Amy Lauren Smith

A Creative Way to Teach Healthy Hygiene Habits

Editor's note: In the classroom, when one student get sick, it seems like they all follow. How can you encourage healthy habits? This fun activity from Choices teacher advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th-8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--presents a great way to get teens involved in staying healthy, which serves as a companion to our January article, Sick Season Survival Guide.

Last winter, my school had a bad case of the flu going around, and even with my super-strengthened teacher immune system, I still managed to get hit. Kids were dropping like flies, and the nurse told me the experience felt like a zombie apocalypse.

I realized I needed to beef up my hygiene lessons with the kids. We do a unit in sixth grade, but the focus is mainly on hygiene needs during and after puberty--deodorant, pimples, oily hair. We needed to go back to the basics, like remembering to always wash your hands. Since it's a message that's been told a million times, I wanted a fresh approach. Inspired by some mysterious signs I had seen in the bathroom ("Wash your hands, dude. It's gross if you don't."), I decided to have my students continue the campaign on their own.

Want to join in the fun? Here's exactly what I did:

1. Review the basics.
Kids know they need to wash their hands, cough into their elbow, and avoid sharing water bottles--but that doesn't mean they couldn't use a reminder. I split them into groups of two and gave them ten minutes to find as much information as they could about protecting themselves from germs. After that initial blitz, they had to narrow it down to one tip they wanted to focus on.

2. Create a catchy slogan.
The sign in the bathroom stood out because it was humorous and perfectly geared for a middle school audience. A sign that simply says, "Wash your hands" wouldn't resonate nearly as much with a 12-year-old, but something about putting it in tween-friendly language makes the message stick that much more. I told the students that it didn't need to be long and it didn't need to be complicated, but it did need to make people smile and feel like they were in on the joke.

3. Make a sign or a poster.
The beauty of this quick formative assessment is that it gives the kids a chance to practice their research and their advocacy skills, and doesn't require more than one class to complete. It also has the power to make an impact on the health of the school community. Some kids might choose to use graphics or pictures, but even just plain text will do. Regardless of their graphic design skills, all students have the opportunity to knock this one out of the park.

4. Find the right spot to hang it up.
Whether it's next to the bathroom sink, by the water dispenser, or on the back of the bathroom stall door, place your messages where people need to see them the most.  After all, a big part of advocacy is knowing where to place your message so that you can reach your target audience.

For more information on teen hygeine, be sure to check out our Sick Season Survival Guide in the January issue of Choices, as well as the ADVOCACY IN ACTION idea on page T6 of the January Teacher's Guide--which will help guide you in a similar activity!

No Comments
All comments are moderated before publishing.