How To

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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., used with permission

Teach Teens About Prescription Drug Abuse With This Cool Campaign!

Editor's note: Our November-December issue story, "Heroin Took Over Our Town," discusses teens whose lives have been radically affected by substance abuse. This month, we're pleased to share this joint campaign from and the CVS Health Foundation to encourage students to get involved in ending the drug addiction epidemic! and the CVS Health Foundation's Explain the Pain Text campaign educates young people on the abuse and misuse of prescription pain medication via a text message guide that briefs students on simple yet effective ways to encourage friends to stay away from substance abuse. Here's how your students can get involved and enter to win a $5,000 scholarship: 

Step 1: Visit the campaign page on


Step 2: Encourage students to read and learn about the prescription pain medication epidemic.'s drug abuse fact video is a great resource:



Step 3: Students will be asked to enter their cell phone number and three of their friends' numbers to share the interactive drug awareness guide with friends. 


Step 4: After students sign up, they will receive a guide via text message that will give them simple and effective ways to help keep their friends safe from drug abuse. 


Step 5: Encourage students to pass along this resource. Students who share the resource with three friends will be entered in a drawing to win a $5,000 scholarship!


We know that teaching students about the dangers of drug abuse can be challenging. We hope this campaign will encourage your students to stand against addiction!


Additional Resources: 

Our Teaching Tough Topics guide serves as a companion to "Heroin Took Over Our Town," and contains tips on how to (and how not to) bring up addiction in your classroom, along with resources to help students understand the severity of the drug abuse crisis. Above the Influence is another great student resource, and is great for teachers and parents. 

Create a Group Project Contract

Bethany Radcliff

How Can This Help?

You already know the challenges that group projects pose--no matter what you do, students tend to struggle with staying organized, distributing the workload fairly, and keeping each other accountable for their tasks. With this activity, you are asking your students to create a simple contract within their group, which empowers them to make their own rules up front. Your students will begin to see the value of working together, along with the importance of group communication and decision-making. This allows students to set the tone for their own work, all while setting expectations for each other.

What You'll Need:

Key Skills:

Setting goals; verbal communication; working as a team.

The Procedure:

1. Read and Prepare. Instruct students to read the article "How Can I Rock a Group Project?" from the Life Skills Made Easy section of the November-December 2016 issue of Choices. Pass out the Group Project Contract  to each group.

2. Brainstorm. Have students think about possible rules for their group project within their teams. Explain to students the importance of having rules within a group, and how rules will help them stay on task and communicate effectively. Optional: You can use our Discussion Guide worksheet here, or simply write these questions on your blackboard or whiteboard to guide the conversation:

  • What characteristics does an effective group need to function properly? (Possible answers: clear goals, good communication, active participation by all members, etc.)
  • What behaviors frustrate you the most when you're working on a group project? (Possible answers: irresponsibility, missing deadlines, not participating in discussions, only contributing criticisms, etc.)
  • How will you ensure that people will hold up their end of the contract? (Possible answer: put one person in charge of keeping people on task)

Move from group to group. If students need help, refer to these examples for ideas:

  • We all promise to listen to group members' ideas respectfully.
  • We all promise to give thoughtful feedback to each other.
  • We all promise to sit together as a group.
  • We all promise to be positive.
  • We all promise to contribute to the group's discussion.
  • We all promise to talk one at a time, and not while another group member is speaking.
  • We all promise to contribute equally to this team project.
  • We all promise to ask our teacher for help if we get stuck.
  • We all promise to meet when we are supposed to.
  • We all promise to follow the instructions of the project.
  • We all promise not to exclude a group member.
  • We all promise to report to our teacher if a rule is broken, or if something is not going well in the project.
  • We all promise to turn our work in on time.

3. Collaborate, Decide, Sign. Have students fill out their chosen rules with their group on the Group Project Contract Worksheet. Encourage students to have fun collaborating, deciding on their rules, and coming up with a group name. Make sure all students have signed the contract and understand the repercussions of breaking a contract rule!

