How To

Help Teens Escape From Peer Pressure

Amy Lauren Smith

Editors note: In this months feature, Are You Following the Herd?, we tackle a subtle form of peer pressure. 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 Teacher’s Guide each month—will encourage students to ask their families for help dealing with it.


This month, our article Are You Following the Herd? explores the type of peer pressure that kids most often face: the unspoken pressure that causes them to go along with a situation they know is wrong or unsafe due to the fear of not fitting in.


It reminds me of a recent viral blog post by a father of three teenagers about his plan for keeping his kids safe while building an honest and open relationship with them. Anytime his kids feel like they’re in a situation they want to get out of, they can simply send a text with the letter X, and he or his wife will call five minutes later to tell them there’s a family emergency and they’re coming to get them right away. This X-plan concept is powerful, as it gives kids a safety net while they navigate the tricky waters of adolescent decision-making.


At the core of my eighth grade health class is the idea of personal and family values and helping kids make tough choices as they grow. In the past, I’ve had each student conduct an interview with their family—the goal is to agree on their top five family values and then write about the origin of these values and give some examples as to how they've used them in the past.


After reading the article and learning about the X-plan, I’ve decided to take a different approach to our family values activity this year. Rather than have the students focus on the past, I’m going to have them look to the immediate future and create a family X-plan of their own.


This activity seems like a natural fit for health class, as it touches on quite a few of our skills-based health standards (communication, self-management, decision-making) while giving kids an opportunity to advocate for themselves during an important conversation with their parents.


Here are the instructions I’ll be giving my students. Feel free to adapt as needed!


Step 1: As a class, read the article from the May 2017 issue of Choices, Are You Following the Herd?


Step 2: Discuss the idea of instincts and how to trust your gut. Then talk about possible ways you can get yourself out of situations that don’t feel right or safe.


Step 3: Share information about the X-plan with students. Discuss the following:


  1. What are your initial thoughts on this idea?
  2. Do you think this could work in your family? Why or why not?
  3. How might you adapt this plan to work within your family?
  4. How could you adapt it to help you in your life online?


Step 4: Provide students with the following worksheet, and then have them sit down with their parents to discuss.


Note: There will be students who might not be able to complete this assignment due to family circumstances. Make sure they know it isn’t mandatory, and they should identify another relative or adult friend to help them out instead.



Click below to read one of this month's fascinating feature stories, Are You Following the Herd?



For more details, check out the original post by Bert Fulks: X-Plan: Giving Your Kids a Way Out.


5 Ways to Help Your Students Deal With Test Stress

Chrisanne Grise

Students are already dealing with enormous amounts of stress every day, so it's no surprise that throwing in final exams and standardized tests can make even the calmest teens freak out. But don't panic! We've got your back. These five activities will help you prep your students now--so that when test day comes, they'll already have a handle on their emotions.


1. Project our Stress Busters slideshow on the whiteboard so your students can try out a handful of fantastic stress-relief techniques--including stretching and abdominal breathing--in class. Once they've developed those skills, encourage them to keep practicing all throughout test season.


2. Break your students up into groups to create videos about their own unique stress busting techniques, whether it be singing in the shower or walking the dog. (Psst. We've got instructions and a handout from our genius teacher-adviser, Amy Lauren Smith, to make this lesson plan a breeze.) Share the videos in class afterward, so everyone walks away with plenty of new ideas for keeping calm.



3. Read this article to ensure that you stay sane during testing. Self-care is important too! 


4. Print out our free poster about stress management and hang it in your classroom. When the work gets tough, this useful quote will remind teens that a meltdown is not the answer.



5. Share our suggestion-packed articles with your students: From Gah! To Ahh...How to Deal With Stress and Take Tests Like a Boss. If they follow these tips, they'll be acing their tests in no time!

Media Literacy Lesson: This Slideshow Will Teach Students to Spot Fake News!

Bethany Radcliff

We're back with a new slideshow for your classroom! We've really enjoyed experimenting with this new feature, and this month, we thought we'd try something fun: The Fact or Fake Game Show!



