To The Teacher:
The start of the school year can be a mixed bag of emotions for educators and students alike.
A teacher colleague recently surveyed her incoming freshmen to learn about some of the concerns they were carrying into their start at a new school. On the top of the list were worries about not knowing anyone, fitting into the school environment, and making friends.
While students also expressed worry about the new workload and their academic performance, many were thinking about how they are seen, who they will be interacting with, and what relationships will develop along the way.
As Morningside’s work demonstrates, having a strong sense of community and belonging at school can create a solid foundation to grow from – personally, academically, and socially.
This three-part series of activities for middle or high school students is designed to take place at the beginning, middle, and end of your year or semester – ideally with a class you will see for at least the first half of the school year.
In Part 1, in the first few weeks of school, students get to know each other, share their start-of-school jitters, and consider how they can support each other throughout the year. Students then store their findings in a “time capsule” that they will reopen twice more during the semester or year.
In Part 2, several weeks or months later, students reopen their time capsules, gauge how much these start-of-school jitters remain as the semester unfolds, and again consider how to support each other.
In Part 3, at the end of the year or semester, students return to the time capsule, reflect on their year, and then write messages of support or guidance for a time capsule to be shared with the students who come after them in the next semester or year.
PART ONE (first weeks of school):
Getting to Know Each Other & Sharing Concerns
- Handout: Find Someone Who Worksheet
- Index Cards
- Markers or colored pencils
- Container (a box or other vessel) to store index cards
Find Someone Who
First, invite students to get to know one another better by playing “Find Someone Who.”
- Tell students that they are going to play a game to find out things they might not know about each other. They will have a few minutes to fill out a survey sheet.
- Distribute the Find Someone Who survey sheets below (or use this handout). Explain that students are to walk around the room and find people who have the characteristics described on their sheet. When they find someone, they write the name in the blank provided.
- Ask them to find as many different people as possible, using each person's name only once.
- If they do not know someone’s name, they should ask the person their name. Getting to know each others’ names is also part of the game.
- Where appropriate, ask for more details. (For example, if Yvette has a pet, ask her what pet she has.)
- Begin the game. Continue until several students complete the worksheet. This will probably take about 5-10 minutes.
- Ask students to return to their seats. Ask a few students who completed the entire survey to go down the list, saying who they found for each item and acknowledging that person.
Thank students for taking a step towards building community. Let them know that the more they understand and are open to sharing about themselves, the better they’ll be able to understand others – ultimately celebrating similarities and differences in each other.
Next, have students sit in groups of three or four. Ask them to take turns answering the following three questions (10-15 minutes). They should pose one question at a time and give each student in turn a chance to respond before moving on to the next question:
- What did you notice about yourself and others during this game?
- Did you learn anything new about someone? How did that feel?
- If you were making up a question for this worksheet, what is one thing you'd like to ask?
Ask students to thank their groups and return to their seats.
Challenges & Concerns About the Year Ahead
- Distribute an index card to each student.
- Ask them to think about a concern they are coming into this school year with. What are they perceiving to be a challenge? What are they worried about?
- Once they have thought about their answer, they can write it on one side of the index card. Make sure to let them know that what they write will be anonymous. They should not write their name on their card.
- Explain that these cards will be stored away and taken out in the near future – they will be used as a way to check on our progress toward overcoming these concerns.
Gather the cards. Shuffle them and redistribute them. (If someone receives their own card, it’s okay, since no one knows they wrote it.)
- Tuning into the senses: Ask students to tune into sound as an indicator of agreement. Ask them to stomp their feet if what is being shared resonates with them.
- Now ask each student to read out loud what the concern on the card is. While each student reads, everyone should be actively listening, and responding (or not) by stomping their feet. Read all of the cards.
- Gather all of the cards.
- Remind students that you will be coming back to these in the near future. For now they will be kept in a time capsule. Put them in the box or other container you have chosen.
- How did it feel to hear a concern that you can relate to – even if you didn’t share it as your concern?
- How does it feel to know that many of you share the same concerns?
- How can you actively address any of the concerns shared today?
Thank students for being open to getting to know each other and sharing their concerns.
WORKSHEET: Find Someone Who
Find someone who:
Name: ___________________________ ...is wearing the same color as you.
