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Life Skills: Why We Need to Teach Teens About Manners

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor’s note: In this month’s character-building feature story, The Modern Manners Survival Guide, we tackle the importance of proper etiquette every day, in a relevant, unfussy way. This anecdote and discussion activity from Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month—will help your students incorporate manners naturally.


Last week, I chaperoned the middle school dance where I teach. We called it a "social" rather than a dance to avoid terrifying the 6th graders, and we offered plenty of options for kids who didn’t feel like dancing. There was a ping-pong table set up in the adjacent room, as well as snacks and tables for kids who felt like socializing with their friends without having to shout over the loud music.


Unfortunately, there was very little socializing going on. A large group of 8th graders were all sitting together, but every single one of them had their head in their phones. I pointed out that this was something they could do at home, and that we put on this event so they can actually hang out together, in person. One of the boys looked up at me and said, “Well, everyone else was on their phones, so I had nobody to socialize with.”


He had a valid point, and I could certainly relate. We’ve all been in that situation, with friends, family, or colleagues, awkwardly staring at the top of people’s heads, realizing that nobody is listening to anything you said. As adults, we know that ignoring someone is not good manners, yet we do it to each other all of the time. And if we’re doing it, how are kids and teens supposed to know any better?


I needed to come up with a solution, so I thought about the “phone-stacking game,” made famous in California’s Silicon Valley. In this dinner-table game, everyone puts their phones in the middle of the table at a restaurant, and the first one to break down and check their phone has to pay the bill. Since my 8th grade friends were getting all the free pizza they wanted, we needed to come up with a different form of punishment.


They put their heads together for a minute and decided the first person to check their phone would have to stand in the middle of the room, belting out a Christmas carol in front of all 100 peers in the loudest voice possible.


Turns out, the risk of humiliation is just as good as actual currency in the world of middle school. They lasted almost an hourlaughing, chatting, arm wrestling, and just being your typical boisterous 13-year-oldsuntil I finally heard “Deck the Halls” being shouted out, terribly off key.


The experience was fun and the kids got a chance to realize how much their phoneswhile amazing tools for socializing—can get in the way of actually connecting with others. When I asked them about it the next week in class, I wondered how many of them have time at home without any phones, like device-free dinners. Turns out quite a few of them do, but the rule just applies to them, and not to their parents.


The problem with that hypocrisy is that we’re expecting teens to just know how to act, without giving them the tools or acting as role models for good etiquette. Adults often lament about teens and phones, but we’re just as guilty of rude behavior. We break up over text, gossip on social media, or just ‘ghost’ on people altogether. Unless we teach kids about having good manners, these problems are only going to get worse.


I’m not saying we need to go back to the days of stiff etiquette classes, but some lessons on manners are neededfor kids, teens, and maybe the rest of us too.


Try reading The Modern Manners Survival Guide from our January 2018 issue, then discuss it as a class. For something fun to add to the mix, be sure to check out these videos with Will Ferrell on device-free dinners, from


And be sure to click on the image below to try the "Cellphone Etiquette Cheat Sheet" skills sheet, to help students brainstorm modern cellphone etiquette. 




Communication Activity: Why Teens Need to Practice Having Difficult Conversations

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor’s note: Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month.


Eighth graders have always had a difficult time with difficult conversations. At their age, conflict is common, but they lack the skills and experience needed to resolve it in a healthy and constructive way. That’s why communication is such an important part of any health curriculum. So many of the negative behaviors we see in middle school—exclusion, gossip, even physical altercations—are the result of young teens not fully knowing how to express themselves yet.


As part of our class, we’ve traditionally had the students learn about communication and then practice their skills by performing “Difficult Conversation Skits.” We ask the students to brainstorm several common conflicts or difficult conversations that can happen in eighth grade, and then they set about to write a script and perform an effective way of handling it.


Something was different this year, though. When I asked the students to brainstorm some common scenarios, they weren’t able to come up with nearly as many. In fact, it was almost like pulling teeth. When I brought up ideas and examples from the past, many of them looked at me like I was nuts and responded with, “Why wouldn’t you just send a message instead?”


