Being MEAN can leave lasting scars

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My third grade classes this year have challenged me to try new interventions – whole class, small group, and individually. They are spirited to say the least, chatty, opinionated, and many of them have difficulty taking direction. As fun as they can be, they also cause their fair share of conflicts. Many of them will cry and tell when someone is mean to them, but won’t own up when they do the same mean thing to someone else.

I want to share one whole class intervention I tried with them a few weeks ago. This is my “keep in my back pocket” lesson that I pull out when nothing else seems to work.

To start, I asked them to raise their hands if they have seen each of the following things happen to them or their classmates:

-Someone give a mean look.

-Someone whisper about you.

-Someone tell a secret about you.

-Someone share a secret of yours and break your trust.

-Someone tell you that you can’t play.

-Someone tell you that you can’t sit next to them.

-Someone call you a mean name.

-Someone make fun of you.

-Someone laugh along when someone is making fun of you.

For each mean thing I read off, there were multiple hands in the air. I heard comments such as, “That happens to me a lot” and “I see others doing that.” After I read all of them, I told my third graders that all of these mean things are things that I see and hear happening in our community and it’s not okay.

Then, I introduced my friend. I hung up a life-size cutout of a person. I told them I was going to show them how hurtful their mean behaviors can be to someone. As I read each mean thing again, starting with “Every time YOU….” I cut off a part of the person and let it fall to the floor.

The first time I cut a piece off, you should have heard their gasps. A few of the boys got very silly about it (their usual), so I gave them my stern “take this seriously or else” speech, and we were good to go for the rest.

Green guy

Once we had only a head and shoulders left, I told them we needed to rebuild my friend with kindness. I asked for ideas of how we could help my friend feel better. For each kind idea they shared, I taped a piece of the person back on. Then, we talked about how the kind acts helped a lot, but the person doesn’t quite look the same as before.

There are scars. Scars from mean words and mean actions. My third graders told me that when someone is mean to you, you remember it, even after they’ve apologized. My friend with scars all over his body showed us how we can feel on the inside when someone is mean to us.

While the meanness hasn’t ceased completely, the visual left its mark on my students.

I hung up my scarred friend in my room for reminders to be nice, because no one likes to feel all cut up.

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9 thoughts on “Being MEAN can leave lasting scars

  1. I just did this activity today and my third graders and their teacher loved it! Thank you for the great idea. I look forward to reading more of your blog!

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