The Healthy Classroom

Free Classroom Poster: Share These Wise Words on Decision-Making

Editor's Note: In our back-page advice column called Life Skills Made Easy, we tackle a different question each month, sourced straight from our Teen Advisory Board members--or your students! (They can go here to submit their questions.) The goal is to provide teens with simple, doable strategies that will help them succeed in school and in life.


In this month's Life Skills Made Easy section, we've tackled a common dilemma: how to make a tough decision. This is an issue we face even as adults, but for teens--who are often trying to make many life-changing choices at once--this can be more pressing, especially when all options have benefits. Faced with two opportunities, our teen-adviser Alexis Peele wrote to us for help:



To answer her question, we contacted Nell Wulfhart, a decision coach who helps people get on the right path to achieving their dreams. Her advice? Both emotions and facts are worth considering when making an important decision. If your teens are struggling with a choice, they can outline the benefits and drawbacks of their options on our decision grid.

Don't forget to download and print this free poster to guide your students' decision-making every day!



For more wise words and free classroom posters, check out these posts:

Anti-Bias Education: 6 Ways to Create a More Respectful Classroom Environment

In this month's Different Like You profile, Lexi Brock, 17, speaks out about what it's like to be multiracial in a culture that doesn't always recognize her unique identity. Her story addresses some of the real challenges many multiracial teens face and is sure to get you thinking about ways to bring a greater sense of inclusiveness to your classroom and lessons. "Students learn best when they feel like they belong," says Calvin Lai, research director at Harvard's Project Implicit. This list of ideas, summarized from Teaching Tolerance's Critical Practices for Anti-Bias Education Guide, will help get you started:


1. Create a classroom contract. Ask your students to come up with a list of agreements for talking to one another and working out differences. Some examples could include:


  • Listen with respect to the experiences of others.
  • Try to understand what someone is saying before rushing to judgment.
  • Put-downs of any kind are never okay.


2. Look at the way your space is set up. The physical environment of your classroom can send subtle but significant messages about diversity, relationship-building, and roles of students and teachers. For example, a classroom set up in a U-shape with the teacher's desk at the head, posters of U.S. presidents, and quotes from J.F.K. and Winston Churchill sets a very different tone than desk clusters of four with posters of quotes from Maya Angelou and Aung San Suu Ky.


3. Rethink participation norms. Class work has traditionally centered around large group discussions with emphasis on students volunteering to answer questions. However, research has shown that this style can favor boys and those who are adept in verbal learning. Active listening, artistic response, small-group talks, and written response lessons can help kids with different learning styles. In fact, we have a great Write and Reflect activity this month, which asks students to reflect on times they've felt misunderstood or stereotyped-- without having to share it out loud.



4. Get students thinking critically about classroom materials. In trying to surround students with inclusive imagery and learning aids, you might not be able to buy brand-new posters, books and texts. But you can ask students to think about ways in which the materials you're currently using can present certain viewpoints and exclude others.


5. Point out other ways society can be exclusionary. In the story, Lexi spoke about working with Project Race to push companies to add a multiracial box to job applications and tests. Ask students to name other forms of identification or official records that may reinforce biased, insensitive or limiting notions, then have them brainstorm ways these could be changed to be more inclusive.


6. Invite sharing around diverse backgrounds--safely. When asking students to explore issues of identity and culture, it's important to build a safe space where all students feel respected as individuals. Taking time to learn the proper pronunciation of every student's name; getting to know student's hopes, challenges and family backgrounds; and including texts and lessons around the unique make-up of the classroom can all help. (That said, don't invite students to speak on behalf of their respective group unsolicited, which can reinforce bias, stereotyping and "otherness." Instead, share personal examples first and broadly invite anyone in the class to share if they choose to, referring to classroom contract rules about respect before they do!)



Click on the image above to read this month's Different Like You feature, "What Are You?" (in which multiracial teen Lexi Brock recounts her experiences of feeling marginalized.)


More Choices Different Like You stories to encourage empathy, tolerance, and inclusiveness:

  • "I Escaped a War Zone": As a Syrian refugee, 16-year-old Zain has been through danger and hardship, and he knows just what it's like to face adversity. 
  • "I Wear a Hijab. So What?": Naomi, 17, wears a head covering called a hijab to honor her Muslim faith. Her story will encourage religious tolerance. 
  • Shanice is Native American:  Shanice, 18, is a Native American. Her story will teach teens not to make assumptions about those who come from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Noah is Blind: Noah may be blind, but at just 13, he's already a licensed lobsterman, a talented musician, and a dedicated runner. 




