Break the Ice: Activity 3 of 4 Great Strategies to Build Community

Posted by Mary Hendra on August 10, 2015

Building on our webinar for creating a safe, reflective classroom community, this week each LA Program staff member of Facing History and Ourselves will share their favorite community-building activity. Here is activity #3 of 4.

 Listening Is An Act of Love, produced by StoryCorps, is a film I've enjoyed as a way to highlight the power of storytelling to build community.  


  • Cousins Cherie Johnson and James Ransom talk about their Sunday school teacher, Miss Divine.
  • Student Noe Rueda and Teacher Alex Fernandez, discusses how Noe chose to help his mother.
  • Couple Gwen Mann and Yasir Salem. Gwen shares the story of how a brain tumor impacted her life and their relationship.
  • Friends David Wright and Eddie Lanier talk about Eddie’s struggle with alcoholism and homelessness.
  • Mother and Son Jackie and Scott Miller discuss adoption and acceptance.
  • Father and Daughter Cheng and Chen Wang interview Grandma Kay Wang.


Steps for classroom use:

  1. Watch “Listening Is An Act of Love” together.

  2. Allow a few minutes of individual processing time by giving students 2 minutes to journal about the film.

  3. Do a variation of the "Four Corners" strategy - modified in this case to be six corners. Have each of the six locations represent a specific story from the film. With this strategy, students will physically walk to the corner that is their response to the question. Vary how students interact after the questions. Sometimes it is good to just let people talk when they get there.

  4. The questions can vary, but here are a few to get started:
    • Which story did you find most inspiring?
    • Which story made you feel sad?
    • Which story made you laugh?
    • Which story will you remember the most?
    • Which story has a message you hope your students take with them from this school?

  5. Discussion as a class can bring this back to your classroom or school community. Why are we talking about story-telling in relation to building community? What is our responsibility as a listener?

The common experience of watching the film together, perhaps even crying together in response to some of the stories, and sharing our own stories in response goes a long way in building a sense of community. When we discuss it afterwards, I also like to highlight the power of telling stories, the power of listening to a story, and the power of being listened to. If I had my own classroom this year, I'd follow this up by having students use the StoryCorps app to record their own stories or those of their family.

Do you have a favorite film that helps you build community in the beginning of the year? Share your thoughts below.

Click here to see all the posts in this series.

Topics: Safe Schools, Teaching Strategy, Breaking the Ice

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