Building a Classroom Community | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Uniformed high school students write at their desks.

Building a Classroom Community

Students work together to create a contract with the aim of developing a reflective classroom community, which is conducive to learning and sharing.


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

lesson copy


English — UK


One 50-min class period
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement


About this Lesson

The purpose of this first lesson is to help the class develop an environment that is conducive to learning and sharing. Throughout this scheme of work, students will be talking about sensitive topics, such as social class, gender expectations, and discrimination, and how those concepts can impact individuals’ choices and actions, both in the world of the text and in students’ own lives. It is, therefore, important that a supportive and a reflective classroom community has been established to help students discuss these topics as and when they arise.

In this lesson, students work together to create a contract, with the aim of developing a reflective classroom community, where students are known and know one another. Creating a classroom contract is an important step in fostering and maintaining a community where students honour and value differing perspectives, question assumptions, voice their opinions, and actively listen to others. When students feel empowered to contribute honestly and wrestle with multiple perspectives besides their own, such discussions can be positive and even life-changing. Moreover, when students are involved in the creation of a classroom contract alongside their teacher, rather than receiving the rules from their teacher, they are more likely to take responsibility for upholding the norms and expectations that the group establishes to guide their interactions and discussions. 

This lesson is an important foundation lesson that you can use at the start of any scheme of work. We recommend that you and your students revisit the classroom contract periodically to review your agreed upon norms, especially before engaging with challenging content and discourse activities.

What can J. B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls teach us about the impact of our individual and collective decisions and actions on others?

How can we work together to create an open, supportive, and reflective learning community? 

Students will come together to develop a contract that establishes a reflective classroom environment where students feel known and heard.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 6 activities
  • 3 teaching strategies
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 2 extension activities

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this lesson, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Journals are an integral means of participation in the scheme of work for each student. See the teaching strategy Journals in a Facing History Classroom for important suggestions about how to incorporate them into the scheme. Typically, student journals are not considered public for the entire class to read. However, informally reviewing students’ journal entries can help you know the questions that are on students’ minds and can be a place for individual conversations between you and each student. It can also help you correct any misconceptions about what they are learning. If you choose to periodically review students’ journals, it is important to inform them in advance of writing that you plan to do so.

  • Before teaching this lesson, familiarise yourself with the Contracting teaching strategy. Facing History teachers have found that effective class contracts typically include several clearly defined expectations, as well as logical consequences for those who do not fulfil their obligations as members of the classroom community. There are many ways to facilitate the development of a classroom contract, and we suggest one method in the Activities section of this lesson. The contract should be considered a living document that can be revisited or altered at any time. For this reason, you may want to structure time to return to the contract at strategic points throughout a unit and/or throughout the year – for example, to preface a particularly sensitive reading or activity, or at the beginning or end of each unit or term.
  • The fifth step of the activity, reflecting on the process of creating the contract, is as important as the creation of the contract itself. As we adults know, collaborating to create a shared final product is hard work, and it is important for students to reflect as a group on their process so that they can identify and celebrate their successes, and develop a plan for addressing areas for growth.

There are a number of ways that you can introduce contracting to your students. You will find two additional activities in the Extensions section that you can use to replace one or more of the activities in this lesson or to add if you want to extend this lesson over two class periods. Choose the path that works best for your students. You can always revisit any unused contracting activities later in the year to help your students revise or reflect on their contract.

We recommend that you spend at least one full class period contracting with your students. If necessary you can shorten this lesson by using the Cross the Line or Stand Up/Sit Down strategy explained in Step 3 of the Activities section below. Then ask for volunteers to write the finalised contract on large paper after class or after school and have students sign it the next time the class meets. It is important that you budget time in this lesson for the final discussion while the experience of contracting is fresh in students’ minds. If the discussion takes you to the end of the class period, assign the closing journal reflection for homework and do the Wraparound as a warm-up in the next lesson.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.

The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching each lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.


