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Home » Blog » Social Skills » SEL & Character » 12 Ways to Build Relationships with 2nd Grade Students

12 Ways to Build Relationships with 2nd Grade Students

Back to School, SEL & Character, Social Skills

Written by: Angie Olson

Your job is so important! As a first or second grade teacher, you make engaging lessons, show up for your students every day, and communicate with parents. You set up your classroom to make sure your students learn and grow. You differentiate instruction to make sure your lucky little learners are getting what they need to be successful. Where do you start to make your classroom and your students’ experiences the best they can be? It all starts with the relationship. These ways to build relationships with students will help encourage your learners to be the best they can be!

Students need to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom. Students should feel safe, loved, and respected in their classroom environment. Isn't that what we all want? Real learning can't begin until those emotional needs are met. Keep reading for more ideas on how to build positive relationships with students in the classroom.

Start each day with a greeting and a smile.

Saying “hello” with a handshake, hug, or simply a smile every morning can go a long way to building a healthy classroom environment and strong relationships with your students. By being front and center when your students enter the classroom, you show them they are the priority. Your students are why you come to work every day. Encourage them and show them how much you care every day.

Take an interest in their outside of school lives.

Self-confidence is one of the character skills we focus on in The Social Emotional Learning Curriculum. (Tip: Download the whole curriculum by joining our All Access membership for as little as $9.99/month!)

Some of your students may not come to you with a lot of outside support from family or peers. Be their biggest cheerleader. Ask them about what they love to do to help build their self-confidence. Have them showcase their talents. If you have a little learner that loves to dance, take a dance break in class. Perhaps, attend some of their concerts, plays, and sporting events. If you’re not able to make it to some of these outside events, still allow your students to share their videos, pictures, and just talk about their hobbies and interests in class. One way to do this is to have an end of the day meeting on Mondays or Fridays to talk about the upcoming events or plans your students have next week.

Start each day fresh.

It’s almost guaranteed that you will have at least one student that has some bad days in class. They may act out, struggle academically, or show disrespect to you or their peers. Remind your students that each day is a new day. Although consequences may be necessary for misbehavior, it doesn’t mean you love them any less. Showing the character skills of empathy and compassion in your own encouraging classroom will help your students in their journey towards positive, healthy behaviors in your class.

Model positive character skills through read-alouds.

Many students and parents have told me that they remember some of the books and stories I shared in my classes in order to help students learn character skills. I know as a teacher, I had to search and spend so much time finding the best books to share with my students. That’s why I love The Social Emotional Learning Curriculum. This year long teaching pack gives you monthly character trait lessons and book suggestions to share with your students. Lucky little learners love when you read stories aloud, and when they teach a lesson and focus on character education, it’s a bonus!

Building relationships with your students is so important. You may be the person they will spend the most time with Monday-Friday. Take an active interest in their personal lives, share their successes, and help them when they encounter obstacles. You can use these ways to build relationships with students to help them feel safe and loved in your classroom every day!

Grab our free SEL Read Aloud lists

Use 30-Second Conversations

A 30-second conversation is as simple as it sounds: students talk with a peer for 30 seconds each day. This can be done during morning meeting, end-of-the-day circle, or any time in between! Choose a student to be your 30-second conversation partner. You can learn a lot about a student in just a short amount of time! 30-second conversations have been shown to help foster a classroom environment of mutual respect, as well as help to foster social emotional skills, like empathy.

morning meeting slides shown digitally and also printed and stored on a ring

To learn more about using 30-second conversations in the classroom, check out this blog post.

Try a morning meeting slide and matching writing prompt:

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Share Your Feelings

Little kids have big feelings – but so do teachers! When a situation arises where you are having big feelings, take a moment to process it in front of your students. Make time to share personal experiences (within reason!). Be vulnerable – point out your own mistakes, and talk about your own struggles and triumphs when you were their age. Seeing that their teacher is human and approachable can go a long with building lasting, positive student relationships.

Keep Note!

Keep a running record of conversations you have with a student. Jot down their baby brother's name, and then remember to ask about him again soon. Do they have a pet? Do they love to play Minecraft? Learn about their passions and show an interest in them. Tailoring a lesson to their interests can also help build connections with students. For example, if a student is passionate about Dogman comic books, tailor a writing lesson to comic books. Let their talents and interests shine!

A teacher notebook filled with observations learned about each student such as interests, number of siblings, and pets names.

Personalize It!

I will always remember how my 2nd-grade teacher gave spelling tests. She would use each student's name in a sentence as she was reading the test. I always felt so special when my name was called! Think of other ways you can incorporate students and their interests into your basic lessons. Are you starting to work on word problems? Write a word problem for each student and their interests. For example, “Jaya scored 2 goals on Wednesday, and 1 goal on Thursday. How many goals did she score in all?” Students will love seeing their names in print, and their classmates will learn more about their friends, too!

Roses and Thorns

You may have heard of this popular sharing strategy: Roses and thorns. When sharing about their day, or reflecting on a specific moment, students will pick a “rose” and a “thorn.” The rose is the positive, happy, enjoyable part. The thorn is the difficult, sad, or disappointing part. For example, “Today at recess I was so excited when I got to take a turn on the swing. But I was disappointed when Emma wouldn't share her jump rope.” Talking through triumphs and disappointments together can be a wonderful bonding experience and a way to build relationships with students and between peers! This is an activity you can build up as trust and report develop with students throughout the year.

2nd grade schedule with ten minute roses and thorns activity included during the last ten minutes of the school day

Teacher Survey and Suggestion Box

Some students may not be comfortable verbalizing their needs and interests to the teacher – and that's ok! Offer a teacher survey or suggestion box, where students can write an anonymous note. Let the students know you will be reading and reflecting on each note. Knowing how you can better serve your students, and what is working in the classroom and what is not, can be a helpful tool for everyone.

Compliment and Connection Circle

Make time each week for a compliment and connection circle. Choose one student to focus on. Each student in the class takes a turn offering a compliment, or a connection, to the special student. Start by modeling for your students. For example, “I want to compliment Javon on the haiku poem he wrote this week. It made me feel happy! Javon and I also both like the Sixers basketball team!” For more ideas about relationship building activities and sharing circles, check out this blog post!

Rock Out!

Music brings people together. Find out your students' favorite songs, and play them during classroom breaks. Or have each student write down a favorite song, and put it into a class playlist! Allow students the chance to play class DJ so they can share their favorite music with the class – and have a dance party! This simple change can bring joy, positivity, and connection into the elementary classroom.

Click on the image below to pin these ideas to your Pinterest board.


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Hey there!  I’m Angie, owner of Lucky Little Learners. Our #1 goal is to support K-2 teachers.  We provide unlimited access to over 20,000 printables that are aligned to your standards.
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