Genius Teacher Idea

Take Your Students on a Kindness Quest!

Tracy Potash

Editor's note: We could all use a little warmth and kindness right now. Tracy Potash, a language arts intervention teacher from Pennington, New Jersey, shares her lesson plan to teach her middle school students about the importance of paying it forward.


With social media harassment on the rise in middle school, and the aftermath of an angry election season looming over everyone, I recently realized what my class really needed was some kindness. Inspired by World Kindness Day (which takes place in November, but can be celebrated at any time!), I put together the following Kindness Quest.


Key skills: Vocabulary acquisition and usage; identifying key ideas and author's purpose; collaboration; integration of knowledge and ideas; research to build and present knowledge


Time: 1-2 weeks


The Steps:


Step 1: We revisited the Choices article "Mission Positive" from the October 2015 issue. If you didn't catch it the first time, this piece encourages students to get creative while knocking out cruelty. The task: to rack up as many points as possible by expressing thanks, showing compassion, giving back, acting selflessly and spreading good vibes. It was a perfect addition to our lesson.

Step 2: My students were intrigued to learn even more about kindness, so they researched how kindness can affect the brain. After delving into the topic, they were psyched up and wanted to create a momentum of goodness.


Step 3: We spent a week participating in Kindness Quest activities, such as:


  • Students wrote uplifting messages on the bathroom mirrors with erasable markers.
  • They wrote messages with sidewalk chalk near all the entrances to our school.
  • In the mornings, they greeted administrators, teachers, and students who were entering the building with cheers and high fives.
  • They designed Kindness Cards, which were handed out throughout the week to classmates who they saw being caring to others.


Step 4: While the Kindness Quest was ongoing, I sought to keep the students reflecting by having them complete a vocabulary word map on kindness.  (See format example below.)


Step 5: Students researched an article about performing acts of kindness and its effect on the brain. After, they summarized the article with a partner by answering the 5Ws & 1H (who, what, where, when, why, how), using the key ideas from the article to complete a written short summary (format example below).


Example: The Short Summary


Read the article, identify the key ideas by answering the 5Ws (who, what, where, when, why) and 1 H (how) in 5 words or less. Then write a summary of the article by including all the information below.


Author's Purpose (include title of the article, author, publication and publication date):












Written Summary - include any direct quotes from the article:  


Step 6: After the week of activities, my students debriefed about how it went and discussed plans for future events. Below is a list based on their reflection of the lesson and ideas for looking ahead:

  • Kindness recognition increased kind acts in the school
  • The school appeared to be uplifted and positivity permeated the halls.
  • Continue the momentum throughout the year
  • Plan weekly positive, uplifting announcements in the morning to start off the day.
  • Design a "Random Acts of Kindness" bulletin board and post pictures of acts of kindness so everyone can be a part of it.
  • Branch out the Kindness Quest to beyond the school walls.
  • Promote the positivity on social media.


So it appeared that kindness was contagious, planting seeds of goodness that sprouted throughout our school and beyond left an impact on all of us that we will never forget. The serotonin was definitely flowing. Mission Positive was a success!


More Choices Resources for Teaching Kindness and Improving School Climate:

Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

How to Teach Teens About the Importance of Failure

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: It's hard to accept, but failure might actually be good for you. Choices teacher-advisor 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--explains how she helped her students understand this important lesson.


Failure and grit are buzzwords in education right now, and for good reason. While kids are terrified of failing, it's truly the only way they'll grow. Getting middle school students to accept this fact is especially challenging though, as they'd often rather not try at all than risk looking like they tried too hard.


My school has a pretty robust advisory program, which means that in addition to teaching health, I have a homebase of twelve students who I see three times a week for social and emotional learning. Seventh grade in particular is a year when pressure can really start to mount, so I'm always looking for ways to address failure with them. Luckily, this month's issue of Choices features The League of Extraordinary Losers, a piece about failure that highlights some of the world's most creative and successful people and the failures they experienced on their way to the top. When I shared it with my fellow seventh grade advisors, we agreed it would be a great jumping off point for discussion with our groups.


It's important when doing this type of activity with younger teens to stress that failure isn't just about academics and sports. Social "fails" are also a key part of the adolescent experience, but it can often take years to get over the sting of embarrassment and rejection that can come along with them. That's why it was great for the students to read about people they admired embracing their failures, as it helped them open up about theirs without fear of being judged.


