At the end of the year, I did this activity with my students called “On the Line”. I actually took the idea from a movie called Freedom Writers and tweaked it a little so I can’t take any credit for it. But, I highly recommend the movie if you haven’t seen it already. I’m pretty sure it was the movie that inspired me to become a teacher.
In the movie, Hilary Swank is a teacher at an inner city school and she does this activity with her high schoolers. She wanted her students to put aside their differences and to break down those barriers in order to help them find commonalities between one another.
“I see you who you are. Do you understand? I can see you and you are not failing.” – (Hilary Swank) Erin Gruwell
The idea is simple – if the statement applies to you, you take one step forward. You step back and then we start again. I was eager to try it out with my middle schoolers! At first, my Grade 7 students thought it was a game because they were taking the biggest steps and trying to make it to the end of the classroom. (I made everything a competition in that class so I don’t blame them).
But here’s a little background about my class: they were 29 rambunctious 12 year olds that were really sweet when they wanted to be. It has been such a challenge to get them excited about academics when behind the closed doors they struggled with family issues, bullying and mental health. I made it my goal that year to make sure that that classroom was safe place and by the end of the year I can say that I was succcessful.
There was a line on the pavement that established as a basketball court and I asked my students to stand there and wait for instructions. The first couple statements followed with giggles and whispers of “What was the point of this?” I started off simple like “If you like to travel take one step forward” or “Take one step foward if you like ice cream”. As my students got the hang of it, I got into heart of the activity.
Here are a few statements that I used and I always started with “Take a step forward..”
– If you feel lonely sometimes
– If people rarely upset you
– If you can stay calm under a lot of pressure
– If you make a mistake, you tend to start doubting yourself, your abilities or your knowledge.
– If at this moment, you are happy.
– If you are still bothered by the mistakes you made a long time ago.
– If you have said something to someone in this class that you regret.
Slowly but surely the quiet chatter was subdued and students looked around to see who else had taken steps forward. I had to bite my tongue numerous times as I could have had a lot of teaching moments during this activity; but I felt that it would have been more powerful if I just observed. I ended off the activity with this statement, “Take a step forward if you are glad grade 7 is over and you are excited but a little nervous for grade 8!” All students took a step forward and we wrapped it up and headed back into the school.
The following day, one of my girls approached me with tears in her eyes and told me that it was one of the most memorable activities she’s ever done. If I had done this at the beginning of the year, I can guarantee you none of my students would have been comfortable enough to take steps forward.