3 or 4 is helpful. I also have a rule against naming the names of friends in our classroom or school that the problem is with to maintain and show respect. As adults, we wouldn’t want to be “called out” for our mistakes in front of our peers and therefore we wouldn’t want our students doing that to each other either.
If a child has a problem and has a hard time solving it on their own, they are encouraged to share it with the class. They are asked to explain what the problem is and then take 4 suggestions from the class on ways to solve. Their problems usually consist of issues with cooperation, sharing, taking turns, and unfortunately bullying and negative physical contact. An example of a typical problem, At lunch I wanted a turn on the swings but nobody would let me. Examples of typical solutions, you can ask nicely and say “May I please have a turn?” or find something else to do on the playground instead. I allow the class to give their suggestions first and then I give my own thoughts, usually to reinforce what has been said already. Sometimes children are not sure what problems they should be solving on their own and which require adult help (bullying and any negative contact). This is a great opportunity to teach this.
Social Emotional Learning (Discussion/Lesson/Book)
This is the culminating part of an effective classroom meeting. This part can take on any shape or form depending on what you want to teach your class or what your needs are. You may want to see how the week goes and see if there are any issues that stand out and need to be addressed. You may decide to have a short discussion with your class after a book about the topic. You may want to have a discussion and have students write and draw about what you discussed. You may choose to have your students role play different scenarios and discuss their feelings.
Your school or district may have a specific social responsibility program that they like to use that has lessons for you to pick from. I recommend you seek out what you have available and use it. There are usually opportunities to attend conferences and workshops to learn different approaches available to teachers. Some of the programs I have used in my classroom and am especially fond of are Roots of Empathy, Mind-Up, Tribes, and Restitution.
Topics for lessons
During the year I have AT LEAST one meeting and lesson on each topic. Some of these ideas are listed below.
Friendship skills (taking turns, sharing, listening)
Empathy (caring about others, thinking of others before ourselves, helping others)
Bullying (how to stop it, how to recognize it)
Conflict resolution (problem solving skills)
Respect (recognizing differences, appreciation, acceptance, kindness, love)
Cooperation and responsibility (for oneself, with others, in the classroom and school)
Basic needs (versus wants)
Classroom Meeting must-have Book List
Books can be a very powerful tool in expressing what is sometimes difficult to explain. They provide another perspective and example to what is discussed. I like to keep a box of special books that I save for classroom meetings. I pull the books out to share with the class to support our discussions during meetings. The following list of books are highly recommended. I own each book and have read it to children over the years with success.
- How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Brown
- Two by Otoshi
- The Name Jar by Choi
- My Mouth is a Volcano by Cook
- Bad Case of the Tattle Tongue by Cook
- Interrupting Chicken by Stein
- The Juice Box Bully by Sornson
- Stop Picking on Me by Thomas
- Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Dismondy
- Enemy Pie by Munson
- The Recess Queen by O’Neil
- You’re Mean, Lily Jean by Wishinsky
- How Full is Your Bucket? For Kids by Rath
- Chrysanthemum by Henkes
- The Way I Feel by Cain
- The Way I Act by Metzger
- How Are You Peeling? by Freymann
Community Building Activity
As a final quick activity, I like to do something fun as a class. We usually play a game or complete a teamwork activity. I start the year by teaching the class a few games and activities that we can use throughout the year. We use the community building activites for kids weekly to help us stay connected and having fun together!
FREE Classroom Meeting Planner
To support your effective classroom meetings, I have created a template for you to print and use to plan and prepare your meetings. The schedule template includes a brief description of each part and includes an area for notes and specific plans. I hope you find it useful. Click the image below!
Grab this FREE respect pack to support a classroom meeting lesson.
Check out this POPULAR post on classroom management!
I hope that you have gained some strategies for running your own effective classroom meetings with children. I wish you a lot of success and happy, emotionally healthy students!