After reading the article, we had the students reflect on a time when they've experienced failure, and what good came out of it. They were given the following prompts, and then if they felt comfortable, they shared as much or as little as they wanted to with the class.


My Big Fail


1. What was your initial goal?


2. What was the 'fail'?


3. How did you take it at the time?


4. What good came out of the experience instead?


5. What was the big take-away? What did you learn from the experience that you would like to share with others?


Once the kids started sharing and realizing how much they had in common, they began opening up more. Some of them were able to laugh at themselves and it brought up one of life's great lessons: the things that feel like a mortifying disaster at the time often end up being a funny story later on. (They especially enjoyed my tale of trying to perform a rap for my seventh grade election speech. Needless to say, someone else was voted vice president that year!)


Touching base after the lesson with my fellow advisors, we all felt that the activity had led to great conversations with their students, and they too had shared examples from their own middle school years. It was a great lesson for the kids about failure, resilience and grit, and a bonding experience for us all as well.  


Want to try this lesson in your classroom? Here are the tools you need:

1. Download the Choices FAILURE REFLECTION WORKSHEET to try the REFLECTION ACTIVITY. It'll get your students thinking critically on how to apply the fail up method to a past setback. 


2. Forget about resumes of accomplishments--our fascinating Failure Resumes Slideshow highlights even more famous figures and the roadblocks they've encountered throughout their careers. 


Photo source: Amy Lauren Smith

What Teens Can Teach You About Screen Time

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Feeling glued to your smartphone? Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th to 8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--collected some surprisingly poignant advice from her class.

Last month, I had the pleasure of going to the Hong Kong headquarters of one of my favorite athletic wear brands. The office director (an old friend of mine) had asked me to facilitate a "lunch and learn" workshop on balanced technology use. 

This is a company that's well known for its culture of wellness. When I walked in, half of the team was just finishing up a yoga class, and inspirational sayings covered the walls. I was in health teacher heaven. 

These are people who really know how to strike a balance. But sure enough, even in this land of mantras and mindfulness, when I asked who felt they might need help cutting back their screen time, all of their hands shot up in the air. 

Granted, this was Hong Kong (which has the highest percentage of smartphone users in Asia), but it was an international team. The people in that room represented a wide variety of cultures and age groups. There were locals, expats, and those just passing through on business trips. It just goes to show that we're all struggling to strike a balance, and it's something we need to talk about more.

The day before, I had asked my students for their help. Having just finished their own unit on technology balance, what advice would they like to give adults about managing their screen time? The kids wrote their words of wisdom on four big pieces of chart paper, which I brought with me to the adult workshop. I hung them on the walls, put out markers, and asked the team to do what teachers like to call a "gallery walk"--take a look at what's on the papers, and circle or star anything that resonates with them.

The advice from the kids was thoughtful, touching, and a little bit eye-opening:

  • Talk to people face to face.
  • Finish your work before coming home.
  • No phones during the weekend unless you really have to.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings.
  • Look up.
  • Listen.
  • Close all your apps and be with your family instead.

As we took in the words of these 13-year-olds, one thing became abundantly clear. They weren't just writing this advice for random strangers. It was for the adults in their lives--parents, teachers, the people in their community--who were often neglecting the real world for what was happening on their screens.

All of us gained something from the activity, and I plan to do it the next time we have parent/teacher conferences. Today's teenagers are often chided for their screen time, but they aren't the only ones who need to step back and take a break. (In fact, a new report found that parents of teens spend as much time on their devices as their children do.)

Not wanting to return to class empty-handed, I asked my new friends for some advice to take back to my students in return.

Their overwhelming response? Go outside and play.

For a more in-depth look at how screen time is impacting family life, check out The Common Sense Census: Plugged in Parents of Teens and Tweens.


What I Learned From My Childhood Bully

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Bullying is a serious issue, and Choices teacher-advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th to 8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--understands this from a personal perspective. Her advice will help you understand what students may be going through and what certain bullying-prevention steps can be effective.

A few weeks ago, I got an email from a former classmate. Having recently started a 12-step program, he had written to offer me amends. I was surprised by the gesture--not only because I hadn't seen him in over 25 years, but because in the process of reaching out to all those he had harmed in his life, he felt the need to include me on that list.