That’s why this month’s Choices article, How to Talk to Anyone, is such an important read. Today’s teens have never experienced a world where texting wasn’t an option, so to them, conflict and awkward situations are easily avoided. The trouble with this, of course, is that when they are put in a situation that requires face-to-face interaction, they can freeze up and forget what to do.


After the initial period of discussion, we settled on the scenarios from the article to use for our skits. These were situations in which the author pointed out when it wouldn’t be OK to send a text—breaking up, having an argument, asking for a big favor, letting someone know you’re angry, or saying I love you for the first time. 


The students begged me to let them veto the “I love you” skit for fear of mortifying embarrassment, so they came up with talking to a teacher about a grade—a situation where a text definitely won’t do. The skits took longer this semester than they have in the past, and I suppose that’s a trend we’ll continue to see. Even the process of having small talk with their partners to get started took longer than usual—obviously more for some groups than others—which reinforced the need for what we were going to do. 


After the process, I asked the kids to reflect on their skits and what they learned through practicing their skills. 


Here’s what they had to say:


I was surprised at how easy it was to start the conversation once I remembered the communication skills we learned, like using “I statements.” They still don’t work on my little brother though.


I had to apologize to my mom the other day for something I forgot to do. She was super mad so I tried to avoid it. But then I remembered some of the stuff from the article and the skit that the other group performed in class. My mom was still mad at me, but things got chill a lot more quickly than they usually do.


I kind of like this whole talking face-to-face thing. I think I’m going to try it more often.


To help your students practice their IRL skills, have them read the article and then use the skills sheet below to help them plan their skits.

Digital Footprint: Guiding Teens to Cultivate a Positive Online Presence

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor’s note: Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month.


Earlier this school year, one of the world’s most popular YouTubers, PewDiePie, got quite a bit of attention in the press for using racist language online. While many adults might not be familiar with his work—he live-streams himself playing video games—the majority of teenagers are. With over 57 million subscribers, he is the most popular performer in what has quickly become one of the most popular sources of entertainment for teens.


This isn’t the first time he’s found himself in hot water for putting hateful content online. Earlier this year, he lost his contract with Disney after it was discovered that he had shared anti-Semitic content on his YouTube channel. With an overwhelmingly large amount of young subscribers, people are rightfully concerned about the messages he’s getting across.


My students had much to say about the situation, with some swearing they would no longer follow him anymore, and some not understanding what the big deal was. It led to some rich discussions about the importance of language and how you need to be aware of how your words and actions can offend, even if that wasn’t your intention.


This month’s issue of Choices has a well-timed article to help support and continue these discussions. In Will Your Posts Come Back to Haunt You?, teens are reminded how easy it is to leave behind a trail of questionable content when you’re online, and how important it is to be mindful of what you post and like.


Before reading the article, I posed the following question to my students to reflect on in their journal:


What is a reputation, and how can your digital life impact yours?


Many of them thought reputation equaled fame and that reputation was based mainly on how many followers you had. After reading the article, they realized how far their digital footprints could reach beyond their core group of friends. Many of them got a panicked look on their faces while reading the stories in the article, and were eager to begin checking on their digital footprints right away.


Before we got started on the clean-up activity, I reminded them that they have the opportunity, as 8th graders, to almost start from scratch and begin mindfully cultivating a positive presence online. The later they start to pay attention to what they’re putting out there, the more difficult it is to protect your reputation.


Upon searching, many were surprised to see pictures they had liked popping up in Google Images, and one of my students was mortified when I was looking with him and something racist and offensive popped up. He explained to me that he didn’t like the content, but he always liked what his friends posted regardless.


I asked him how it felt to have me see that and how it might impact my opinion of him. He was remorseful, and said he understood why people were upset with PewDiePie. Whether you mean to be offensive or not isn’t the point. The point is being proud of what you put out there. Because all of the excuses and explanations just aren’t enough to undo the damage that’s been done. I reassured him that I believed him and understand it’s tough at his age to be mindful of everything he does online, but it’s a good thing he discovered it now. He agreed and told me he had more cleaning up to do.


