Take A Character Cruise
ship*This activity is an adaptation of a CEP Promising Practice award given to Bayless Elementary in St. Louis, MO. We thank them for the idea!
If you’d like a creative way to review school routines and responsibilities after a break, why not take your students on a Character Cruise? With your book buddies or in pairs within your class, grab a clipboard and set sail with the attached handout and a few crayons. As you cruise to the five ports of call on the itinerary, have students splash some color on the squares as they explain to their travel buddy what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like to be doing the behavior shown in each square. Encourage younger students to color it in an A/B pattern while older students can develop a fun, festive pattern of their own.

You’ll notice a few blank squares; brainstorm what other behaviors might be important at that spot and have students draw an additional picture. For a creative twist, post a tour guide at each stop to stamp the edges of their passport handouts. Upon returning to the classroom, post their completed sheets around the room (or on their desks) as a visual reminder of their responsibilities as they travel from their classroom and dock at these ports of call. From older students, find out what additional destinations they could add to their passports (like the library, the nature center, the computer lab) and have them add another column or two.

Taming The Testing Tiger

testingReady or not, here they come: Those state-mandated tests. We’ve been preparing our third graders since they arrived at Westwood for a two-day snapshot of what they know and what they can figure out in Reading and Math. As they progress through their school career, they’ll also be tested on Writing, Science, and Social Studies. Wow, that’s a LOT of testing. And for some students, that will translate into a LOT of stressing.

Of the many test-taking resources out there, I’ve found Tyler Tames The Testing Tiger by Janet Bender to be an effective tool to use with those students who are exhibiting fear or anxiety about the test. Tyler’s story is just so real. He shows up on test day and everything is changed around. The desks have been moved and things on the classroom walls have been covered up. Not only is the setting different but his teacher seems different, too, and Tyler starts to stress. His palms sweat, his face turns red, and his stomach turns with butterflies. What ever will he do? This treasure is full of coaching tips and strategies that help Tyler help himself through the testing jitters. Do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection.

Then click here to read a Really Good Stuff post about turning test taking into a genre and integrating it into your regular routine.

Responsibility Matters

cookIn the new Julia Cook book, The Worst Day of My Life Ever, RJ figures out the hard way that choices have consequences. After a series of problems caused by his mistakes, RJ learns the skill of listening and following directions from his mom. The book includes tips for teaching children how to listen, pay attention, and follow instructions and is tied to the social skills taught in the Boys Town Education Model.

With their brightly-colored illustrations, Julia’s books are always so engaging. I think you’ll have fun reading this one aloud, but make sure to pause periodically to allow students to reflect with RJ about what he could have controlled before the consequences occurred. How did the gum get into his hair? Why did he get a zero on his math homework? What could he have done differently to avoid losing time at recess? What went wrong at the soccer game and in the kitchen? Encourage students to talk about a time when they made a bad choice and had to suffer some unpleasant consequences. What did they change so it didn’t happen again and how did that feel?

Staying In Control

chickenThe responsibility pillar asks us to use self-control, something that the impetuous young chick in Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, just can’t do.

It’s time for a tuck-in and Papa is trying to read little chicken a bedtime story, but it isn’t going well. As soon as the story begins, the young chicken interrupts to hilariously insert herself into the story and prevent trouble. Chicken has a heart for trying to help the characters in the story and she cannot be contained!

Her interrupting spoils three classic tales (The Chicken Little scene is my favorite!) when an exhausted Papa asks his little darling to craft her own tale. The tables turn and Papa interrupts chicken’s story with a loud snore.

This book is not your typical Books-That-Teach recommendation from me, but it is laugh-out-loud funny and it completely captured my creative side. Use it to get your students thinking and writing about the consequences of not staying in control and the benefits of showing self-control. Then put on the Chicken Dance music and shake your feathers.

Decisions, Decisions
decisionsI vividly remember my student teaching experience. My mentor’s name was Mark, a high school English teacher, at Madison Memorial. He was really good at turning over control and giving me his classes, which worked perfectly for an eager teacher-in-training like me. And I’ll never forget his words about navigating through my day. He said, “As a teacher, you’ll be faced with countless decisions every day, some as small as “May I go to the bathroom?” others medium like “How do I help a student who won’t do his work?” and big ones like, “How do I handle an aggressive or violent student?’ His advice to me: Sharpen your decision-making saw.

I didn’t have a great way to teach our little learners how to make decisions until this idea took root at the Missouri Counselors’ Conference last fall. It germinated all year long before sprouting into an interactive decision-making lesson. Start by making a poster like the one pictured. I used velcro underneath the symbols so that students could use them as tangibles. I used stop-light colors, then purple for the decision. Leave the four steps off of the poster and ask students, “How do you make a decision?” Be ready for all sorts of answers; I used to have a friend who would flip a coin and let chance decide for him. Then show students the four pieces and get student volunteers to come up to the poster. Ask what they think each symbol might mean and find out what order we might put them in.

Then teach the “chant” on the poster goes like this:

When I’ve got a decision that I need to make, I’ve got to STOP (clap, clap) then LOOK (clap, clap) then THINK (clap, clap) then DECIDE!

For STOP, have students put their hand out. This is the first step, taking a little time to make an informed decision. For look, students make “respectacles” with their thumb and pointer finger to put around their eyes to signify looking at all of the options. For think, students point to their brains to show us thinking about the consequences of each choice, and for decide, students put a right fist into the palm of their left hand to make a gavel. This would be a great place to talk about the role of a judge and the significance of his gavel.

