The Five Minute Poem
This activity has students spend five minutes writing a brief four-stanza poem about where they are from. The poems can be shared in the large group as students introduce themselves to the class, in pairs or small groups, or could be posted to a class blog or forum. This activity can also be used as a prompt for a discussion about how where students come from impacts them in the classroom.
There are some considerations for you to make when implementing this activity in class. For some students, elements of their neighborhood, familial, or childhood background may be associated with trauma. Students may not feel comfortable completing some or all parts of the poem template. Additionally, students may feel comfortable crafting a poem but not sharing it with the larger class.
For these reasons, it is best to not use this activity on the first day of class. If you do plan on using this activity, give students advance notice that it will be used in a future class and let them know that participation is optional. You should also encourage students to reach out to you if they have any questions/concerns regarding the content of the activity. If enough students express that they will not be participating, consider using an alternative community building activity. See our icebreaker grab bag page for ideas.
- To prompt students to reflect on where they come form and how their homes (figurative or literal) impact their classroom/university experience or their experience in their new home.
- To encourage students to recognize and respect where their peers come from.
Application in a STEM Course:
Fostering a sense of community in your classroom can create a sense of belonging. According to a CRLT study on retention in STEM courses, “students reported that classroom climate (including their anxiety levels, how welcome they felt in class…and instructor rapport with students) significantly influenced their decisions to stay in or leave STEM disciplines.” If students feel that they are part of a community, they will feel more comfortable engaging and participating in the classroom. In another study, peer interactions and support in STEM courses led to gains both academically and socially. The Five Minute Poem is a great way for students to engage with each other on a personal level, creating connections that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Taking the time to complete this activity at the start of the semester will help students form meaningful bonds, allowing them to better collaborate and support each other throughout the semester.
Application in a Large Course:
Cooperative learning and small group approaches in a large course can greatly benefit student learning, engagement, and overall sense of community. Research has shown that leveraging such approaches can lead to the development of key skills such as active listening, empathy, consensus building, leadership, constructive conflict management, and resolution as well as decreasing racial prejudice while increasing interracial tolerance. This activity allows students in your large course to learn from each other and to reduce the feeling of anonymity that can be pervasive in a large course setting. By making your large course feel smaller through this activity, you are actively working toward making a more inclusive space for all students.
Application in an Online Course:
Online learning can feel impersonal and disconnected, but there are inclusive teaching practices you can leverage to build community and connection in your online course. Taking the time to get to know each other’s stories and backgrounds through this activity can help build trust between students, which is a key indicator of whether or not students feel comfortable participating. In one study, researchers asked the question, “what did graduate students who were enrolled in an online course about teaching online find most valuable about online moderation and community building?” From the study, students stated that Student Needs and Community Building were essential components to online learning. Regarding Student Needs, one student stated, “It is necessary that everyone feels safe, comfortable, and welcomed before they will fully engage, enabling them to make personal connections and grow from each other.” Regarding Community Building, another student stated, “Learning communities often develop naturally in a traditional classroom environment, but in an online course, the instructor must make that happen.”