Use the prompts on the Clean Up Your Digital Footprint activity sheet below to guide your students through the same activity.



Photo credit: asiseeit/iStockphoto

Middle School Health: How Parents Can Help Kids Make Better Choices

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor’s note: Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith is a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teachers Guide each month.


Last week, my principal had a great idea. Rather than scramble to help parents deal with issues as they pop up throughout the year, he decided we should take a preventative approach. Our student health program has always followed that model, but parents are often left to navigate this new world of middle school on their own.

So we had a mandatory parent night. All of the students were required to come and bring at least one parent to rotate through three workshops—one on balanced technology use, one on managing academic pressure, and one on making healthy choices (taught by me and a counselor).

Since I teach students in grades six through eight, I enlisted the help of my eighth graders—seasoned middle school vets that they are—and asked what they wish they would have known when starting sixth grade and how their parents could have given them extra support. Their thoughtful responses can offer some insight for parents who might need some tips.


 Issue #1: Sleep and Time Management 


What the kids had to say:

“When I was a sixth grader, I would sleep really late, thinking I was cool because I was staying up late gaming or texting. I think that a strategy for parents is to take technology out of the room when it's bedtime. However, I think you should eventually give technology back as they grow older and explain to them why you shouldn't stay up all night.”


What parents can do to help:

  •  Set healthy boundaries. (A tech curfew can help!)
  • Have kids charge their devices outside of their room at night.
  • Give them a little free time. Try the 45/15 rule: Kids work on things from their "have to do" list for 45 minutes and then take a 15 minute break to relax and do whatever they want.


 Issue #2: Friend Drama and Social Changes 


What the kids had to say:

“When entering middle school, you get a new look at everyone. It's like you snap out of the trance and realize how 'uncool' you are. You start to do stupid stuff to try and become popular/liked but it only makes you look worse. Sometimes it gets you in trouble with the teachers, and other times your peers get mad or annoyed at you and leave. I wish my parents could've not pestered me about my social life all the time, as it made me more aware about how disappointing it was and made me feel even worse.”


What parents can do to help:

  • Model good friend behaviors. Avoid gossip and be inclusive!
  • Help your teen explore and develop new friendships, but don’t put too much pressure on them.
  • Expect friendships to change and to go through some challenges. This is normal, natural, and necessary.
  • When issues arise, try to listen, stay calm, help your teen process the situation, and help find solutions.


 Issue 3: Body Changes and Healthy Choices 


What the kids had to say:

“I struggled with my parents comparing me to my older siblings and my friends too much. They expect me to be as intelligent/tall/thin as them, but I wish they would have known that sometimes people have different strengths, and during middle school, we all grow at different rates. How fast I grow isn’t something I can control, so it’s always super frustrating to hear about it.”


What parents can do to help:

  • Understand that puberty doesn't affect everyone in the same way.
  • Make healthy choices at home and send nutritious snacks to school.
  • Encourage play and physical activity.
  • Model positive body image and a healthy relationship with food.


 Issue 4: Stress and Overscheduling 


What the kids say:

I struggled with stress and overscheduling the most as a sixth grader because of how busy I was and all the things that I had to remember to do. I was often stressing out because of homework and tutors and extra classes that I had to take. I wish I could have known to manage my time better but also have had more time to play outside.”


What parents can do to help:

  • Help your teen manage their time and plan a realistic week. Ask questions and work together to set goals.
  • Encourage them to make choices that include their passions and give them opportunities to grow and explore.
  • Respect their needs and differences. Check in regularly to adjust their schedules if necessary.


Making the shift from elementary to middle school can be exciting and scary at the same time. With increased freedom and a longing for independence, young teens are still learning how to control their impulses and make good decisions on their own—but it's still crucial that they have the support of their parents along the way!




Nutrition: This Fun Research Project Will Help Your Class Tackle Dietary Guidelines

Editor's Note: Our October feature, How Do You Say "Yum" Around the World?will encourage students to carefully examine their food choices and habits. Use this engaging activity from Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith to expand on international nutrition rules while you're at it!