This resource will be a perfect activity to add to your lesson on Which One is #FakeNews?, which will help you teach digital literacy skills your students desperately need.


Here's how you can bring this activity to your classroom:



  • Click through the three images of news articles in Round One of the slideshow, and have students guess if each example is factual or fake. They can record these answers in the first column of their worksheet. 



  • Once everyone has finished reading, begin Round Two, where students can apply their new knowledge to the same examples. Be sure to discuss why each example was fact or fake, and don't forget about the slightly trickier bonus round!


Click on the image below to read this month's riveting feature story, Which One is #FakeNews?



Be sure to check out or other slideshows for more interactive lessons!


  • Failure Resumes: What happens when resumes list failures instead of successes? Here, five accomplished adults share the mistakes that mattered most!


  • Stress Busters: Walk students through our step-by-step instructions for three stress-relieving techniques, which will help them combat anxiety in the future. 

Sun Safety: Teach Teens to Do a Skin Check

Chrisanne Grise

All it takes is one serious sunburn to double your chances of developing melanoma later on. Just one! That's why it's essential to talk to your students about sun safety before they head off for summer vacation. Our article, Don't Get Burned!, will help you teach the basics, but you should also consider going over the skin check process in more depth to make sure your class understands what they need to do. It's a simple process, we promise--and we've even got handouts to help you out. Just follow these steps.


1. After reading Don't Get Burned!, reiterate to your students the importance of conducting skin checks regularly. The longer it takes to notice an unusual mole or bump, the more dire the situation can become, so encourage them to add a monthly reminder in their phone calendar to make sure they're frequently taking note of their skin. (You may even want to give them a minute to set up the reminders right then and there, if your school's cell phone policy allows it.)



2. Pass out our teen-friendly Skin Check Guide that we made with assistance from the Skin Cancer Foundation. The steps are fairly easy to understand, but go over them as a class to make sure no one has any questions. The main idea to drive home is that they should be checking every inch of their bodies--even the parts that don't normally get exposed to sun, like between the toes and under the armpits.



3. Then, hand out our Body Map so your students will be able to keep track of their findings during each skin check. If any of the spots become worrisome (see our sidebar, "'The Get It Double-Checked!' List"), they'll need to call a doctor as soon as possible.



4. If you or your students have additional questions or would like more information about skin cancer prevention, visit


By taking these precautions, you can all enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe summer break. Enjoy!



For more information on summer safety (like staying hydrated and preventing heat stroke!) check out our Summer Survival Guide.

This Slideshow Will Teach Students to Beat Stress!

Bethany Radcliff


Did you happen to have a chance to check our Failure Resumes slideshow back in February? Well, now we're coming back at you with another fantastic use for this new online feature, this time all about (drumroll, please...) simple ways to beat stress!


We think our newest interactive flipbook, called Stress Busters, will perfectly complement your lesson on this month's story, Secret Stress Busters of the Stars, adding more substance to your classroom discussion. That's because--in order to truly buy into stress-relief techniques--teens need to try them out for themselves, paying special attention to what works best. And simple steps to walk through each technique will ensure that students can easily practice each activity. For example, take a look at how the slideshow guides students through visualization:


Click on this image to access our newest slideshow, Stress Busters!


We designed this slideshow with students and teachers in mind, with the goal of working together to create a stress-free classroom climate. The three stress-reducing skills discussed involve visualization, deep breathing, and yoga--and all three activities can easily be used in the classroom.

One of our favorite features? This fun gif, which has been specially designed to help teens practice relaxing breathing (just follow the dot, breathing innnnnnn...and outtttttt).


This gif is perfect for teaching teens how to manage stress with breathing!


So what are you waiting for? It's time to get calm! Here are a few ways you can use the Stress Busters Slideshow to teach teens to keep calm under pressure:


  • After instructing your class to read Secret Stress Busters of the Stars, project Stress Busters on your whiteboard, then go through the three activities as a class. You can serve as their guide, reading the steps as they close their eyes and give each exercise a try!