It's not that I didn't remember being bullied. As a teenager who struggled with obesity, I was the constant target of many of the kids at my school. It was just that I didn't remember him as being the worst of them.

That's why I found this exchange especially meaningful--not just personally, but also as someone who teaches and writes about bullying. It serves as further evidence that the effects of bullying can stay with the bully, as well as the bullied, long after the initial damage is done.

I know how the experience impacted me--when I moved away to college, I began taking care of myself and became a health teacher. I was determined to help kids as they struggled to find the right path. But I hadn't thought much about how the experience had impacted any of the other kids involved.

Hearing from the one of my old bullies all these years later, I'm reminded of the importance of what we do, and of the need for early prevention. Here are some efficient strategies for handling bullying at your school.

1. Discipline that shifts from zero-tolerance to positive behavior change

In his email, my classmate pointed out what I already knew--he was acting out because he had some pretty big issues of his own. He was a teenager, and he needed help. An ineffective zero-tolerance policy would have removed him from the situation without offering him the chance to discover what had lead him there in the first place.

Check out the bullying prevention resources from Positive Behavioral Interventions & Supports.

2. Initiatives that are started by students, rather than teachers and staff

It doesn't need to be an official program. The lasting memory I had of my classmate wasn't of a time that he bullied me; it was of the time when he finally stopped. He decided one day that he'd been too hard on me, and let me know me he would tell his friends to back off too. From that moment I felt safer, like I had an ally, and that's what I remembered the most.

Read about these teens who bounced back to help fight bullying.

3. Health classes that put the focus on healthy coping skills

It took me years to understand how much of an impact my emotions had on my weight, and the stress of constant bullying wasn't driving me to make better choices either. My classmate had struggles of his own, but rather than food, he turned to bullying and--as is often the case with those who are bullies--eventually alcohol and drugs. If we teach kids healthy ways to deal with stress, maybe we can prevent them from causing harm to themselves and others as they try to figure it out on their own.

Try this unit plan designed to help kids recognize their healthy coping skills.

Courtesy of Andrew Simmons/San Rafael High School

First Tuesdays Students Speak: An Inspiring Self-Advocacy Activity for Any Classroom

Editor's Note: Andrew Simmons is an English teacher at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, and—along with his colleagues—the founder of a brand new civic engagement project called First Tuesdays Students Speak. In this guest post, we've asked him to share his inspiration for this sustained, positive, and constructive letter-writing campaign—along with instructions, so that you can adapt this fantastic ongoing advocacy activity for your own grade level and subject area.  


Sometimes, students plan your lessons for you. After the November 8 election, many students in my classes at San Rafael High School expressed disappointment, fear, and anger. I teach in Marin County. Most students are liberal. A majority is Latino. Students organized a walkout and participated in community protests. Several teachers in my department saw their discontent as an opportunity to encourage civic engagement. Writing is for the articulation of ideas, the telling of stories, the arguing of positions. We decided that, in an attempt to channel their feelings and thoughts into sustained, constructive responses, the students should write a letter to the president-elect. 


We also decided that one letter would not be sufficient. Students prefer events over processes, and we wanted them, if truly inspired, to cultivate the patience and persistence effective activism requires. We thought that, with students gradually taking ownership, First Tuesday Students Speak would provide a regular opportunity for this process. Every month, we're having students, in letters, communicate hopes, concerns, and ideas to elected and appointed government officials, regardless of the expressed political beliefs. The assignment will vary to reflect current events and relevant units. Every first Tuesday of every month, we're trying (again, with students—in this case, the experts—leading the way) to document the process and products of this work on social media. 


At this point, participation is limited to a few schools and a handful of classrooms. We hope it grows. The assignment is highly adaptable and open-ended. A health teacher could have students focus on health care access. A science class could address global warming. Letters could be addressed to representatives, agency heads, and appointed officials as well as the president. We look forward to seeing this project grow and evolve, and we'd like other teachers to get involved too.


What Is It?


We hereby name tomorrow—December 6th, 2016—as a national day of Student Voice, to kick off our ongoing First Tuesday Students Speak initiative. We hope that teachers, schools, and community organizations across the nation will seek ways to encourage students to articulate and express their concerns about the future. In letters, on social media, in mainstreammedia, we hope to provide students with a forum for expressing constructive messages to the government and to our president-elect.


How Can You Get Involved?