Free Classroom Poster: Share These Wise Words on Financial Literacy for Teens

Editor's Note: In our back-page advice column called Life Skills Made Easy, we tackle a different question each month, sourced straight from our Teen Advisory Board members--or your students! (They can go here to submit their questions.) The goal is to provide teens with the simple, doable strategies that will help them succeed in school and in life.


Saving versus spending money can be a tough call for teens, who may not have access to much cash to begin with. But understanding the benefits of saving--and better yet, how to do it--is an important life skill for teens to master. On this month's Life Skills Made Easy page, Tahliik Wilson, a Teen Advisory Board member from Connecticut, had a super-smart financial query:



To answer Taliik's question, we talked to Stefanie O'Connell. She is the author of The Broke and Beautiful Life and helps young people deal with finances by teaching them how to stretch every dollar they do have further. Her advice rings true for all of us, but especially teens. Her simple strategy will help them save, spend, and share the right way. (Plus, she knows we all have to treat ourselves sometimes!)


Be sure to download and print this poster of O'Connell's wise words to motivate and encourage teens to save and spend well!

Download this free poster to teach high school and middle school students how to budget their money wisely!


More budgeting and finance help from Choices Magazine:

How to Deal With Teenage Trolls

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Sometimes, lessons don't go as planned. When 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--realized a group of boys were copying offensive language and behavior they saw online, she knew it was time to try something new. Here, she explains how she and her colleagues are handling the situation.


I work at an international school in Shanghai. Located all over the world, these independent schools are set up to educate students who are living away from their home country. Many expats are working on two- to five-year contracts, so these schools are set up to align with the curriculum of specific countries so that the kids who move overseas with their parents don't miss a beat.


With 1,700 students, my school is a typical American school in many ways. But as a health teacher, I've always been struck by one big difference between my students back home and the ones I work with here: Bullying hasn't really been an issue. Normally as a middle school health teacher, it would take up a significant part of my curriculum, as bullying is a serious issue that can negatively impact all aspects of a student's health. But thankfully, we haven't had to worry about it here before.


After being here for several years, I have a few theories as to why that might be. First of all, our student population is diverse. Kids aren't usually making fun of people for being different, because in some way, they all are. More importantly though, I think it comes down to empathy. They've all been the "new kid" recently (and in a completely different country!), so they've had to adapt fast, and they know what it feels like to be left out. These higher levels of empathy have always made me so proud of my students, and I brag about their inclusive and open attitudes to anyone who'll listen.


Which is why what's been happening over the last 6 months has really come as a shock.


We've got a growing group of seventh grade boys who have begun emulating some of the behaviors of the internet trolls they watch on YouTube, using negative and offensive language they find on memes and in their favorite multiplayer video games. Whether it's for attention, or the fact that they just don't know any better, their language has become more and more offensive, and they seem to care less and less.


To help encourage a return to empathy, I had planned on having them read Would You Stand Up to Hate? article from this month's Choices, followed up with the CULTURE OF KINDNESS worksheet and activity. But this group of students needs more than just an activity in advisory class, so our team decided to do something a bit drastic: differentiated SEL (social and emotional learning).


When students are struggling with academics, we differentiate by giving them extra time, meeting with them in small groups and giving them even more direct instruction. After much discussion, it was decided that our counselor was going to pull this group of boys out during our advisory's SEL time for more in-depth discussions and activities. The hope is that after a few of these sessions--which they can opt out of for a parent meeting instead--these boys will begin to recognize what they truly value, and how making a positive impact can feel so much better than this trolling behavior in the long-term.


In the meanwhile, all of our other advisory students--who up until this point have been bystanders to this negative behavior by their peers--have read and reflected on the Choices article. They now recognize what they can do to stand up to hate and have begun combatting the issue with some positive memes of their own. One of the students told me, "We can make a choice about whether or not we want to look at the negative memes online, but if we put these positive ones up on the walls of the school, people have to look at them whether they like it or not." Fair enough.


Here are a few examples of their work:




After the boys are done with their small group sessions, they'll rejoin the rest of their advisory group and help lead them in creating more sustainable campaigns for our CULTURE OF KINDNESS activity. I've asked our counselor to write down the steps he takes with these boys, along with some reflections for other teachers and counselors. Hopefully he'll have some success and some good tips to share... as I'm afraid we're not the only school struggling with a bad case of the trolls.


With the prevalence of social media among teens, it's so easy to get involved in cyberbullying. Keep teens away from these behaviors! Professor25/iStockphoto

THIS Is How Teachers Can Stop Bullying

Editor's Note: Justin W. Patchin is the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and co-author of Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral. As the instrumental expert for our March bystander effect article, we wanted to give him this forum to speak to educators. Our question to him: How can teachers play a more active role in preventing bullying in their schools?  


