Instructional Ideas

“Simple” Activity for Beginning a New Term

As the first week back in January always feels a bit sluggish, particularly with the seniors that I teach, I decided to try something new that I read about briefly on Twitter (thank you social media!).  Dave Stuart Jr. posted about an activity to do on the first day back after winter break that promised to be simple.  So, I read through it and was completely floored by how meaningful and apt it could be.  Mr. Stuart even scripted the lesson for me!  Winner! Here is the plan:

I deviated a bit because my students, being predominately of poverty and as aforementioned seniors, need the structures and routines I have set up for them like they need a coat on a cold day.  I decided to hang on to the one thing that we value most in my classroom — independent reading (even though I tried something new I found on Pinterest for reading responses, too!) — and incorporate the beginning of the lesson on day one.   I began class by writing the following prompt on the board (technology was malfunctioning, so no projector; figures:

If I were to jump into a time machine and travel 10 years into the future where you’re living the life you’d like to enjoy and have, what would you be doing?  Where would you be?  Think about your ideal relationships, work, and life outside of work.

This was only a slight variation of the plan Mr. Stuart outlined.  I started the timer app on my iPad and let them write for five minutes.  As the timer sounded, I kept on track with the plan by asking students to underline specific details in their responses.  If they were lacking, I prompted students to add some after giving a student written example that I observed as I was walking around while they were writing.  Once this was completed, I asked students to turn to a table mate, share for 30 seconds, which I timed with my cell phone while circulating, and switch to allow two people to share with another in one minute. Then, as the plan indicated, I asked for volunteers to share, which is not something I generally do to ensure fairness (I use a random name generator), allowing only 10 seconds to share.  I first modeled 10 seconds of my own writing, which I did along with them in each class period, so that they could decide how much they could reasonably share in that short time.  The students loved this because more people got to share and no one was forced to share personal details because his/her name got randomly picked.

Once this step was completed, I gave the students a bit of background on New Year’s resolutions and the god Janus before asking them if they made any, if they knew any adults that made any, and why we think its good to do so in America.  We discussed this for a few minutes, and then got into the reasons why people classically have trouble keeping their resolutions.

This is where it got real.

The students readily recognized that people don’t tend to have specific plans in place or support built in to reach their goals in general, much less for keeping annual resolutions.  They came up with this, not me!

So, we moved on to creating a version of SMART goals in a short time that I plan to follow up on in subsequent lessons.  I asked them to write a 1, 5, and 10 in their notebooks with space between the numbers.  Next to each number, I asked them to write a reasonable, attainable goal statement for something they’d like to do, have, or be by this time next year, five years from now, and ten years from today.  Then, they wrote one or two steps that are essential to complete in order to reach each goal.  This was my SMART goal for kids — it seemed to go over well in the short amount of time that I had to explain it.

Here are a few student samples of each part:

Part I: Free write with prompt


Part II: Goals

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