All people want to feel safe. It's part of our fight or flight mode. So, it comes to no surprise that when one's intellect feels attacked, he/she growls like a tiger and pounces. Trust me, I've seen it. I never knew a 7th grader could punch so hard. And to think he got upset because another student tried to prove that Bigfoot does exist!
In 7th grade, Bigfoot is not something to mess with.
From day one, do your best to set up a classroom culture that cradles positivity and acceptance. This starts with empowering ice breakers and having students share a part of themselves that others can relate to.
Here are three activities teachers can use to set up an innovative and accepting class culture:
1. On day one, have students share what superhero power they would have by writing a paragraph that describes where that superpower would be used. This could be used as the anticipatory set to a lesson or as an ice-breaker to introduce each other. Make sure to have students look at each person as they speak, acknowledging their presence in the classroom.
2. On day two, have students write a letter to themselves in the future 10 years from now in a congratulatory way. Ask them to state one or two goals they have accomplished and write as if they were journalling to themselves. What was it like? What struggles did I overcome? What does it feel like that I accomplished my goal? What does my life look like now.
I've had seniors write "Dear Graduating Senior" which they then again read on the last day of classes. It's somewhat magical and tear-jerking. Bring tissues.
Ask students to then underline their favorite line from the free write and share this with the class.
It may help to mention that students should write "Beat-like" (a la Jack Kerouac style) and not worry about punctuation or grammar.
3. You are highly educated and so are your students. But, we all need reminders. So, here is me reminding you that you are brilliant (Tweet this!). Your turn to tell your students. What? You teach 7th-graders? Well, on a global level these students have learned more than the majority of children worldwide. Daunting, isn't it?
What do you think? Is Bigfoot real? How important is culture when setting up the classroom? What tricks have you learned?