One reason many people refrain from misbehavior is because they don't want to disappoint those in their lives that they care about. Therefore, the key to preventing misbehaviors at school is to develop relationships with students. Inasmuch as many teens are not deterred by the threat of formal punishment (from the police or courts), they are dissuaded from participation in behaviors that they know their friends, parents, or other valued adults would frown upon. When teens are emotionally attached or socially bonded to others, they internalize their norms and values and do not want to disappoint them by behaving in a way that is contradictory to those principles.


The concept of "virtual supervision" suggests that youth will behave in ways that are consistent with adults they value and respect, even when those valued others are not directly looking over their shoulders. For example, if I really value my relationship with my mom, and I know that she would be disappointed in me if she knew that I bullied someone, then I am less likely to bully others, even in situations where she is not physically present because I am considering how mom might feel if she found out about my behavior. Of course this only works if I have a really great relationship with mom and don't want to damage that relationship by disappointing her. So the key is developing strong relationships with kids.

Download this tip sheet as a reminder of the best ways to foster a bully-proof environment in your classroom!


And this powerful effect can also work with others who work with young people (educators, church leaders, and law enforcement officers, to name a few). As an example, one time when I was in high school, I drove my ATV across town to some community event. Several minutes after I got there, one of the local police officers arrived and immediately started chewing me out for driving too fast on the city streets. He was yelling at me, saying that after he saw me he had gone to my house and was waiting for me and was going to give me a speeding ticket!  (For the record, I really didn't think I was going that fast.) But nonetheless, I was devastated. I was embarrassed and upset that I had disappointed him--not just because he was a police officer, or that he was threatening to give me a ticket, but because he had been my hockey coach the year prior and I had a great relationship with him. I felt terrible. In the end, he didn't give me a ticket, but from then on I drove very slowly when navigating the city streets with my ATV.


In addition to preventing bullying from happening in the first place, a positive relationship with a student can make it easier to deal with bullying when it does come up. Students are much more likely to confide in adults who they know care about them and with whom they trust. We know that youth are reluctant to report bullying experiences to adults, so developing a caring connection may be the mechanism necessary to get early information on bullying or other problematic behaviors to they can be addressed before it gets even worse. Know your school's procedures for responding to bullying and who within administration would be best to bring in. You might not have the perfect solution to the situation, but simply letting the student know you are on their side and willing to help could be all that is needed.


So take the time to develop a positive relationship with your students. For decades we have known the power of spending just a bit of regular time with students (e.g., two minutes a day for 10 days in a row). Learn their names. Give them high-fives as they come off the bus. Show them that you care--because we know you do. It can make all the difference.







This story will help teens differentiate between one-time drama and the pattern of bullying. 

With the prevalence of social media among teens, it's so easy to get involved in cyberbullying. Keep teens away from these behaviors!

Anonymous apps like Yik Yak and Kik claim entertainment and connection, but teens need to know the risks. The dangers of cyberbullying may outweigh the fun in these apps. 

At only 13, Trish Prabhu built a browser plug-in called ReThink, that helps prevent cyberbullying. Her story will inspire teens and keep them safe!

One teen thinks schools should punish cyberbullies; another teen says schools should focus on setting the example of good behavior. Get your teens involved in this debate!



This engaging card game will help you create a cruelty-free classroom!

Have teens follow these three simple steps to create a culture all about kindness, using social media.

Tracy Potash, a language arts intervention teacher shares her perfect plan to help teens learn what it means to pay it forward.


Share These Wise Words on Career Skills

Editor's Note: In our back-page advice column called Life Skills Made Easy, we tackle a different question each month, sourced straight from our Teen Advisory Board members--or your students! (They can go here to submit their questions.) The goal is to provide teens with the simple, doable strategies that will help them succeed in school and in life.


Communicating, especially when requesting jobs and internships, can usher in loads of pressure and anxiety for teens, no matter how confident and ambitious they may be. And today, teens are so accustomed to sending text messages and using Snapchat, it's hard to know where to begin when it's time to format a professional e-mail. Kas Dina, a Choices Teen Adviser and high school student from Plymouth, Pennsylvania, wanted to make sure her e-mails hit all the right points without making her sound immature. Her question hit the nail on the head! Here's what she asked us:



To answer Kas's important question, we talked to career expert Dan Schawbel. Schawbel is the author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for Career Success, and his resume backs up his expertise: He's worked for large companies like Google and Target, helping them make sure they hire the best of the best for their teams! Schawbel's advice will help students understand that taking some extra time to carefully craft a professional message will be worth it in the future. Our favorite tip: closing out the e-mail with a question-- a perfect way for teens to show genuine interest and have a better chance at getting a reply!


