It’s almost the start of another school year. Time to dust off the table topics, conversation starters, and ice breaker activities or ask Google for some new ones, right?
Sure, but what if I told you that building classroom community isn’t just one and done for back to school season?
Building the kind of rapport and student connections that allow a “good” classroom to become “great” is intentional and folded into the school year like chocolate chips into my favorite cookie recipe.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers usually spend time establishing classroom norms.
We bring out the icebreaker and getting to know you games…and then then year continues.
If we aren’t intentional about continuing to build classroom climate and culture, it’s easy to let go of SEL and community building. I’m guilty of this, too.
However, it is important, perhaps more important than ever in a post-pandemic teaching climate. Students long to feel a sense of belonging, to know that the classroom isn’t just a place for academics, but that it’s also a place for sharing and connecting.
Getting Started with Table Topics
I stumbled onto this classroom table topics routine by chance when I needed a quick pick-me-up for student table groups that needed to bond after winter break.
I’m sure you know this classroom dynamic well…
When you create a new seating chart and ask students to talk for the first time in an especially quiet class…crickets.
So I threw together a bunch of conversation starters on a Google Doc, projected it up on the board, told each student to pick their favorite and lead a quick round-robin table topics discussion, making sure that every student’s voice was heard for their chosen question.
The talking started slowly, a trickle and then it was like the dam broke open with laughter and smiles and talking…more talking than I had heard all week.
Remember those crickets? They were gone.
Table Topics Questions
Here it is, in all of its simplicity…my first round of table topics ever, circa January 2023.
Please notice that the table topics allow students to discuss their opinions, their lives in a non-threatening way. There also is choice involved.
As students invested, bit-by-bit in low-stakes conversation, student talk grew.
This conversation took 5-10 minutes, and worked well, so I tried it with all of my classes that day. I noticed that students seemed energized, and they settled easily into their work for the day after the timer ran out.
It was fun, and I thought that would be the end of table topics conversation starters….until it wasn’t…
Table Topics Tuesday
The next week, students from multiple classes asked if we were going to do table topics again, and one table group suggested “Table Topics Tuesday.” A classroom community routine was born.
In reflection, I think that the key to the success of this routine was in setting clear norms AND in choosing table topics that captured students’ attention and interest. There weren’t too many weighty, heavy questions, though I did sprinkle those in. I also sprinkled in questions related to content.
You’d be amazed how seemingly silly, surface-level questions can lead to more in-depth conversations, especially as students build connections in the classroom. Sometimes a particular topic sparks a larger conversation. Most of the time, we flow into our other activities.
The majority of table topics questions are just designed to get students talking. Table groups might not have been BFF’s, but everyone can talk about what they ate for breakfast or their favorite “hype song.”
Conversation Starters That Work
We’re more than our content, and I’ve found that students look forward to classroom routines that build relationships. “Table Topics Tuesday is a routine I now have in my classroom to give students a chance to talk about weird, wacky, interesting, funny, and thought-provoking questions.
I knew students TRULY liked and appreciated this routine when I forgot it for the first time and students were quick to remind me. They even offered to create questions, taking ownership and leadership in designing the activity.
200 Conversation Starters for Your Classroom
After having so much fun with my students last year, and compiling a pretty epic list of conversation topics, I knew that I had to share them with other teachers.
These weekly conversation starters make it easy to build student relationships and classroom community during back to school and all year long! Use these 200 conversation topics as classroom routine, icebreaker topics, or a fun brain break.
There are 50 topic slides included in this resource, enough to make this a weekly, no-prep classroom community routine. You can also use these topics at any time as conversation starters or when you have a few minutes left at the end of a lesson. There are 4 questions per slide, and I usually give students 4-5 minutes to discuss.
Don’t stop at 200 questions! If your students are like mine, then they’ll be glad to share their own conversation starters. That’s why I’ve included a Google Form for capturing those student questions as well as blank slides (with the same graphics as the main slideshow) so that you can add their ideas and your own questions into the mix.
Hey, if you loved this post, you’ll want to download a FREE copy of my guide to streamlined grading.
I know how hard it is to do all the things as an English teacher, so I’m excited to share some of my best strategies for reducing the grading overwhelm.