  • If you don't have time to devote to all activities, guide your class through one exercise and have them complete the rest at home. 

  • For a more hands-on activity, split the class into three groups, and have each group practice one activity.

  • After teaching the lesson, send teens home with a link to the slideshow to try the techniques on their own.


After you teach the Stress Busters slideshow or send it home with students, have students pick their favorite activity to get comfortable with. Teens can practice this activity over time, so they can have it as a go-to when the pressure is on! 


Click on the image above to read our brilliant feature, Stress Busters of the Stars, to teach teens the perfect solutions to handling in-the-moment stress!


Other Choices resources on stress relief techniques for your classroom:





photo: DoSomething

Teach Teens to Recycle With This Creative Campaign

Bethany Radcliff


Editor's note: After reading Could His Hip-Hop Save the Earth?, your students will be inspired by our March Changemaker, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, who uses his own hip-hop songs to spread awareness about climate change and environmental activism. Use DoSomething's Rinse, Recycle, Repeat campaign to put their inspiration into action in time for Earth Day on April 22. 


Most teens know that recycling is important but sometimes aren't sure where to begin. That's where DoSomething's amazing Rinse, Recycle, Repeat campaign can come in. Launched in collaboration with hair-care brand Garnier, TerraCycle (a free waste collection service for hard-to-recycle items), and YouTuber Remi Cruz (a lifestyle personality and vlogger known for her popular channels MissRemiAshten and RemLife), this campaign offers a simple, creative project to engage teens with advocacy and environmental issues through recycling. The best part: Your students can enter to win a $5,000 scholarship for their participation!


What you need to complete this project:

- Cardboard boxes, large shoe boxes, or any other boxes that can serve as a recycling bin

- Glue or tape to decorate boxes

- Materials for decoration, like fake flowers, recycled magazines, paper scraps that can be cut into shapes, and any other craft supplies you have lying around the classroom. (This can be a great opportunity to use up bits and pieces you were going to toss!)


Here's how you and your students can get started:


Step 1: Visit the DoSomething campaign page for Rinse, Recycle, Repeat from March 1-April 30 and instruct students to sign up for the campaign. Students can also text Rinse to 38383 to sign up. 


Step 2: Share the telling facts with students: According to the campaign, almost half of all Americans just toss their empty bathroom bottles (aka #empties) in the trash. These beauty and personal care products account for much of the waste in landfills across the country. 


Step 3: Get teens involved in this creative project by sharing the campaign's teen-facing PSA with students. Provide cardboard boxes and materials for decoration, and have students break into groups to work on their creative recycling bins (even if students are working in groups, have them create their own boxes.) If you don't have time to complete the project during class time, have students make their boxes at home. 




Step 4: Once students have their boxes decorated (or have instructions for making boxes at home), encourage students to rinse and recycle, repeating this process to collect as many empty product containers as they can! If you're doing the project in class, try making it into a competition between individuals or groups, and have students race to collect as many recyclable #empties as they can from family, friends, and neighbors by April 30!


Step 5: Students can submit a picture of their decorated recycling bin on the campaigns "Prove It" page or by texting RINSE to 38383 to be entered for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship. They can also join the online campaign conversation by tagging @garnierUSA and using the #empties and #RRRSweepstakes hashtags.


Step 6: After students have collected ten pounds of recyclable materials and posted an image of it on the "Prove It" page, a free shipping label will be e-mailed to them, making it easy to send their recyclables to TerraCycle to be responsibly disposed of.


For more on teens and the environment, be sure to check out these Choices stories:

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. 


A Brilliant Activity to Teach Healthy Relationships

Editor's Note: Su Nottingham is currently an instructor at Central Michigan University, and has taught Family & Consumer Science, Sexuality, and Health & Physical Education at both the secondary and university level. The Choices team took part in her workshop at the 2015 Society for Health & Physical Educators (SHAPE) Conference, and we were floored by the power of this Bip and Bop game, which teaches the tenets of healthy and unhealthy relationships. We're so excited to share it with you as a support activity complementing our feature on teen dating abuse in the February issue! 