About four years ago, the American international school I work at in Shanghai, China, switched cafeteria providers. After several years of working with Eurest—a huge multinational food service company—we switched to Sodexo, an even bigger one. The switch came rather abruptly and was frustrating for us health teachers, as we had been working with the Eurest staff over the years to adapt their menu to provide our kids with consistently healthy choices. 

While the new Sodexo staff were more than willing to work with us, it felt like we would need to start all over again. And with Chinese chefs working for a French company in an American school, things were inevitably going to get complicated.

When we approached their manager about healthy food options, we wanted to know what set of dietary guidelines they were using to plan and prepare the meals. Turns out, with so many competing influences, they hadn’t settled on one. However, the manager was happy to meet with us, so we set off gathering recommendations. 

As it turns out, it wasn’t so easy for us either. The U.S. guidelines that we had traditionally used in class were wordy and complicated, with recommendations for specific sodium milligrams that would be difficult for our staff to measure. So we broadened our search. Australia had recently released new school food guidelines, and the red/yellow/green system they were using seemed like it would be easy for our Mandarin-speaking chefs to follow. 

But we had another issue. With the multicultural background of our students, one set of dietary guidelines wasn’t necessarily going to work. It’s difficult to mandate brown rice for all students when many come from Asian countries—including some with a particularly healthy diet, like Japan. So we dug deeper. 

At the time, we were using Michael Pollan’s Food Rules in class, and his guidelines (eat food, not too much, mostly plants) are built around basic messages about real food, not specific recommendations about what exactly you should eat. Since he was always sharing new information about food that we could trust, I was following him closely on social media. Just before our meeting, he tweeted out a link to an article about the “revolutionary guidelines built around foods, food patterns, and meals, not nutrients” that had just come from Brazil.

The reason why Brazil had chosen to go in this direction is that they are a multicultural country with citizens hailing from all over the world, and with different cultures finding different ways to balance their nutrients, a “one-size-fits-all” approach was never going to work. This really struck a chord with me, because at our school—with 3,000 students from over 40 countries—we were finding ourselves in a similar boat. 

Going through this process and learning about the ways different countries guided their citizens to eat inspired me to learn more. I discovered a page from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations that supplied links to the dietary guidelines from countries all over the world. I was excited to share it with my multicultural seventh graders and get their feedback. Did the countries they came from stick to the guidelines suggested from their governments? And after all they had learned about eating real food, which specific guidelines did they think were the best?

We decided to solve our multicultural cafeteria dilemma by getting the kids involved. After researching the guidelines, they brainstormed, voted, and decided which ones they would present to our chefs. During the process, they not only learned about different cultures and their diets, but also got to have a say in the food they’re served now.


While turning this into an extension activity to go along with How Do You Say "Yum" Around the World?, I asked some of my former students what they remembered about their research. Here's what two of them had to say:

“Before the dietary unit, I thought every country used the same guidelines as the United States, the standard food plate. However after the dietary unit, I learned that each country based their guidelines of what they had available to them.”

“It was interesting how the location of a country could so heavily impact the diet of its inhabitants. However, the overall diet guidelines were all similar in its overall rules; limit the amount of salt or sugar you eat, don't eat too much fat, incorporate veggies and fruits into your diet.”
To try this activity with your students, check out How Do You Say "Yum" Around the World? and download our Global Dietary Guidelines worksheet below. Enjoy! 

Image courtesy of Amy Lauren Smith

Teen Sleep: This Lesson Plan Will Encourage Students to Get More Rest

Amy Lauren Smith

Several years ago, I started noticing an alarming trend: students nodding off in class. Now, this wouldn’t be as surprising of an issue if I was still teaching high school, but these were only seventh graders.   

I asked the students what was going on—but of course I already knew that technology was keeping them awake. Sensing that time management and distraction were becoming bigger problems and that parents weren’t stepping in to intervene, I created a project for the students instead.