Now it’s time to practice our formula. Ask students what are some things they have to decide about during a day. Create a few authentic scenarios in case you need them: Your friend tells you to copy his homework because you forgot to do yours. You find an empty medicine bottle on the ground. You offer to take care of your neighbor’s dog but then you get invited to go somewhere. Someone offers you drugs. Role play these using the four-step model.

Have fun traveling through the formula and helping students practice how to make solid decisions. Then, for follow-up fun and to compare informed-decisions with chance, you could play paper, rock, scissors and share the book: The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear by David Bruins and Hilary Leung.

Is It A Want or A Need?
hardtimesThe Hard-Times Jar by Ethel Footman Smothers jam packs a lot of layers into one tale, but it’s this sort of book that makes for a fabulous responsibilty lesson. A migrant worker’s daughter, Emma Turner loves books and dreams of one day having the store-bought kind, but at the Turner’s house, money is tight. That means “no extras,” so Emma must be content to make her own stories and books. Emma has a plan, though; she’s going to save all the money she earns picking apples and put it in Mama’s hard-times jar. Then there will surely be enough for extras. But when Mama tells Emma that this year she has to go to school instead of to work, it spoils her plan. How will Emma respond when she sees all of the amazing books in the school’s library?

Explain to your students that responsiblity literally means, “the ability to respond.” Ask them to find spots in the book to which Emma has to respond. Find out how well they think she does at taking responsibility, or responding, sppropriately. How does Emma respond to her family’s situation that allows for “no extras?” How does Emma respond to having to work by picking apples? How does she respond when she has to go to school instead of work? How does Emma respond when she lands in a school where she’s a minority? How does she respond to the books in her new school’s library? How does Emma respond when Mama uncovers the books at her house? Was Emma stealing or just borrowing the books? Should she be punished? Why or why not?

Discuss the difference between a “want” and a “need.” Find out who teaches your students fiscal responsibility. Make a T-chart with their desires listed as either “wants” or “needs” and find out who helps them decide. Talk with them about allowance and chores. Ask if any of them has a hard-times jar at their house and find out how it’s used. At our house, we have a Christmas Jar that holds our spare change. When it fills up, we pick a charity to donate it to. Have students journal about what they would do with the money from such a jar.

What’s At Stake?
activitiesWhen we talk with our students about responsibility, we make sure to talk about stakeholders. I do this by posing the question, “Who will care?” Who will care if they’re late for school? Who will care if they don’t recycle? Who will care if they don’t do their homework? Who will care if they don’t let their dog in at night? That’s where the book Character Education Activities for K-6 Classrooms by Sandra Peyser and Miriam McLaughlin comes in. In this little gem, the authors give some great suggestions for activites that will help infuse character into the classroom.

My favorite is The Story About Puffy. Without giving too much away, a boy forgets to let his dog, Puffy, in at night and chaos follows when Puffy leaves the front porch in search of a safe place to spend the night. The authors suggest cutting the written story up and having your students put it back in order, which is a great idea, especially for your visual learners. I’ve read it aloud in guidance to illustrate the stakeholders in that one child’s choice. As students to retell the story and stand as they remember a stakeholder, someone who was affected because the boy didn’t let his dog in. We can pretty much have an entire class standing before we retell the story from beginning to end. One stands for the boy, on stands for the dog, one stands for the first family that the dog disturbs, another stands for the cat that the dog chases up the tree, yet another to represent the fire truck driver who comes to get the cat down, and so on and so on.

If you want an authentic follow up, have students stand to represent the stakeholders affected with a real-life scenario: Who will care if you promise to give your friend a ride to Skate Night but you forget? Who will care if you are late to a basketball game? Who will care if you don’t play by the rules at recess? This easy activity packs a powerful punch to show your students what’s at stake when they do – or don’t – take responsibility.

Keep On Keeping On
leo_largeLeo the Lightning Bug by Eric Drachman is the endearing, sweet tale of Leo, a lighting bug who struggles to find success at making himself light up. He feels very silly and embarrassed as he tries, and his friends aren’t making it easy as they tease him about his inadequacies. With practice he succeeds, and he manages to laugh with his friends about what happened.

The theme of the adorable book is about building self-confidence and doing whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. Little Leo shows great perseverance as he learns to shine his light. I envision reading this book aloud using a flashlight. After reading it, ask your students to talk about a time when something was difficult for them, but they persevered through tough times to learn a skill, overcome a fear, or master a concept. Why did Leo’s mom give him a lion’s name? This might be an interesting springboard for a name study; do your kids know what their names mean? You can also integrate this book into a science lesson when you’re studying insects or bugs. Throw in some language and ask what it means when you turn the noun bug into a verb.

Leo’s story encourages children not to give up, even if they have to keep trying and trying. Another lesson in this little light is that anger is not the way to respond when you’re frustrated. This would be the perfect time to integrate some anger-management techniques. My favorite is square breathing. Have students draw the four legs of a square with their pointer finger as they breathe in deeply for four counts, hold it for four counts, breathe out deeply for four counts, and hold it for four more counts. have them try four square breaths in a row and find out how they feel. Then ask: When Leo has the chance to make fun of Lester, even though Lester has been part of a group that teased him, why doesn’t he do it?