Thursday, 22 June 2017

Getting real about meanness

Over the last couple of weeks I had noticed a change in some of my students behaviour. There has been some unkind comments towards other classmates and bad sportsmanship happening. While this change in behaviour was in its beginning stages, I decided to do something about it ASAP before it got worse. Here is what happened!

Wordcloud of 'mean' words

Word cloud created on Tagul
I know my learners are awesome and good kids, so I wanted to shock them and make them reflect on their words and actions. First up, I displayed a word cloud on the SMART board.  I got them to have a long, hard look at the words. Then, I asked if any of the words could be used to describe themselves. A lot of them said yes. We talked about the fact that these were mean and negative words. Then I told them that I actually created the word cloud based on what I was seeing in the classroom. My students looked a mixture of shock and guilt. I asked them whether they felt proud of those words, obviously nobody was.  I also reinforced the point that I believed my students were good, kind kids and that it was important that they understood how their actions and words affect others.

Creating a not-so-pretty picture

Next up, we had a look at the mean things that were being said in our classroom. Sticky-notes and felts were handed out. I asked the class to write down all the 'mean' things that have been said about them. For this one instance, I allowed them to also record swears, except with asterisks instead. I understand that it may be controversial to do so, but I felt it was needed as I wanted to be real with the kids and I wanted them to see all the mean things on paper.

I was surprised by how open my students were when it came to writing and sharing their sticky notes. Some students were okay with putting their own up, while others preferred me to come around and take them. My whiteboard quickly filled up with sticky notes. It did not paint a pretty picture. Again, the students reflected on what was up on the whiteboard. I read most of them outloud, which shocked the class. Then I asked them to put their hand up if someone in our class had said some of the mean things to them. All but one student put their hand up.

Consequences of meanness

Next, we used AnswerGarden to answer the question How does it feel when people say mean things?  AnswerGarden was a great tool to use for this particular activity because we could see common thoughts/feelings the class feel as a result of meanness. Again, we talked a lot about the ideas shared on the sticky notes and the direct consequences they had on our classmates. I reiterated that sometimes people don't mean to hurt other people, but it is important to realise how words and actions can affect people. I also reminded them that I knew that they are better than this, and that knowing effect of words/actions will help them to make better choices.

Stepping up and taking action

Following all the heavy stuff, I wanted to turn the mood around. I chose to talk about being a bystander vs stepping up and looking out for our classmates. I chose to use this particular YouTube clip because it had a few powerful messages, as well as an array of famous people that the students would know. My class was able to take away the key messages that were in the clip. While they understood the power of their negative words, they also realised the power they had to help someone in need of a friend.

Lastly we used Mentimeter to so share our ideas about what we could do to ensure we are being kind. I decided to make a connection to my initial  'mean' wordcloud, by asking my learners to share how they want to be remembered/described. Next students came up with ideas in response to the question: What can you do to make sure you are being a kind person. The class came up with heaps of ideas (64 to be exact) and we had a discussion about most of them. The mood had changed and the class was positive. I could really tell that they were thinking carefully about what they could do to be a kind person. Lastsly, students shared their ideas about why it is important to be kind.  They used what they had learnt from the lesson to come up with some serious ideas. 

Summing it up

I was very pleased with how this lesson went because it did have the potential to go wrong.  My students showed maturity, empathy and understanding throughout the lesson. I was relieved that my class was open and willing to participate in the lesson.  I understand that it took courage to share the mean things being said, as well as how it affects them. But it also meant that the learning was more powerful, as everyone was serious and honest. Talking about mean words and the effect it has on people seemed to strike a chord with class.  It was important to use a lot of wait time, as I wanted to make sure my learners were thinking about the seriousness of our lesson. It was equally important for me to turn it around into positives, by reminding them that I knew they were good kids and that it was up to them to make it right.  


  1. This sounds like an incredible Health lesson Chelsea! You have addressed a real issue - bullying, and encouraged the students to reflect on their actions. I absolutely love the post it note activity, my jaw dropped seeing how many post-its are on the board. I would love to use this activity at some point! I also really like how you created the word cloud yourself - much more powerful than getting off Google. Sounds like the students have really had an awesome learning experience, and hopefully the bullying/mean comments reduce. Having simple ways to help reduce bullying as a bystander is awesome, have you thought about a further lesson on this, possibly focusing on cyberbullying as an extension? Absolutely adore this post, I wish I was there in real time!

    1. Thank you for your feedback Georgia! The number of post-it notes shocked me too, but it made it more powerful as it showed what is really happening in the classroom. It was much more powerful writing the word-cloud myself, you should have seen their faces when I told them that I created it to describe them! It would be awesome to see how this lesson would go in another classroom. I think it has made a big change in the classroom. Less meanness is happening and people are also standing up for others when a student says something unkind or unsupportive. Cyberbullying sounds like a perfect follow up lesson! We have looked into being cybersmart and being kind online was touched on. Thanks for the idea!


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