Bonus Steps!

  • Plan It Out. After group rules have been decided on and the students have had time to understand the assignment, pass out the Group Project Planner worksheet and instruct students to begin filling out tasks according to the steps in the How Can I Rock a Group Project? story. (The color coded section at the bottom of the sheet allows the students to easily reference which member is responsible for each task!)

  • Get to Work. Now it's time to start the project. Students should feel more prepared and comfortable having filled out their Group Project Planner worksheets. Pass out copies of Group Project Tips to each group to help them come up with ideas to facilitate communication and complete tasks during their group project.

Help Students Stay Safe Online

Editors Note: In the October issue of Choices, our story "Could Your Face Go Viral?" tackles online privacy and staying safe on social media. Here, Lauren DeViney, who is a Project Manager for the New Balance Foundation Billion Mile Race and former high school health teacher in Waltham, MA, shares her tips for creating guidelines teens can follow everytime they use the internet.

Personal responsibility is the key to staying safe online. In this activity, students will gather in groups to discuss what they’ve learned about internet privacy. Then, have them fill out Choices' Personal Digital Guidelines handout, which will help them create their own list of rights and rules for posting on social media.

Key skill: NHES 5 (Students will demonstrate the ability to use decision-making skills to enhance health.)

Prep: Write the discussion questions on the board for all students to see before dividing the class into small groups.

1. Break students into small groups (no more than 4 per group).
2. Explain that students will have ten minutes to address the following topics in their groups. They should spend about two minutes per topic and discuss in a round-robin style (where they go around in a circle and every student responds to question #1, then it goes around again for question #2, and so on until all four questions have been addressed). The student whose birthday is closest to the date can start the discussion in each group.

Discussion Questions:

  • Do you know someone who has a positive digital identity? Why do you think they are a positive example?
  • Do you think a college or employer would make you an offer after conducting a brief Google search with your name?
  • How can you use your social media presence to create positive friendships and relationships?
  • What stands out from this article about online privacy? Why does this standout?

3. Hand out the Personal Digital Guidelines worksheet and ask them to create rules based on the discussion they just had. If there's time at the end, have them share their ideas with the class!

Bring Our September Debate to Life

Editor’s Note: This year, Choices has expanded its monthly debates to four pages, with even meatier arguments from real teens—and the factual support they need to evaluate those opinions. Here, Lauren DeViney, who is a Project Manager for the New Balance Foundation Billion Mile Race and former high school health teacher in Waltham, MA, shares her tips for stimulating a lively discussion in your classroom.


How Can This Help?

Young people have strong opinions about the value of online friendships. This activity will enable students to solidify the arguments they naturally lean to, while helping them to empathize with their peers on the opposite side of the debate.


What You’ll Need:

Key Skills: NHES 4.8.1 (Apply effective verbal and nonverbal communication skills to enhance health); NHES 8.8.1 (State a health-enhancing position on a topic and support it with accurate information); CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.2 (Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally).


The Procedure: 

1. Prepare to Read. Hand out the Debate Organizer Worksheet and instruct students to complete section A, reacting to the question at hand: Are online friends real friends? 


2. Read, Watch, Write. Distribute copies of the Choices article “Are Online Friends Real Friends?” to read, then watch the Huffington Post mini-documentary, The Science of Friendship. Explain that students should fill in section B of their organizer with three strong arguments for each side of the debate while reading the article and watching the mini-documentary. If they would like to include more than three, that’s fine. The intention is for students to tease out the most salient points to support each side of the debate.

3. Establish Ground Rules. Before facilitating a debate in your classroom, establish ground rules. If possible, grade this activity and explain to students that part of their success will be based on their ability to effectively, yet respectfully debate. Examples of ground rules for classroom debates available below!