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Lesson Plans


  • Explain to students that today they will be exploring how to build a supportive classroom community. In preparation, they will first reflect on past experiences at school.
  • Project the following questions one at a time and ask students to respond in their journals. Let them know that they will be sharing their ideas with a partner.
    • When have you felt comfortable sharing your ideas and questions in a class? What happened in those moments to help you feel comfortable?
    • When have you had ideas or questions in a class but did not share them? What was happening at those moments that made you not want to share?
  • Then have students turn and talk with a partner about moments when they felt comfortable or uncomfortable sharing their ideas in a class.
  • Remind students that they will be learning about different stories in the classroom and engaging in challenging discussions that might spark debate and disagreement in the group. In preparation, they will need to establish norms and expectations for behaviour that will allow everyone to feel as if they can voice their ideas, pose questions without fear of ridicule, and be heard by others.
  • Explain that in order to create and maintain this kind of safe and brave space that encourages risk-taking and where challenging, and often uncomfortable, conversations and learning can happen, they will be working together to develop a classroom contract.
  • Ask students to define contract and share ideas about the purpose of contracts and the types of things they can protect. Make sure students understand that a contract implies that all parties have a responsibility to uphold an agreement. You might also define and discuss norm: ‘a principle of right action binding upon the members of a group and serving to guide, control, or regulate proper and acceptable behaviour.’ 1
  • Divide students into small groups of three or four and give each group a piece of flipchart or sugar paper. Ask them to come up with no more than three norms that they feel are important for everyone in the class to follow in order to foster the kind of space that invites participation, sharing, and growth. Instruct them to record their three ideas on their papers and then hang them on the wall when instructed to do so.
  • 1‘Norm’ (dictionary entry),, accessed 23 June 2018.
  • Ask each group to stand by their list and present their ideas to the class by reading each norm and explaining why they think it is important. Then ask students to look for places where they can consolidate ideas. Write this new list on the board.
  • Have a volunteer read the new list out loud and discuss as a group whether or not the class feels like they have captured the norms and expectations that they think are important to uphold in this class.
  • Finalise the list by asking students to write their initials alongside norms and expectations that they think are important (or use sticky notes). Alternatively, you can use one of the following strategies:
    • Cross the Line: Everyone stands in a row, imagining a line in front of them. Or you can place a long piece of masking tape on the floor to serve as the line. You will read a norm/expectation, and anyone who thinks that it is important to them should step over the line for a couple of seconds and then step back.
    • Stand Up/Sit Down: Everyone starts in a seated position. You will read a norm/expectation, and anyone who thinks that it is important to them should stand up for a couple of seconds and then sit back down.
  • After the class has agreed to its norms and expectations, have one or more students record the information on a piece of flipchart or sugar paper, and then ask everyone to sign their names. Hang the contract on the wall. Creating a classroom contract that can be posted on the wall keeps everyone accountable for the learning from this lesson. The real measurement of understanding, however, lies in students’ (and your) efforts to abide by the contract throughout the year.
  • Let students know that they will revisit and reflect on the contract before and after challenging conversations, or if one or more of them feels like the group has strayed from its initial promise to one another.

Sit in a circle for a closing discussion about the activity so students have an opportunity to reflect together on their process of creating their contract. You might draw from the following questions:

  • What process did your small group use to come up with your three or four norms?
  • What do you think worked well in your small group?
  • How do you think you could do better the next time you work in a small group?
  • What process did our whole group use to come up with our contract?
  • What do you think worked well in the process?
  • How do you think we could do better the next time we work on a project in a whole group?

Ask each student to complete the following sentence starters in their journals. Revise the sentence starters as needed to fit what you think your group needs at this time.

  • For the next month, I am going to work on _____________ (choose a norm from the class contract).
  • One way that I will work on it is by. . .
  • Then have each student share their completed sentence starters in a wraparound​. Listen during the wraparound to hear the norm that each student commits to upholding, and refer back to it in future one-on-one conferences or check-ins by sharing your observations, offering praise and support, and suggesting strategies to help each student reach their goal.

Extension Activities

Depending on your students and their readiness for contracting, consider using one or both of the following activities to replace Steps 2 and 3 in the Activities section of the lesson plan. Alternatively, you can spread contracting over multiple class periods and incorporate the following activities into this lesson plan:

  • If you think the class would benefit from starting the contracting conversation in a more concrete way, you can share a list of norms that other Facing History classrooms have developed. Ask students to discuss what they think about the following norms. Which ones do they think would help their class create a brave, respectful, productive learning environment?
  • Listen with respect. Try to understand what someone is saying before rushing to judgement.
  • Make comments using ‘I’ statements.
  • If you do not feel safe making a comment or asking a question, write the thought in your journal. You can share the idea with your teacher first and together come up with a safe way to share the idea.
  • If someone says an idea or question that helps your own learning, say thank you.
  • If someone says something that hurts or offends you, do not attack the person. Acknowledge that the comment – not the person – hurt your feelings and explain why.
  • Put-downs are never okay.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask a question.
  • Think with your head and your heart.
  • Share the talking time – provide room for others to speak.
  • Do not interrupt others while they are speaking.
  • Write thoughts in your journal if you don’t have time to say them during class.
  • Journal responses do not have to be shared publicly.
  • Then invite students to edit the list by deleting, revising, or adding to it so it reflects the norms they are committed to upholding together this year.

Another way to help students develop a contract is to have them envision what they would like to see happen in certain scenarios. Scenarios can be drawn from students’ own experiences. They might include situations such as:

  • When we have an idea or question we would like to share, we can. . .
  • When we don’t feel comfortable sharing an idea out loud, we can. . .
  • When someone says something that we appreciate, we can. . .
  • When someone says something that feels confusing, we can. . .
  • When someone says something that feels offensive, we can. . .
  • To make sure all students have the opportunity to participate in a small-group discussion, we can. . .
  • To make sure all students have the opportunity to participate in a whole-group discussion, we can. . .
  • If we read or watch something that makes us feel sad or angry, we can. . .
  • To show respect for the ideas of others, we can. . .

Materials and Downloads

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Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Most teachers are willing to tackle the difficult topics, but we need the tools.
— Gabriela Calderon-Espinal, Bay Shore, NY