When I place students into their peer writing workshop groups of three, I always give them five minutes to answer a surprisingly difficult question. I tell them that this single question tests their ability to build rapport quickly, to find a deeper connection with one another, and to quickly sift through meaningful life events. I want them to connect personally before they launch into peer editing. It builds their investment into one another.
Here is my favorite question for these small groups:
“What is the most bizarre thing you all have in common?”
I set the timer for five minutes, and I’m amazed about the lively chatter and the depth of conversation. Students arrive to my classroom from all over the world, yet they find these beautiful connections. Over the past decade of teaching, I’ve seen groups connect over shared Halloween costumes, appendectomies, meeting the same celebrity, enduring the same humiliating lunchroom dropped tray experience in third grade, or arriving to college with a piece of jewelry given by a grandparent. I push them further to find even more unusual connections like leaving a sleepover due to homesickness or having the exact same corrective lenses.
I believe students feel less lonely, more connected, and more friendly after this single question. We laugh about the events of our lives: the travel, the injuries, the pets loved, and bizarrely shared dreams of falling or flying. You too? I thought it was just me!
We’re not so far apart from one another after all.