Name: ___________________________ ... has an older brother or sister.
Name: ___________________________ ...is wearing jewelry.
Name: ___________________________ ...has visited another state.
Name: ___________________________ ...has a pet.
Name: ___________________________ ...has a birthday the same month as you.
Name: ___________________________ ...is the oldest in his or her family.
Name: ___________________________ ...saw the same movie that you saw recently.
Name: ___________________________ ...plays a musical instrument.
Name: ___________________________ ...has lived in another town/city for a year+
Name: ___________________________ ...speaks a language other than English.
Name: ___________________________ ...cooked a meal recently.
PART 2 (midway through the semester or year):
Reopening the Time Capsule
Time this part of the activity to happen about halfway through your semester or year.
Reopen Time Capsule & Review
Remind students that at the beginning of the year, they shared some of the concerns they were coming into the school year with. Explain that we’ll now look back at those concerns and assess how we are doing with these concerns now.
- Open the time capsule and distribute the cards, one per student.
- Have each student draw 3 columns on the back of the card they received, labeled: yes, maybe, and no.
- Once everyone has drawn the columns, have them respond to the concern that is written on their card by adding a a tally mark under the appropriate column. Does this concern (still) resonate with them? Ask them to add a 1 in either the Yes, Maybe, or No column.
- Once they have answered, have the students pass the card along to the person behind them or next to them.
- Continue doing this until all the cards have been passed around and responded to by all students.
- Gather the cards and go through each concern. For each card, share the answer that has the highest tally (either the yes, maybe, or no column).
Ask students to to share their reflections on some of all of the questions below, based on what feels appropriate for your group.
- What do you notice from these responses?
- Has anything shifted from when you first shared these concerns?
- How does it feel to revisit these concerns?
- What have you been actively doing to address any of these concerns?
Thank students for their participation. Let them know that you will be revisiting these cards one more time in the near future. Store the cards in the time capsule.
PART 3 (end of semester or year):
Reflection & Sharing Your Wisdom
At the end of your time together with this particular class, open up the time capsule one more time. Tell students that they’ll not only reflect again on these cards, but also have a chance to offer some of the wisdom they’ve gained over the semester or year to help the next incoming group of students deal with their start-of-school jitters.
Small Group Discussion
- Distribute the cards, one per student.
- Have students get into groups of 3 or 4.
- Ask each student to share the concern on their card with their group. They will do this with all of the cards, having everyone share. For each concern shared in their group, ask students to discuss:
- Is this concern still relevant to you? If so, how?
- Is it less of a concern to you than it was at the start of the school year? If so, why do you think that is?
- What did you do as an individual or with others (perhaps including in this class) to ease any of the worries the class has discussed over the semester or year?
Sharing Our Wisdom
Back in the whole group, invite students to share high points or insights they got from their small groups (without mentioning any personal details others shared in their small group).
Next, tell students that some research has shown that having senior students share their strategies and learnings for dealing with worries and stresses with younger incoming students helps those younger students feel supported and do better throughout the year – and beyond.
The support and advice they offer may be very helpful for the next group of students coming in.
- Distribute new (ruled) index cards, one per student.
- Have students think about what advice they would like to give incoming students to address the concern on the previous card they received (and only that concern). If they feel they cannot speak to that particular concern, students can swap cards with each other upon request.
- In particular, have students consider what they did that helped ease their worries (if in fact their worries were eased). For instance, did they reach out to others – students or adults – for support?
- Once they have thought about it, ask them to write their advice on the new index card.
Making a Card of Support
- Once the advice is written, have students tape one edge of the new index card to the old index card, creating a four-sided card that can be opened. The blank side of the new index card should be the front of the card. The card with the three columns should be the back of the card.
- Have students design a cover for their card. They can use words, images, or a combination.
- Have a few students share their advice out loud.
- Pass the cards around for everyone to see.
- Once everyone has seen, gather the cards and put them back in the time capsule for next year’s incoming freshmen.
- Thank students for sharing their advice and creativity with incoming students who may be feeling anxious and worried next year.
Ask students to share one wish they have for the students who are coming in next year.
Have students share their IFETs on this activity.