You can download the instructions (in both English and Spanish) by clicking on these images, or use the instructions typed below. 



Step 1: Write a Letter


This month, we're prompting students to write letters to president-elect Trump and mail them directly to Trump's organizational headquarters in New York: 


President-Elect Donald Trump

Trump Organization

725 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10022


One of the things we have observed at our own school is that part of feeling like you have expressed yourself fully comes from organizing your own thinking—doing this helps you to think through your feelings logically and it gives you a greater sense of authority.


When you write a letter, make sure you do these things:

  • State what you are concerned about and why it concerns you.
  • Identify what you want to see happen—what do you need from your president and your government?
  • Predict and identify a counter argument—either to dismiss it or to provide an alternative solution which is better.
  • Identify positive actions you will take in the future.
  • In addition to content, tone is important if you want to be listened to, if you want to be heard. Be assertive, direct, and honest—but also maintain a tone of respect and dignity.



Step Two: Document the process and the final product.


  • Take photographs of students writing and reading letters. Post these on social media with #FirstTuesdayStudentsSpeak and @TuesdayStudents.
  • Take videos of students reading important selections from their letters and post to social media with #FirstTuesdayStudentsSpeak and @TuesdayStudents.
  • Hold an event where students read letters aloud. Take videos and post them. Again, please post on the community page as well as on your own personal, class, and organization pages.
  • Make sure letters are mailed as close to December 6th as possible.




What You Need to Know About Tracking Homework

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: How much homework are your students really getting? Choices Teacher-Advisor Amy Lauren Smith--a sixth- through eighth-grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our Teacher's Guide each month--explains all the different factors you need to consider while tracking your students' homework load.

My middle school has a homework policy. For seventh graders, it's no more than 20 minutes per subject per night. The kids have four classes a day, so even if every one of their subjects assigned the maximum homework amount, that only adds up to 80 minutes per night.

Yet when I talk to their parents, I hear about hours upon hours of homework every night. They say their kids are staying up until 11 p.m. or midnight to get it all done. My colleagues care deeply about the health and well-being of our students, so it's hard for me to believe they'd break the homework policy and collectively pile on hours of work.

After reading this month's Choices debate, Is Homework Out of Control?, I set out to have my students track their workload for a week to see how they stacked up. It didn't exactly go as planned. Our school is 1-to-1, which means the kids have their own laptop from grade six up--and in the digital age, tracking time spent on homework is easier said than done.

The first batch of tracking worksheets I sent home came back a weekend later, and if you were to judge the results without further discussion, you'd think my students were studying for their medical school entrance exams. Apparently, 12-year-olds were doing homework from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. or later, with just a short break for dinner and perhaps a snack or two. So, six hours a night, as opposed to the six hours a week most American teenagers are getting? Something definitely wasn't adding up.

Just to make sure I wasn't mistaken, I checked with the other teachers on the seventh-grade team. As I suspected, they hadn't been piling any additional work on the kids. In fact, with our rotating schedule, the kids only have two core classes and two specials per day, so it's more likely they'll have closer to 40 minutes of homework per night, as opposed to the school policy maximum.

When I told my students this fact--and that their trackers were in no way accurate--they defended themselves by arguing that they were multitasking. I had to explain to them that multitasking means actually doing more than one task at once. Given that they were "multitasking" for six hours a night, they were obviously getting sidetracked along the way.

So we went back to the drawing board, and I created a new tracker that had a bit more detail.

Homework assigned:
Time started:
Time finished:
Breaks taken:
Total time on homework:
Procrastination station (where did I get distracted?):

As with any tracker assigned in health class, I can't guarantee the accuracy of the results, but the act of reflecting was an effective exercise for the kids. They were able to take a critical look at how they were spending their time, realizing that they were causing themselves unneeded stress and sleep deprivation.

Of course, I'm in no way saying teens shouldn't be able to chat with their friends while they work. Collaboration is a key 21st century skill, and some of my best memories of growing up are of doing my homework with friends. I'm just hoping my students will see how much free time they could have, and go meet up with their friends in person instead. I think they're just hoping that I don't tell their parents the truth!

Find out how much homework your students are doing each night with this HOMEWORK TRACKER worksheet:


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!

Photo: Shutterstock

5 Tips for Bringing Project-Based Learning (PBL) to Health Class

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Project-based learning is vital, but can feel overwhelming. That's why 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 monthly Teacher's Guide--has put together a few simple tips on bringing project-based learning to the classroom.

