Five ways to promote friendship in your English language classroom

Pearson Languages
a young boy and a young girl sat at desks in a classroom, smiling and looking at another child in front of them

There is a strong link between well-being and friendship, which is just as accurate for children as it is for adults. Studies have found that children with stable friendships are happier, more able to cope with stress, and have higher self-esteem. Moreover, school friendships impact academic achievement too, and children who experience friendship adjust more easily to school and perform better academically. School friendships are also a valuable way of learning social skills like sharing, resolving conflict, and engaging with peers positively.

Having friends is an important part of school life, and teachers can play a significant role in creating a positive classroom culture and helping children and young people to form friendships. How can you promote friendships between your students? Here are some ideas:

1. Make friendship a central theme in your classes

If there is an example of a good friendship in a book you are reading with students or in your lesson materials, draw your students’ attention to it. For instance, The Jungle Book is an excellent example of a story about friendship. Encourage your students to think critically about the friendships that they read about. You can ask questions like:

  • What are some things a good friend does?
  • What are the qualities of a good friend?
  • What words do you associate with friendship?

By discussing friendship regularly in the classroom, your students will learn about the behavior and characteristics of being a good friend.

2. Create opportunities for interaction

You can create lots of opportunities for students to build friendships with one another during class time. Design activities that call for pair or group work, and include at least one or two in every lesson. Focusing on a common goal or problem is a great way to encourage your students to bond with one another. As a bonus, this collaborative way of working promotes important 21st century skills like communication and problem-solving.

Another way of promoting friendships between different groups of students is moving them around. Adjust your seating plan regularly to ensure that all your students interact with and work alongside different classmates, to promote positive, friendly classroom vibes.

3. Discuss and model good behavior

Friendship is a social skill that children need to learn – and you can help by teaching them. Be explicit about exactly what you expect from them. Saying, “Be kind” is an abstract, vague concept that children might struggle to put into practice. Instead, give them concrete examples of behavior, such as:

  • take turns when playing
  • speak respectfully
  • share pens or other resources

When you see a student engaging in these behaviors, draw attention to them and praise them.

But to really convey the importance of school friendships and kind behavior, it’s not enough to tell them. As the teacher, you must model the behavior you’d like to see in your students. Be consistently positive and upbeat in your interactions with students, thank your learners when they offer help with something, and try to refrain from sounding impatient (even when you are!). All these steps will help to build a positive classroom culture where students feel secure, supported and happy.

4. Help to navigate difficult situations

Conflict is an inevitable part of school life, but you can help students to navigate arguments and other difficult situations in the classroom. If two students argue, you can help them to resolve it with the following steps:

  • Separate the students to give them time to calm down.
  • Have a conversation with them. Ask for their perspective on the conflict, and find out how their day has been in general. Sometimes, you can better understand a student’s reaction when you look at the bigger picture. Ask them how they feel, and how they could resolve the situation.
  • Bring the students together again to discuss things and find a resolution together. Reconciliation is the goal.

Following these simple steps teaches children a framework for resolving conflict and gives them the tools to process strong emotions.

5. Do some friendship-focused activities

An excellent way to promote a positive classroom culture is to do friendship-focused activities with your students:

You could do a Venn diagram activity, where students work in pairs to discuss and write down things they have in common and areas of difference. It’s good to pair students who don’t spend much time together for this activity.

Another positive activity is a 'Honey Roast'. Give students enough squares of paper to have one for each of their classmates. Get them to write their classmates’ names on the paper, and then, on the other side, write down a compliment or something they like about that person, for example, “I like your handwriting”, or “You always use kind words”. Collect the pieces of paper and read out some nice examples to the class. Alternatively, give them directly to the students to read to themselves.

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