Over the course of the last few years, this project has changed and morphed, as is often the case with project-based learning. Feel free to adapt it to fit your class! Use the instructions and PDF below to try out this quick and effective project with students in grades 6 to 12.


Step 1: Journal Topic

Have students reflect on the writing prompt, "Younger teens often brag about a lack of sleep, but that usually stops when they get older. Why do you think that is?"


Step 2: Research

I usually begin this section of the unit by showing the students a TED Talk by Russell Foster, "Why Do We Sleep?"

After that, I set them free to do some additional research on the benefits of rest. Depending on the age of your students, you can set them free on their devices or give them some articles and links to help guide the way. Personally, I provide some links on the different benefits—improved academics, athletics, and creativity, along with the impact on physical appearance—to get them started. You want every student to be able to find a benefit that most resonates with them.

This year, I plan on having the kids read the cover story from our September issue, Generation Zzzzzzzz, as it’s jam-packed with all sorts of stats and information. If you’re working at a school without many tech resources, this will provide your students with more than enough information to advocate for their cause.


Step 3: Advocacy

Then it's time for a class discussion about young teens thinking it's cool to miss out on sleep, circling back to the journal topic from Step 1. At this point, the students have done their research and have solid information as to why this isn’t good.  We then begin the process of advocating for a good night's sleep for their classmates.

This component of the project can change—I've done both posters and songs, and sometimes I've let students pick their own medium. This year, we used Canva, a free online design software, where the kids each picked a template for a social media platform of their choice. They were then able to design a meme or a post that they thought would appeal to middle school students. After, they printed and cut out their work, and we pieced them all together on a used canvas to create a collage.

The end product was colorful, eye-catching, and full of great information. Plus, it was fun seeing some of my students who struggle the most with technology and sleep jumping in to take control of the placement of everything on the canvas. That’s one of the most important reasons to do activism projects in health class: often, students end up advocating for themselves the most.


Sleep Advocacy PDF

Photo courtesy of Amy Lauren Smith

Why You Should Bring Your Teenage Students Outside to Play

Amy Lauren Smith

Editors note: In this months debate, Do Teens Need Recess?, we tackle the importance of physical activity during the school day. This activity from Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teachers Guide each month—will help you get your students moving.


Earlier this year, I had my seventh graders researching the benefits of play. They were online, digging around for all of the ways that playing can benefit their physical, social, and emotional health. I find this method of information gathering an effective way of delivering content, as the students process it in an immediate and personal way. Sure enough, it was only a few minutes before they began calling out some of the things that they found.


“Playing outside can help your mental health because being in nature reduces stress.”


“It can also make you a better student since it improves focus and reasoning.”


“Oh! It's super important for your social health because it’s when you develop relationships.”


“Physically, there are like, so many. Do I have to write them all?”


And then, a voice from the back of the room…


“Is anybody else in here seeing the irony? We’re sitting inside, researching the benefits of play.”


He was right, of course, so there was only one thing to do. We’d need to go outside and do some hands-on research as well. I knew the risks of taking a group of seventh graders outside without some direction—a group of kids would play basketball, a few would hang out on the swings, one or two would ask me what they were supposed to do—so I decided to set some parameters.


Since we were looking at the benefits of free play, I didn’t want to overprescribe, so I came up with some simple guidelines. They needed to find a game that would involve everyone and they couldn't pick an organized sport. I guided them to start thinking about some of their favorite games growing up, and soon they had generated a big list of ideas—Infection Tag, Cops and Robbers, Red Light/Green Light, Capture the Flag. I told them I was going to be hands-off, but if I felt like they weren’t all into it, we’d have to come back inside.


As soon as we got outside, a few students naturally became the leaders and they all decided who was it. I think they were playing Cops and Robbers, but the game quickly developed rules of its own. Kids who are normally too self-conscious to run in PE were booking it like their lives depended on it, laughing hysterically. One of my most introverted students even became the focus of the class when she was so fast that she was the last to get caught.


It was really special to see these middle school students dropping their armor and taking the time to be kids. Their laughter was absolutely contagious, and other teachers walking across campus stopped just to take it all in. My class kept playing right up until the time I had to drag them back in.