When I became a health teacher 15 years ago, my resources were limited. I was handed a stack of textbooks, a teacher's guide full of worksheets, and a box of outdated videos. Not wanting my students to suffer the same awkward and tedious experience I had, I set out on a mission to create other opportunities for them to demonstrate what they were learning.

Without access to the Internet or student devices, I had to get creative, but interestingly enough, many of the projects I had them do back then--such as videos, skits, and poster campaigns--are still a big part of my classes today. While technology has improved the quality of my students' research and work, the ideas behind the projects remain the same.

Teachers had been creating projects for their students long before we made the big educational shift to PBL. What's great is that we now have the tools and experience to take our projects to the next level. These five tips helped me advance my projects along the way.

Tip 1: Set up the classroom for interactive learning.

In my first health class, with 36 high school juniors crammed into rows of desks, I found this extremely difficult. So when the weather allowed it, I took them outside to work on skits, engage in small group discussions, or walk around the track while project planning. I took advantage of any chance I could get to put them together in groups.

Now at a school with smaller class sizes and more resources, I'm able to set my classroom up for collaboration, with tables instead of desks, soft furnishings, and plenty of floor space for the kids to get down on the ground and work.

For more ideas on how to the most of your space regardless of budget: 3 Tips for Designing a Healthy and Inviting Classroom

Tip 2: Keep your content current and relevant by getting students' input.

One of my main reasons for creating projects all those years ago is that the resources I was given didn't align with the current health concerns of my students. I got their input on what they wanted to learn and built my curriculum around that. With true PBL, there's more student voice and choice, so they have the freedom to create projects based on their interests and passions, which allows for customizable and adaptable learning.

For projects created by and for today's students: 12 Grab and Go Projects for Health

Tip 3: Hook students with a powerful 'entry event.'

Every good project kicks off with something to hook the students and spark a passion for deeper inquiry, such as a current event, guest speaker, or video clip. Gone are the days of entire class sessions spent watching classroom DVDs. Often a quick news clip of a teenager doing awesome things is all it takes to spur students on to do the same.

Tip 4: Stay on top of student learning with check-ins along the way.

It can be tempting to set your students free and let them work on their own, but continual conferences and check-ins help ensure that they're on the right track, and will help you when it's time to give them a grade. If there have been ample chances for formative assessments, no grade will be a surprise.

There are a myriad of formative assessment ideas to help your students stay on track, such as exit tickets, online discussion boards, and fun apps like Kahoot. I've been using journaling in my classes since the beginning--I find it useful not only as a formative assessment, but also for getting to know my students on a personal level.

Tip 5: Don't go it alone.

Health teachers often exist in a bubble on their campus, with no one to collaborate with. That's why social media can be such a useful tool. Hop online and follow the #HealthEd hashtag to share ideas with health teachers around the globe.

And if you don't have time to launch a full project in your class, team up with another teacher at your school for a cross-curricular project. Health is universal, which gives us the opportunity to connect our content and skills to almost every other subject on campus.

For more ideas for collaboration: 4 Ideas for Cross-Curricular Learning and 6 Online Resources for Planning a Health Curriculum

Additional resources:

Photo: Shutterstock.

3 Teens Who Have Bounced Back to Fight Bullying

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so Choices Teacher-Adviser Amy Lauren Smith--a 6th-8th grade health teacher at the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and the brilliant mind behind our monthly Teacher's Guide--has some wonderful examples of resilient teens who have faced bullying and come out stronger.


October is National Bullying Prevention Month, so my 8th graders are working on their campaigns to spread positivity around the school. Research shows that initiatives have a much better chance of sticking when started by the kids, so we try and do this project at least one time per year.

I always try to show the kids examples of other teens who've gained a reputation for being nice, and this month one of my students pointed out a common thread: Many of these kids were sparked into action because they have been targets themselves.

My students were impressed that rather than let the experience push them to unhealthy coping skills, like becoming a bully themselves, they fought back, but on a much bigger--and healthier--scale.

Here are three examples of teens who have demonstrated resilience in the face of bullying and inspired my students along the way: 


1. Natalie Hampton

After being targeted for being the new girl in 7th grade, Natalie Hampton experienced a very dark time in her life. She ended up transferring to a new school, but she kept that time in her thoughts, never wanting other kids to experience the same. She realized that lunch was usually a tricky time for new kids, so she had the idea of creating an app, Sit With Us, that would allow students a safe and rejection-free way to find somewhere to sit.