How Can This Help?


Recognizing if a characteristic is healthy or unhealthy  is influenced by perception of social norms and the influence of peers. Bip and Bop are two gender neutral characters that demonstrate both healthy and unhealthy characteristics of a relationship. This small group strategy causes adolescents to determine the impact of behaviors on relationships through discussion, reflection, and a representative demonstration of each action. Bip and Bob highlight a variety of age-appropriate examples of adolescent relationships and how actions can take a toll on the success and stability of any relationship.  To enhance meaning, a symbolic action—based on the severity of the action—is demonstrated by utilizing everyday household items: a sandwich-size container, napkin, rubber band, rocks, water, and pencil. 


What You'll Need:


Assemble the following materials for each group (3-4 students):

  • One container (sandwich size container with lid)
  • 10 small/medium sized rocks  (or marbles)
  • One paper napkin (to cover container)
  • One rubber band (to hold paper on container)
  • A sharpened pencil
  • A small dish of water and eye dropper, straw, or plastic spoon (or a small spray bottle of water)
  • One set of “Bip and Bop” scenarios on cards (see below)


Prep: Use the rubber band to attach the paper napkin to the container


Key Skills:


Students will be able to recognize healthy and unhealthy relationships characteristics, and:

  • Describe how peers influence healthy and unhealthy behaviors (NHES 2.8.3)
  • Explain how the perceptions of norms influence healthy and unhealthy behaviors (NHES 2.8.7)


The Procedure:


1. Prepare: Divide students into groups of 3-4 and give each group its set of supplies, as listed above in the "What You'll Need" section.


2. Play: Instruct students to take turns selecting a card and reading it to the group. Readers should:

  • Withhold the answer written on the card as the group discusses if the action is unhealthy/healthy and why
  • Read the correct answer provided on the card
  • Then take the action described on the card for the situation (actions include: add or take away "rocks" to the paper; add drops or sprays of water to the paper; poke a hole in the paper)
  • Keep the card they read for discussion at the end of the activity



The symbolic actions will demonstrate the effects of certain actions/behaviors in a relationship: 

  • poked holes - symbolize permanent damage
  • water - will dry, but may be weaker than before
  • rocks - show a stressor in the relationship, but when removed, show lessened stress


3. Reflect/Discuss: Students can engage in a small group discussion using the cards they kept after reading. Some questions and activities that can guide their reflections:


  • Make a chart of the healthy and unhealthy actions of Bip and Bop
  • Were there actions that help strengthen the relationship or make it less in danger? What were the actions that would have a positive impact on the relationship?
  • What actions caused damage to the relationship? What actions couldn’t be “taken back”?
  • Did the relationship actually break down from the action?
  • Do you think this is a good relationship for these adolescents?
  • Are there skills that could be used to lessen the negative effects?


Teaching Tips:


  1. The size of the rocks will greatly determine how volatile the relationship is.  Using less expensive paper towel or thin paper will as well.
  2. Students can place the paper on the container and attach with the rubber band to save pre-set up time
  3. It is not important to distinguish between the characteristics that Bip demonstrated, or those of Bop.


Original idea: Kirk Putnam III and Kate Lepper, Central Michigan University students,  adapted and modified by Su Nottingham, June 2013.


More Choices Resources for Teaching Teens About Healthy Relationships:


Photo: Shutterstock

6 Tips to Keep Your Classroom Germ-Free This Winter

Bethany Radcliff

Illness outbreaks can be a nightmare in the classroom. I'll never forget the time during the swine flu epidemic of 2009 when my Texas high school had to shut down for a week because so many people contracted the illness after our homecoming dance. It was proof of just how fast serious germs can spread!


The key to combating the spread of germs is prevention. It may seem impossible to protect your classroom during sick season, but it can be done. In addition to the tips in Sick Season Survival Guide, here are some clean-classroom ideas to get you off to a healthy start this winter:


1.   Stock up!

Make sure to stock up on cleaning supplies, like disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizer, and tissues. Be proactive and add these items to school supply lists if they are not funded by your school, and don't be afraid to enlist the help of parents. Consider sending a note home with students that discusses the common symptoms of the flu, suggests when to keep kids home, and asks for tissue donations (if need be).


