Establishing Classroom Expectations with the Arts

We welcome Mia Hollingworth, DTI’s resident guest writer, back for the new year.  Here Mia gives us some great activities to help establish protocols in the classroom.

New Year – New Students – New Rules

It’s a new year with new group dynamics and therefore the perfect time to draw on collaborative tasks that combine establishing classroom expectations with the Arts. A tip from experienced teachers everywhere; the key to creating rules is to involve the students and keep the rules few and simple.

This article focuses on tasks that develop and support the collaborative process. They facilitate connections between students as well as with their teacher which in turn creates a sense of belonging to community (common – unity).  It is important to build your team.

teamwork in primary school classes

The activities are designed for upper primary and middle school because the collaborative process can be tricky to navigate particularly in the younger years. The process is rarely smooth and developing egos are easily hurt.  Children with strong self esteem will fare better in these kinds of activities.

It is vital that students are given plenty of opportunity to collaborate in order to overcome these little but necessary ego bumps and bruises.

Students need to engage in real-world practices and figure out how they will collectively reach a desired outcome.

Through these collaborative challenges, students will come to know and act in accordance with the agreed upon classroom expectations.

The Human Alphabet

Divide the classroom into small teams of 4-6 and assign each group a letter from the alphabet.Dance class rules

Task: All members of the group must participate using their bodies to create the letter assigned and present it to the class.

Easy: The letter can be presented horizontally on the floor/ground.

Difficult: The letter is presented vertically in 3-dimensions.

Time Challenge: First team to make their letter/shape wins the ‘best collaborators’ award.

Whole class challenge: Create the word ATTITUDE (this word ties in with the following activity) This could also be timed and then repeated to see if their collaborative efforts can be improved upon.

Attitude is a Choice

Task: Have students write the word ATTITUDE vertically and assign the number that correlates to the letter’s position in the alphabet. Example: A = 1; B = 2; C = 3 and so on…

Then ask students to add up the numbers that make up the word ATTITUDE which = 100. Use this activity as a discussion point that attitude is every ones’ individual responsibility. It’s about making a choice every day to bring 100% and give your best.


You could discuss that there will be days we don’t feel 100%, we might feel 80% or even less than 50%.  Use this discussion as a springboard to brainstorm some classroom strategies that boost mood and attitude. These usually involve physical activities because they trigger a series of chemicals that improve brain function and help regulate emotions.

Some examples include:

  • Set up a yoga / mediation corner in the room where students can put on earphones and listen to relaxing music while having a stretch or a time out.
  • Do hand stands against a wall for balance. The blood rush to the head is a mood boost.
  • Take a walk or run around the school parameters. The rhythmic and repetitive movement will help bring the mind into a state of calm.


Show me your Rules and Moves

Divide students into small groups and give them a pair of die and blank index cards.

Task: Students are given 15 minutes to create and play a game that will need to involve a dance move. A member from the group will present the rules of their new game to the rest of the class.

After each group has explained the game their group invented and the students have shared the rules to their games, a whole classroom discussion can take place around why rules are necessary and the importance of having agreed upon rules.

This discussion can inform the following activity and contribute to the classroom expectations to be set-up.

Characteristics of a Good Student

Have students brainstorm a list of characteristics that make for a good student.

Examples might include; Listening, being ready, finishing work within the given time-frame.

Task: Turn your classroom rules into a movement experience.

Break out into small groups and show students how to create a web chart. The centre circle of the chart can be labelled. Example: Classroom Expectations

Have students create branches out from the centre circle to another circle detailing what this might look like in the classroom. Example: Trying your best

Once the groups have come up with 5-10 examples, have them choose 1 that they can create a quick scene to demonstrate their chosen example.  This can be done using a simple script, or be mimed using movement only.

dance class rules

The Ideal Classroom

Have students write a paragraph of what they think makes for the ‘ideal classroom’. Prompt students to be realistic and describe what it looks like, feels like and sounds like.

Task: Divide the class in 2 large groups and have them create a realistic classroom scene based on the paragraphs they wrote earlier.

To help students create a good scene the following prompts can be shared to include.

  • Revelation / Surprise
  • Objects that can transform
  • Tempo
  • Juxtaposition
  • Stillness
  • Repetition
  • Noise
  • 6-line Scene
  • Architecture

Whole class Activity

After the groups have shared their scene, together write a classroom statement selecting the five most important attributes of what makes the ‘perfect classroom’. This can be displayed on the wall as a reminder when individual or classroom behaviour starts to stray too far from the ‘perfect classroom’.


In closing…

These activities may be used throughout the year to bring your class together.  If you feel the group dynamic waning use these activities to change the atmosphere.  There are many more activities that are wonderful for boosting your ‘teams’ moral.

When students are engaged in the process of rule-making it reinforces that they are responsible for what sort of lesson, day, term and year they have. Their attitude and the contributions they bring to the classroom community influence everyone around them.