In this article from the Washington Post, she shares that she'd like to study psychology when she's older. This connection is what prompted one of my students to remark on her growth mindset and her passion to inspire and help other kids.


2. Jeremiah Anthony and The West High Bros

As an entry point for our project, I show my students a video clip of Jeremiah and the Twitter group he started at his school to spread positivity. In the video, you see Jeremiah's classmates talking about the work that he's done, and how much of a difference he's made. There are examples of his posts and photos of him hanging out with a large group of friends.

As a freshman, Jeremiah didn't really have many friends at all, but he remembers the one student who took the time to be nice to him, and that was the motivation behind his viral social media campaign.


3. Caitlin Prater-Haacke

After someone snuck into Caitlin's locker to steal her tablet and post a negative message on Facebook, Caitlin decided she wanted to fight back with love, rather than more hate. She wrote compliments on over 800 post-it notes and put one on each locker in the school.

Word of her awesome deed spread fast, and she was asked to speak at the TEDx Teen event and was featured in a story in Choices Magazine.

It's awesome to see positive behavior getting national attention, and these teens serve as a great example for our students. Not just for the work they're doing, but also for the way they've all bounced back... stronger, more passionate, and driven to make a difference for everyone else.

For instructions and a rubric to introduce this project in your school, check out Positive Peer Pressure to Help Combat Cyberbullying.


More Choices stories for your anti-bullying curriculum:


Amy Lauren Smith, used with permission

You'll Love This Mood-Tracking Activity!

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Sometimes teens have trouble understanding the moods and emotions that are going through their growing brains. This mood-tracking activity from Choices Teacher-Adviser 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 therapeutic, activity-based approach to teen mental health.  


Trackers have long been a part of health education. We use them for nutrition, water intake, exercise, sleep--all behaviors directly related to our physical health. They can be a useful tool for people of all ages as they look at their habits and recognize patterns and behaviors in need of a change. For this month's story on the teenage brain, we decided to have the students use a tracker for their moods, so they could apply this self-awareness to their mental health as well.

While I was tweaking the instructions, I had my students (or as they like to say, my guinea pigs) try out the activity first. Here is one student's rather insightful responses.


Student Instructions:

As you're going through the week, jot down (or draw) how you're feeling during the following times each day. Use the questions to help you expand on your thoughts!



Current feeling: Anxious

  • Is there a clear reason why I'm feeling this way, or is it hard to put a finger on? I'm pretty sure I forgot about a homework assignment that I had due. That happens a lot. Also, I texted my friend last night about the homework, and when I woke up they still hadn't responded, so now I'm worried about that too. Like maybe they're mad at me.  
  • Was I with anyone else at the time? What effect did they have on my mood? No, I was in my room. But then when I went into the kitchen, my mom was there, and she was bugging me about some stuff, so that made me even more upset.
  • For negative moods, how can I respond next time that might help me? I could write down the homework so I don't freak out about what I missed. I can also tell my mom if I'm feeling stressed so she doesn't make it worse. That probably won't work though.


After school

Current mood: Pumped

  • Is there a clear reason why I'm feeling this way, or is it hard to put a finger on? I had soccer practice, and we were doing some pretty good drills. I feel like we're ready for the game on Wednesday. Plus, while we were practicing, I wasn't worried about homework or stuff with my mom.
  • Was I with anyone else at the time? What effect did they have on my mood? The other guys on my team were there, and they were making me try harder. Plus we have a bunch of inside jokes, so we were having some LOL's.
  • For positive moods, how can I replicate the experience again so I can ensure I have more positive emotions than negative ones? Next time I'm stressed, I can go outside to play soccer with some friends, or do something else active, like bottle flipping.*

*If you're a middle school teacher, you totally now what this is


Now, I'm not sure if this student actually followed the instructions or filled in the tracker right before it was due, but either way, it was a great chance for reflection. He was able to recognize that disorganization causes him anxiety, and running around with his friends can help it go away... a pretty valuable lesson for a 7th grader.


Bring this mood-tracking activity to your classroom with our Mood Tracker Worksheet, a great resource to help foster positive mental health in your classroom.