When we got back into the room and I asked them who felt better than they had 20 minutes before, every single hand shot up.


“See,” said my observant student from before, “hands-on research is the best.”


To try this activity with your class, check out this month’s debate, Do Teens Need Recess?



Health Education: 2 Free Resources to Check Out Over the Summer

Amy Lauren Smith

Editors note: Already thinking about next year? Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher’s Guide each month—has got the scoop on new online tools that'll make planning lessons so much easier.


We’re extremely lucky to be teachers in the digital age. Gone are the days of outdated textbooks and those painfully awkward videos. We don’t need to be tied to content that’s irrelevant to our students as we can easily find completely free resources online.


That being said, teaching with all these options can also be overwhelming. With seemingly endless possibilities, there is always something better around the bend. I find that I often go through phases—either devouring all that I can and revamping my curriculum with gusto, or slowing down to calibrate and focus on fine-tuning what I know already works. Right now, I'm in a much-needed period of calibration, but over the summer break, I hope to find some time to dig into these new programs and see how we might make them fit.


1. Dove Confident Me: School Workshops for Body Confidence


From the Dove Self-Esteem Project, this five-session unit plan is full of current, ready to go lessons. Many of the best body image lesson starters over the past few years have been videos produced by Dove, so it’s exciting to see that they’ve compiled them into lessons that are classroom-ready.


According to the website, the lessons aim to focus on topics that are relevant to todays’ students:


·       Challenging unrealistic sociocultural ideals of appearance

·       Media literacy with respect to these ideals

·       Reducing appearance comparisons and appearance conversations

·       Encouraging body activism and positive behavior change


The lessons are designed mainly for 11-14 year-olds, but can be used with older students as well. There's also a single lesson for teachers or youth group leaders who might not have time to deliver the whole unit plan. Everything is completely free and downloadable, the lessons all come with presentation slides, and there’s even a YouTube playlist of accompanying videos to show in class.


2. Be Internet Awesome from Google 


This new program is designed to help teach kids about online safety in an updated and tech-friendly way. Covering current topics such as trolling, fake news, and digital citizenship, this classroom-ready curriculum was written with the help of educators and is aligned to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards.


The learning modules are filled with activities and an online game. While designed for younger students, I can imagine that a few of the modules and activities—especially the ones on positive online behavior and spotting fake news—will be useful for middle school health classes.


In addition to teaming up with educators, Google enlisted the help of popular YouTubers, including The Fault in Our Stars author John Green, to create videos that support the program. Considering the huge influence he has on adolescents (he’s often been referred to as “the teen whisperer”), this seven-minute video is great for class.


For more on helping kids filter online content, check out our May 2017 cover story, Which One is #FakeNews?


Photo courtesy of Amy Lauren Smith

What Students Have to Say About Skills-Based Health Education

Amy Lauren Smith

Editors note: Still teaching a content-based health curriculum? Choices teacher-adviser Amy Lauren Smith—a sixth to eighth grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teachers Guide each month—makes the case for why you should switch to skills-based education.


Almost nine years ago, I packed up everything and left my small town in Southern California to teach middle school health in Shanghai, China. Though I’d be teaching in a foreign country, it was an American school with international expat students, so I figured my go-to lessons and projects would transfer well.


But the reality was very different from what I expected. The health concerns of my middle school students who were living abroad and attending a high-pressure prep school differed drastically from the concerns of the high school students living in my hometown. I was going to need a whole new curriculum.


Without official content standards to work off of, I was able to survey the students to find out what their top health concerns were and adapt my lessons accordingly. The beauty of the National Health Education Standards is that they’re skill-based and adaptable to meet the needs of any student population.


This is key for so many reasons, especially since health concerns shift dramatically between students from state to state, school to school, and even from year to year. If you get tied to content you’ve been teaching for several years, you’re missing an opportunity to truly help your students by equipping them with the health literacy skills they’ll need to make the right choices both now and well into the future.


