Sunday, July 29, 2012

Special Guest Post & New Monthly Feature You Don't Want to Miss!

I am beyond excited to announce a new monthly feature here on Making It As A Middle School Teacher!  Barbara of The Corner On Character and I have e-mailed several times and I just felt like we shared many of the same values and viewpoints on education and children in general.  I asked her to become my very first contributor here on my blog and she graciously accepted!  Please welcome her and her fabulous ideas as she makes her debut today. She'll be back on the last Sunday of each month with many great things to share with us!

Be sure to check out her blog after you read her post here.

May I Have A Connection, Please? by Barbara Gruener

Thank you, Michelle, for inviting me to be a part of your cheery, upbeat blog. As you know, what you focus on, you get more of, so I always appreciate stopping by your sunshine-yellow spot for a shot of your optimism and creativity. I am so glad that we have connected.

Kids crave connection. Let's be honest; so do adults! It's actually a basic human need, also known as belonging or love, in the middle of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. From Maslow's research, we know that basic needs must be met before the higher-level growth needs can be attained. Just as we must eat and drink, we must also connect. Think of it this way: 

Sounds like we can't survive, much less thrive, without it. Try these back-to-school activities to help kids (or staff!) connect:

1.  That's Me! Pair students up randomly. Have one partner tell the other something about him or herself. If it were me, I'd say, "I grew up on a farm." My partner listens, then responds with either, "That's Me!" or "That's Not Me." If that's me, we can share our experiences with one another. If that's not me, I might still make a connection if I can, something like, "but my grandpa had a farm and we used to visit there every summer." or ask a question about what it was like being in a farm family. Have students take turns telling each other stuff and responding before switching partners and repeating the process with someone new. This powerful activity gives students a chance not only to talk about themselves (which they love) but also to learn new stuff about and connect with their class families.

2.  Power Line. This human graphing activity is designed to get your students talking and learning about one another as a whole group. Students will organize themselves in rank order from dislike to love on a continuum, discussing amongst themselves to make sure that they're really standing in the right place in line. Start with something easy, like asparagus. If students love asparagus, they go to the designated love end of the line. If they could take it or leave it, they're somewhere in the middle. If they can't stand it, they're at the dislike end of the line. Once movement has stopped and the line is set, let a few students to talk about where they are in line and why. Maybe it's the smell; maybe they have a memory about the slimy stuff. Allow for movement if opinions change or someone feels they're in the wrong spot after explanations are voiced. Now switch topics. Try thunderstorms or snakes or WWE (you know, that wrestling madness). See where students stand. At the end of the activity, ask students to reflect.  Were they always standing by the same person? Why not? Help them realize that it's because we all bring different experiences to the class. We tried the WWE prompt with a sixth-grade class once and all the kids clustered down at the dislike end except for one, a boy who was as far to the love end as you could get. The kids were kind of getting on to him with "that's fake" and "that's bogus" but after he told us it was because it was the only thing that he and his dad ever got to do together, we understood him a whole lot better. Yep, this activity is tops because it gets students moving, thinking, talking, and getting to know one another. Use it all year long as different things come up. Studying the Civil War? Have one end represent the North and the other be the South and find out where kids would have stood had they been there. The possibilities are endless.

3. Who Am I? Start out by asking your students to pick a sparkle word that starts with the same sound as their name and accurately describes them (ie. Caring Kaitlyn, Joyful Janet, Mighty Mark, Trusting Todd). This activity involves shaking hands (the perfect opportunity to teach how to make a firm handshake complete with eye contact!) and trading identities. The goal will be to get your identity back and have tons of fun in the process. When the game begins, I reach out for Michelle's hand and say, "Hi, I'm Bubbly Barbara." As we're shaking hands, she responds, "I'm Marvelous Michelle." With that handshake, we've traded names so now I'm Marvelous Michelle and she's Bubbly Barbara as we head out to meet the rest of our classmates. I keep playing until I shake hands with someone who says, "Hi, I'm Bubbly Barbara." and gives me my identity back. To debrief, circle up and find out how it felt to be someone else, to have to keep track of who you were, and to hear the descriptive adjectives that people used. Then introduce yourselves for real so that students can put a name to a face. Play it again every time you get a new student.

Happy connecting! For more character-infusion inspiration, come on by The Corner on Character any time!


  1. Barbara, I absolutely love the ideas you shared in this post!

    Thank you so much for joining me as a monthly contributor. I can't wait to see all the wonderful things you have for us!


    1. YaY - thank YOU Michelle for letting me share with you and your readers. Such an honor to be your first guest contributor!


  2. Wonderful post! I love the "Who Am I?" part.

    And I love the quote about the connection to the heart is like water to the body!

    ~ Trustworthy Tanja

    Journey of a Substitute Teacher

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