Help Students Connect and Reconnect

Discover ways to connect with your students, form relationships with them, and help them reconnect and form relationships with one another.

Grades K-12 15 min Resource by:

Many of our students have not been in a large physical group of people for over a year. Returning to a brick-and-mortar classroom will likely be awkward for both students and teachers. Many students went through this past school year without making real eye contact with you or their peers. Crucial body language cues were also lost in the virtual classroom. Students may not be used to reading hand gestures or raised eyebrows, and they may find it difficult to judge facial expressions that are now under a mask instead of on a screen.

As educators, we need to acknowledge that things aren’t the same as they used to be, and that’s okay. We need to connect with our students, form relationships with them, and help them reconnect and form relationships with one another. We can do this by building relationship skills with our students and embedding opportunities for authentic collaboration, communication, and connectivity in all that we do

Make it a priority to learn and correctly pronounce the names of every single one of your students. The simple act of saying a name (correctly) will help you connect with your students. A person’s name is a connection to their identity and an extension of who they are. Saying it correctly shows that they matter and are valued.

Now that most families are experienced with, and have access to, virtual video communication, consider setting up short video introductions and interviews with your students and their families before you ever have conferences. These meetings may be 10 minutes or less and can help you really connect with students and use that connection positively while in the classroom.

    • If these interviews cannot be done live, consider creating a Flip (Tips), where students and families can respond to different questions.
    • In the Tech Talk For Teachers podcast episode, Teacher Insights with Trentino Parcells, you can listen to how one teacher plans to use personal interviews for every school year from now on because of how powerful they can be in connecting and building relationships.

Your students have learned and experienced a lot in their lives, especially over the last year. Embrace asset thinking and identify student experiences, knowledge, and strengths. In the article from NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, An Asset-Based Approach to Education: What It Is and Why It Matters, the idea of focusing on strengths helps students and teachers view “diversity in thought, culture, and traits as positive assets. Teachers and students alike are valued for what they bring to the classroom rather than being characterized by what they may need to work on or lack.”

Provide a space for important and meaningful conversations, where everyone matters and has an opportunity to share and be heard. Allowing students to be heard and providing listening practice will help them make meaningful connections with their peers because they will get to know one another and understand each other better. They will build empathy for one another.

Create time and space each and every school day for students to give and receive gratitude. Being intentional and helping students identify gratitude will help them build resilience and valuable coping skills.

    • Consider having students keep a daily or weekly gratitude journal. Gratitude journals work at all grade levels, and even with adults. Here is a Gratitude Journal Template in Google Slides that you can share with students digitally or print out as a hard copy.

Besides being out of practice with in-person conversation, many students and teachers could be wearing masks, making it very difficult to see nonverbal cues toward their feelings. It is important for students and teachers to be clear about how they are feeling, so they can manage themselves in positive ways and interpret other people’s emotions. This enables them to empathize with others and respond and act appropriately, so they can have positive interactions with one another.

    • Consider having students create or identify different emojis or symbols that they might hold up or draw to show how they are feeling during a lesson. You might use the emojis listed on the second page of the Gratitude Journal Template.
    • Develop and share words to describe different emotions in order to build your students’ emotional vocabulary.
    • Consider providing students with either a digital or analog way to share how they are feeling. A Google Form, daily exit ticket, or box where students might drop off a note could all be ways to accomplish this. In the Leveraging What We Have Learned This Past School Year to Reimagine Education Moving Forward episode of the Tech Talk for Teachers podcast, one teacher talks about providing an SOS button in her learning management system that students can click on and share how they are feeling or what they need.

It is essential to encourage student collaboration and communication first in a low-risk, low-stakes environment before students will be able to collaborate and communicate at a much deeper and more meaningful level. In other words, go slow to go fast, or start small to go big. Students need to engage in these opportunities so that they can connect, create, and rebuild relationships with one another.

    • Below are a few ideas for helping students begin to build relationships and collaborate with one another.
      • Personal Introductions:
        • Share verbal introductions with the whole class, in small groups, or with partners.
        • Interview and introduce a partner.
        • Record and review introductions virtually:
      • Learning Teams:
        • Have teams of students create names, logos, and cheers to establish a team identity.
        • Have students collaboratively design or create a team T-shirt (Template).
        • Start every collaborative activity with a quick personal share-out.
        • Have students work together to solve a puzzle or complete a task, such as a Flippity Scavenger Hunt, as a group.
      • Full-Class Mixers:
        • Pick a Side: Ask a question with two possible answers. Designate one side of the room for each answer. Students move to the designated side to show their choice of answer. Once students are on the side of their choice, they can have pair discussions about why they made the choice that they did. This can be repeated several times, and students can help create the questions.
        • Four Corners: Ask a question with four possible answers. Designate one corner of the room for each answer. Students move to the designated corner to show their choice of answer. Once students are in their corner of choice, they can have pair discussions about why they made the choice that they did. This can be repeated several times, and students can help create the questions and the answer choices.
        • Have students work together to create a Blooket or a Kahoot! on a specific topic or events that they can share with others.
        • BINGO: Play “Community Building BINGO” by getting classmates to sign off on squares of each other’s BINGO board. If you are doing this virtually, you might need to post the board and have students “sign” (type) their names on a common board, allowing multiple names on each square. Encourage students to try for a blackout by getting all boxes signed!
        • Would You Rather…?: Have students share out quick responses to “Would you rather…?” statements.
        • “My Favorite…” Speeches: These are simple, quick share-outs that allow students to learn about each other.
        • The Name Game: This lets students learn each other’s names by going around the circle repeating each student’s name and something they shared toward a quick prompt.
        • Musical Shares: Randomize partner groups by mixing students until the music stops, and then they share their response. In a virtual environment, you could use a virtual partner generator, like the Flippity Name Picker.
        • Two Truths and a Stretch: Have each student submit two truths and a stretch to you with their name. You can periodically pull up one student’s list and ask the class to try and identify which item is the stretch. You might consider using a polling tool, like Socrative or Poll Everywhere, so everyone gets to be part of the activity.

As many students enter a physical classroom for the first time in a while—or for the first time while wearing a mask and having to be several feet apart—it will be very important to give students ownership and voice in the creation of the classroom routines, norms, and expectations. Student input on how to create and build classroom communities will be vital. Student ownership and voice increase student leadership, create greater responsibility, and also create accountability structures that go beyond the teacher.

    • Consider several of the following strategies to help you integrate student ownership and voice:
      • Give students a voice in creating classroom norms.
      • Ask students what is important to them and why.
      • Allow students to decorate the classroom.
      • Rotate classroom duties and tasks so that everyone is involved.
      • Ask for student feedback about a class activity or assignment.

All of the strategies listed above help students to connect and reconnect. They provide students with the opportunity to collaborate and communicate with others. These strategies also hopefully reinforce the value of community—and not just any community, but their classroom community. A strong classroom community helps students see that all people matter and have something to contribute. Similarly, every student needs to know that they’re cared for, that they matter, and that they belong.


NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. (2020, September 16). An Asset-Based Approach to Education: What It Is and Why It Matters.

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