Be sure to download and print this poster of Schawbel's wise words to remind your students to put some extra care into their professional emails!



Career Skills Information from Choices Magazine:



More Wise Words Life Skills Posters from the Choices Ideabook:

Photo credit: credit: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

Teaching Puberty Doesn't Have to Be Awkward!

Amy Lauren Smith

Editor's note: Ready to tackle this uncomfortable topic? This advice from 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--will help you handle these lessons calmly and gracefully. Use her guidance while you teach A Survival Guide To Your Body Right Now in this month's issue of Choices. (And if you're looking for more info on teen hygiene, this previous Choices story is worth revisiting.)


Maybe it's the memories of difficult experiences we had as kids--the awkward health classes, the painful forced conversations with our parents, the scary (and often incorrect) information picked up on the playground--but most adults just don't like talking about puberty.

But here's the thing: this conversation doesn't need to be a difficult experience. Puberty is something that all human beings have in common. Getting kids to view it as a universal experience that they're going through together can help them feel more at ease during a time of change and stress.

After 15 years of teaching puberty, I've learned some valuable lessons. These tips will help you navigate your lessons while keeping your students--and the adults in their lives--comfortable.



  • Make sure you're aware of your state and district policies.

This is key before teaching any topic related to sexual health, as policies can vary widely between states and even districts. Hopefully you're at a school that has a clearly outlined policy. If you're not, then partner up with your admin to get one in place. 

For the most up-to-date breakdown of can and can't be taught, check out The Guttmacher Report Sex and HIV Education by State- Jan. 2017.


  • Involve the parent community.

This one is also a must, as you don't want to catch anyone by surprise. When you start teaching kids about puberty, they're going to have questions. Hopefully they're taking those questions home, so it's best to let parents know they should be expecting them. I send a letter home before our puberty unit with an outline of the topics we're going to cover, some possible dinner table conversation starters, and web resources that parents can go to for advice. We have an eager parent community, so we also team up with the guidance counselor to offer them a workshop on what to expect.

For resources to send home and some sample questions, check out Puberty Help for Parents.



  • Reinvent the wheel.

Being a teacher in the age of the internet is a glorious thing. There are gifted teachers creating curriculum and sharing it with the world, so we can find ready to go lesson plans and project ideas for basically every subject. Just remember: this is not the time you want to be pulling random lesson plans from the internet. If you need ideas, there are many non-profit groups trying to make a difference who will offer trustworthy options for curriculum.

Check out Choices 33 Online Health Resources for Teens.


  • Be afraid to laugh.

I had a seventh grader come into class the other day and flop down on the couch. Sitting there moping, he went from angry to sad to despondent to giggly. l asked him what was wrong. His answer? "Puberty."

Regardless of the wide differences in adolescent changes during puberty, the kids still have a lot in common. Focus on those things and students will feel less like an outsider and more like one of the crew. My favorite moment every year is when I tell them that feet usually grow first. They look around, realize that, yeah, everyone does have abnormally large feet in middle school--and we all have a good laugh.

Share These Wise Words on Public Speaking

Editor's Note: In our back-page advice column called Life Skills Made Easy, we tackle a different question each month, sourced straight from our Teen Advisory Board members--or your students! (They can go here to submit their questions.) The goal is to provide teens with the simple, doable strategies that will help them succeed in school and in life.

Public speaking is hard. In fact, it's cited as one of the biggest fears among all Americans! But the only way to get better is to face that fear head on. That's why this month's Life Skills Made Easy question, submitted by Karli, a Choices Teen Adviser and high school sophomore from Illinois, is so important:



Karli is not alone: For many teens, knowing that a speech is coming up can fuel intense anxiety and lead to procrastination. So we turned to seasoned public speaker Berna Anat for a few tips and tricks. As the former host of the Choices How to Deal video series and the current teen community manager at Instagram, Anat knows what it's like to be in front of a large audience, and we think the advice she gives in the magazine is stellar.


To hammer her message home, download the poster below (just click on the image) and hang it up in your classroom. It will remind teens of Anat's main tip--that practice, practice, practice is the key to a stress-free speech!



Public Speaking Resources from Choices magazine:


More Wise Words Life Skills Posters from the Choices Ideabook: 


Share These Wise Words on Social Skills

Editor's Note: In our back-page advice column called Life Skills Made Easy, we tackle a different question each month, sourced straight from our Teen Advisory Board members--or your students! (They can go here to submit their questions.) The goal is to provide teens with the simple, doable strategies that will help them succeed in school and in life.