4. Divide Into Groups. Depending on the size and dynamics of your class, you can either:

a. Divide the entire class in half—group Yes & group No. 

b. Divide students into four groups—A-Yes, B-Yes, A - No, B- No. This results in two simultaneous discussions, and students might find that less intimidating than the previous option. 

5. Circle & Share. Regardless of the format you choose, students should first circle up with classmates who have the same assignment (Yes or No) to share the arguments they jotted down in their organizers. This ensures that everyone on the team has a strong organizer to pull ideas from.

6. Set Up the “Stage.” Arrange six chairs facing each other (3 and 3). These desks are now the benches where members of each team will sit to argue their side. There should be additional desks behind each bench where remaining students will sit while they observe the debate and wait to tap in.

7. Debate! Each person in the class should sit on the bench at least once, sharing an idea from their organizer or something from their personal experience with friendships. The debate ends when all members of the class have had a turn at the bench. Students are graded based on their adherence to the rules of the debate, as well as their general participation.

8. To kick things off, flip a coin to determine which bench will open the debate. Explain to students that there should be a rhythm back and forth. One bench states their argument, then the other side responds and sends it back to the other bench. 

    Tip: Award students who volunteer to sit on their bench in the first round an extra participation point.     

9. Debrief as a group. After the debate, pose questions to the class in a group discussion that will help students analyze the skills they employed in this activity. For example, “For those of you who defended a side of this argument that you don’t necessarily agree with, how did that feel?” or “Do you think it’s helpful to understand both sides of a controversial topic? Why?”. 

A note for teachers: You’ll need to referee the debate to ensure students are adhering to the rules. You might also need to steer the conversation as it evolves. Here are a few additional questions to stir the debate if students get stuck:

  • Can you read or understand the tone of someone’s words and therefore get to know their personality via text?

  • Do young people present balanced versions of themselves via their online personalities? Or do you only get to see the good stuff about their lives on social media?

  • Can you be sure that an online friend is who they say they are? What about “catfishes”? 

  • Is it more challenging to make friends in person or online?

Lastly, remind students to tap in so everyone has a chance to participate!

Help Your Students Raise Money for Childhood Cancer!

Inspired by our Different Like You story about Miya, a childhood cancer survivor, in the September issue? This guide has everything you need to teach your students the power of giving back with the help of our non-profit partners, Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Follow these simple steps to register your lemonade stand and make it a success.


1. Choose a Date 

First, find a date, time and location to host your lemonade stand. Then, fill out your registration at this link and make sure to request a fundraising kit, which has everything you need to kick-start your campaign. A personal fundraising coach will get in touch and can help answer any questions.


This amazing fundraising kit will give you everything you need!


2. Get Everyone in Your Town Talking

Create your custom fundraising page and then ask your students—and their parents—to post event details on social media, including their Facebook pages, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat. 

Share this inspiring video with a personalized message, such as:

Our family will be selling lemonade to help cure kids cancers, one cup at a time. Watch this inspiring video, then lend your support on [insert date here].

Students and parents can also spread the message to the greater community by asking local coffee shops, restaurants and boutiques to set up coin collection jars; writing letters requesting donations; and spreading the word in community papers. 


3. Set Up Shop

On the day of the event, set up your stand using these free downloadable signs and donation container stickers



Students of all ages can help set up the stand, make and sell the lemonade and share the message with customers. The Foundation suggests selling baked goods and crafts and accepting donations rather than charging a set price for the lemonade. 


4. Send in Your Donations

Once your team is done collecting donations for the day, download the form, fill it in and return the donations via the return envelope provided in the kit. Once the donation is received and tallied, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation will update your school’s fundraising homepage with the donation total. 


5. Keep it Going

Continue to rally your community around the national movement to fight childhood cancer by hosting other types of events (such as coin collection drives or fun-runs), or consider starting a Lemon Club, a community-service driven club that raises money and awareness in your community in an ongoing way. Just notify the team at Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation that you’d like to start a club by filling out the form here or by contacting Jeff Baxter at for more information. 

Any questions? Get more resources for teachers here.