As skills-based health education is still in the early stages, we don’t yet have solid proof that this common sense, adaptable approach is the best way to reach all of our students. Luckily, teaching at a PK-12 school gives me a chance to check back in with former students to ask for their opinion on skills-based health. How does it work, why is it important, and what exactly do they remember about the skills that they’ve learned?


Here’s what they had to say:


The old version of health is more like you get the scenario, and they tell you what to do. Whereas now we learn it in a way that’s opposite from before, where the scenarios are varied and you don’t know what’s going to come, but you have these ways you can think critically about what you’re going to do, which is more like how it happens in real life.  

-Zini, ninth grade


The benefit of skills-based health education is that it can be applied to many different areas of learning and life, not just health class. For example, we are making a Shark Tank presentation in Social Studies class. We can use our decision-making skills we learned in health to make the right decision for our business plan. Also, health concerns are constantly changing and everybody is unique, so content-based learning may not be applicable in a few years and it may not be applicable to everyone. On the other hand, skills-based learning can help everyone in any situation. 

-Laurel, eighth grade


I’m not sure I could have put it any better.


Ready to make the switch? Start with these seminal texts by the top experts in the field: The Essentials of Teaching Health Education by Sarah Benes and Holly Alperin, and Skills-Based Health Education by Mary Connolly


Related: Switching From Content-Based to Skills-Based Health Ed


A Reading and Writing Lesson Plan That Will Inspire Your Whole Class

Tracy Potash

Editor’s note: In the April 2017 issue of Choices, we told the story of Lexi Brock, a multiracial teen who discovered a new sense of purpose while working on a school assignment. Tracy Potash—one of our fantastic teacher advisers and a language arts intervention teacher from Pennington, New Jersey—shares how she used the article to inspire her own students. 


Have you ever had an “Aha!" moment that was so powerful it touched your very soul, turned your world upside down, and propelled you into action? That is exactly what happened to 18-year-old Lexi Brock, who's featured in the Choices article, What Are You?

My middle school students and I were inspired by this young lady’s spirit. As an English teacher, I was elated that my students connected with the article and wanted to search for quotes that reflected who they are, just like Lexi did. So I developed the following lesson, which includes a modified version of the assignment given to Lexi as a tenth grade student.


Common Core standards:

RI.7.1, RI.7.2, RI.7.3, RI.7.4


The Steps:

Step 1: Student participated in the pre-reading activity Skim – Scan – Preview, which is a quick and effective method for increasing comprehension. First, they complete a visual scan of all the graphic information presented, including photographs, headings, subheadings, graphs/tables, and attention-grabbing fonts. Next, they'll scan and find specific information, such as boldface words, subheadings, numbers, maps, timelines, and specific facts. And finally, they'll read the first sentence or two of each section to grasp the overall picture of the piece.

For another pre-reading strategy: Why You Should Try Text Mapping With Your Class


Step 2: After the pre-reading activity, we read the article together. While we read, I asked them to consider: What are the big ideas in the article?


Step 3: Students considered the following prompt:

What is the topic(s) of the article? Think of it as the Author’s Purpose for writing the article. What are the big ideas that stand out?

Possible answers:

  • Racial discrimination
  • Experiences being multiracial in the USA
  • Your worth is not determined by the color of your skin
  • When bad things happen, you rise above it and turn it into a positive


Step 4: Now for the inspiring part! Students were given the task to find a quote that in some way represented them or that they felt a connection to. Then, they had to write a five to eight sentence paragraph about why they choose it. I shared a quote of my own with the students as an example.



Step 5: Students perused the gallery of inspirational quotes chosen by their peers. As they focused on the quotes/paragraphs, they were instructed to comment in writing on as many as possible, using a friendly letter format. Believe it or not, there was not one duplicate quote!


Conclusion: In all my years of teaching, I’ve never before had my students write for an entire period without complaining, but my students were mesmerized by the gallery. In fact, this activity was so enjoyable, they actually requested to continue reading and responding for another class period! Plus, they developed stronger connections to their classmates and learned things about them that they did not know beforehand. What a moving experience!