Declining an invitation is tough for everyone. But for teens, who tend to put a lot of energy into their social life, saying no can be particularly challenging. Teens feel pressure to achieve, and say yes to everything--like studying more, joining another club, participating in another sport, or completing volunteer hours--and this pressure only bleeds over into their social lives.


That's why this month's Life Skills Made Easy question from Joey, a high school sophomore in Massachusetts, is perfeclty on point!



We know this issue can seem complex, so we have you and your students covered! We've contacted expert Nancy Redd, who--in her career as a television and digital on-air host--has been invited to not hundreds, but thousands, of parties and social events. Read her advice here, which will reassure your students that it's okay to say no sometimes! And don't forget to download this Wise Words poster (just click on the image below) and hang it up in your classroom to remind others of this practical, empowering life skill. 



For more Wise Words, check out these other Ideabook posts: 

Photo: Shutterstock

The New Evidence-Based Way to Teach Healthy Eating

Editor’s Note: Cintia Hintojosa is a researcher at the University of Chicago, who was part of the research team in a recent study that asked: What can be done to reduce unhealthy eating among adolescents? Here, in a guest post for the Ideabook blog, she explains their groundbreaking findings—and how to apply this new approach to health education in your classroom. 


Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980, and despite countless school-based health interventions, effective solutions still elude experts. Why? One reason might be because traditional school health messages often rely on self-interest and future goals as motivators, but teens are more concerned about what’s happening in the here and now. As adolescents, they’re wired to want to feel like a socially conscious, autonomous person worthy of approval from one’s peers. So we—a team of psychologists from the University of Chicago and the University of Texas—decided to test a new approach: harnessing teens’ natural rebelliousness to motivate healthy eating.


Many adults know that food companies target kids and try to get them hooked from a young age. For instance, they engineer snacks to be addictive by increasing sugar and salt content, they create cartoons that draw kids to junk, and they use labeling to make foods appear healthier than they really are. Bottom line: Big Food is, in many ways, the new Big Tobacco. [Editor’s Note: Read all about it in our January feature, The Sinister Science of Irresistible Junk Food, and get our round-up of related teaching resources here!]


Our research team conducted a randomized experiment in which we simply told eighth-graders facts like these, then asked the teenagers to reflect on them:


  • If you want to be controlled by rich company executives who make money getting children addicted to soda and junk food, then go ahead and eat those foods.
  • If you want to make your own decisions and fight back against injustice and hypocrisy, then drink water or eat healthier food.


It's the latter message that resonated with teens, and the results of the study—published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this fall—were striking: The group who got the new treatment showed a 9 percent reduction in junk food calories when the principal offered them a choice between junk food or healthy food the next day. What's more: A group that got traditional health educational materials, like diagrams from a textbook, looked no different from a group that got no nutritional information. Simply put, the traditional approach to nutrition education did nothing.


Cleary, teens do not want to be manipulated, and as educators, you have the power to utilize this desire to teach healthy decision-making. Here are three tips that can help bring this student-centered approach into your classrooms:


  • TIP 1: Emphasize respect for students’ autonomy. The standard methods of promoting school health— the all-school assembly, the health class lessons -- can feel to teens like adults are telling them how to make their personal choices. The more adults try, the more teens want to do the opposite. Teens need to feel respected and admired, especially when it comes to sensitive topics like how they should make personal decisions.


  • TIP 2: Provide a purpose that speaks to students. Living in line with values like making the world a better place helps students feel motivated to be better and try harder. Just explaining basic health information to them, much of which they already know, doesn't. This approach isn’t limited to health; incorporating a purpose for learning that students naturally value can be applied to other classroom topics too. As a society, we should give teens the information they need, but in a way that lets them feel like the kind of person who wants to put it into action.


  • TIP 3: Encourage a critical eye for negative influences. Big Food and Soda marketing campaigns are more pervasive than ever. Children and teens are exposed to advertising on billboards, television, websites, games, and phone apps. We can turn the tables by using these advertisements as an opportunity to remind students of the real message behind the ads. Have your students ask critical thinking questions about the ads they see: What are they trying to sell? Who is the audience? Are they using cartoon characters or celebrities? Do you think what they are saying is true?


For more information on how Big Food and Big Soda companies target kids and what parents and educators can do to counteract it, see:



Editor's Note: Looking for non-fiction articles that can help you utilize this anti-manipulation approach in your health or life skills classroom? Check out this handy round-up of eight Choices stories that will empower your students to think critically about the forces that influence their decision-making.