How do the names people give us impact us? Some nicknames can be a sign that we are loved and recognized as unique, while the nicknames other people call us can be hurtful. The purpose of this writing activity is to provide a safe space for students to explore names from a friendly or loving perspective compared to those that are unkind. Writing personal poems modeled after the poetry of Latinx author David Bowels, students will reflect and write individually on the names given to them by family, friends, or bullies. Sharing the poems through digital response mechanisms or as spoken word/music creates an opportunity for students to engage in empathy. This process lays a foundation for establishing the classroom as a space for community to grow. What do we learn from each other that can help us be kinder to each other? What can we learn about empathy by learning about someone else's painful experiences? What can we then expect from or do for each other to eliminate painful name calling? The results are a powerful way of learning about the importance of names. This could be used as a first-of-the-year activity or in a multi-genre ELA unit for grades 6 through 12.
This activity was developed as a way to help English-dominant educators reflect on the classroom experiences of students who are English Learners (ELs). The activity pairs two participants together, then asks them to share specific information about themselves while placing specific, alphabetic restrictions on the words they communicate with. The mental and expressive challenges of thinking through the restrictive components in the moment simulates the think-time and translation-time English Learners require every moment of every day. When participants reflect on this experience and the challenge of having to express themselves with a restriction placed on the language itself, they are able to better understand the difference between a knowledge gap and a gap in language proficiency. Participants also gain empathy for students who are English Learners and understand the need to differentiate materials, lessons, and classroom and school protocols.
What are your fears? We all have them. The purpose of this activity is intended to illuminate our fears by creating a space in which to generate a culture of empathy and establish the classroom as a safe place to be vulnerable and cared for. Teacher and students (or facilitator and participants) reflect individually on the things they fear, express them collectively, and analyze them for those they have in common. This process lays a foundation for establishing the classroom as a space for community to grow. What do we learn from each other that can help us lessen or eliminate someone else's fears? What can we learn about empathy by learning about someone else's fears? What can we then expect from or do for each other to eliminate or lessen fears? Although this activity is simple, the results are a powerful way of learning about the otherwise unspoken needs of the classroom community. I often use this as an ice-breaker or warm-up before diving into norm setting activities. It is also useful as a first-day or first week of school activity for establishing student-teacher relationships.
How can we create authentic opportunities to check in with students during independent reading or reader's workshop without spoiling the joy of reading? This relatively simple to prepare task garnered one of the most comprehensive and meaningful book discussions I've ever engaged in with individual students.
The purpose of this activity is to provide a framework for students to write with greater autonomy to demonstrate comprehension of self-selected reading in a format that isn't constrained by a standardized questionnaire.
By taking the form of a letter to the teacher, the three components of the letter lend themselves to a student-led conversation and self-reflection about what they are currently reading. The letters would be ideal for sharing at parent-teacher conferences, curating a list of classroom favorites or student book recommendations, or as evidence of mastery toward reading goals over the course of the year.