2. Teach hygiene.

A reminder on the importance of hand washing may seem redundant, especially for older students, but it can go a long way. Make sure to go over the common symptoms of flu-like sickness and encourage students to stay home if they are running a fever. With younger students, teach them how easy germs spread by using a visual: Put a little bit of glitter on one or two students' hands. By the end of the day, most students will have glitter somewhere on them!


3.  Create a sanitization station.

This station can be by the door to remind students to use hand sanitizer when they come in and out of the classroom. You can also keep a cleaning caddy at the station with the daily cleaning supplies that students will use when they help with cleaning tasks each day. (Psst: It's also important to keep hand sanitizer next to computers and near tissue boxes to remind students to stay clean!)


4.  Disinfect germ hot spots.

This includes all writing pens and pencils, computer keyboards and mice, tablet screens and devices, desktops, doorknobs, and chair backs. Use your own pencils and pens and remind students to share writing utensils as little as possible.


5. Encourage healthy behavior.

Exercising regularly and getting full nights of rest keep your body healthy and strengthen teens' immune system. Eating a healthy diet and staying hydrated will also help fight illness. Suggest that students bring refillable water bottles to class instead of using the water fountain, which can be a hotbed for germs.


6. Give meditation and mindfulness a try!

These practices will reduce stress for you and your students, and perhaps keep the flu at bay! Use tools like our mood-tracking activity from last year to encourage better mental health practices in students. If you're interested in meditation, try bringing it to your classroom like this teacher did.


These resources may help you further discuss winter health in the classroom:




Photo: Shutterstock

A Role-Play Activity to Teach Conflict Resolution

Kim Tranell

How Can This Help?

Young people often have a difficult time recognizing conflict before it evolves into verbal abuse or bullying. Through strategic role-play and preparation, this activity will provide students with the key social-emotional learning tools they need to effectively communicate one side of an argument, as well as the motivation to empathize with the other.


What You'll Need:


Key Skills:

Demonstrate strategies to prevent, manage, or resolve interpersonal conflicts without harming self or others (NHES 4)


The Procedure:


1. Read & Discuss. Distribute copies of the Choices article, How to Fight Fair. Students can certainly read independently, but this feature is designed to be interactive. Use these pause-and-reflect questions to guide class discussion:

  • After reading the introduction on p. 13, ask:
    How does conflict help us grow?
    It challenges us to see someone else's point of view.)
  • After reading FIGHT STYLE under Common Clash 1 on p. 14, ask:
    Why is the silent treatment an ineffective way to resolve a conflict?
    (Possible answer: You're not actually addressing the problem, so nothing will be resolved.)
  • After reading each Common Clash scenario, ask:
    What is the problem that needs to be solved here?
    (Answers will vary, but the point is to highlight that each conflict is about solving a problem or disagreement--that both people should invest in overcoming. You can also point out that Amy, Sam, and Sophie should each have a "goal"--whether that's more of Willow's attention, a more reasonable curfew, or more playing time.)  



2. Divide Students Into Pairs. Have students count off 1-2, 1-2. If you have an odd number of students, you can do one group of three--but this activity works best when the conflict scenarios can be simplified to two distinct sides.


3. Prepare to Act. Pass out the ROLE-PLAY GRAPHIC ORGANIZER worksheet and encourage students to follow the instructions to complete it as a pair. (If you think students will need help coming up with conflict scenarios, use our COMMON CONFLICT SCENARIO CARDS to get them started.) Remember, the goal here is for both parties--regardless of their respective roles--to work together to come up with a civil conversation starter that addresses the problem head-on




4. Start the Role-Play. In all honesty, the actual role-play is probably less important than the conversation-starter here--so if you don't have time to dig into the final step, no worries! But if you do, reinforce the rules of respectful communication, as outlined in The Dos & Don'ts of Fighting Fair on p. 15.