No matter the age or background of the students in your classroom, cultivating an atmosphere where students feel part of the group is important. Start from the first day of class together with icebreakers and games so the students get to know each other, but don't stop there. Continue using team-building activities throughout the class and revisit the idea of what unity means to individuals and communities. Make sure your attitude is one of acceptance and cooperation as well; students will look to you as an example.
Icebreakers and Games
At the beginning of the school year or semester, start with a game to help everyone learn each others' names, such as the silly name game where each student adds an alliterative adjective to the front of his name. Standing in a circle, students introduce themselves and try to remember the names of every student in the circle before them. You can also use games such as throwing a soft ball around the room and having each thrower say the name of the receiver they are passing to, making sure everyone gets a turn. Older students will enjoy an activity where they pair up with a person they aren't already acquainted with and make a list of things about each other that are the same and things that are different.
Where Do You Stand?
Arrange students in two circles, one facing in and the other facing out, so students are paired up as if to line dance. Prepare a list of questions, possibly related to your subject matter, for the students to respond to with their partners. Then have each student rotate and discuss another question with his next partner. In a social studies or civics class, ask questions such as, "Where do you get your news?" and "What do you believe about the death penalty?" General getting-to-know-you questions work fine as well.
Unity Through Art
Art can be a useful medium for allowing students to express their feelings and engage in personal reflection. As a unity activity, have each student draw and share a picture of what unity looks like to her. Or, create an art project as a class that includes an element from every student. For example, build a mosaic where everyone makes a tile to contribute. For classes where you want to be more concrete, divide students into groups and have them create posters outlining what classroom unity and teamwork are and why they are important. Keep these posters hanging all year.
Student of the Week
Choosing a different student of the week to honor on a bulletin board in the classroom can help foster an atmosphere of unity. Have the student of the week bring in items and pictures that are related to her extra-curricular hobbies and activities; display these and allow the student a few minutes to explain why she brought in each item. Students will feel that they are part of the group, and giving every student a turn in the spotlight will help classmates appreciate each other.
- unity in diversity image by Stasys Eidiejus from Fotolia.com