We all have our own reasons for becoming teachers and our views on what teaching should primarily be about. For me, our most important mission as educators is not the facts/information/knowledge we provide our students with, but the values and principles we try to instill in them and which they can carry through the rest of their lives. Over the years I’ve come to realize that lessons should not simply be about kindness, instead they should start with kindness and empathy. My students know that I care much more about creating a team culture of learning and respect than covering book tasks and preparing for exams.
I’ve tried many activities over the years, but what you can see below are my 8+ 1 favourite, simple, practical activities which you can use in most teaching contexts and at any stage of the school year.
- Recipe of Kindness / Friendship: Possibly my most favourite activity of all involves asking students to share in groups the ingredients of being kind or being a good friend and writing their own recipe for it. I usually use the document below and we brainstorm in class the ingredients (e.g. love, understanding, respect, acceptance etc.) before letting my kids to work on the recipe with their group.
- Share compliments / Random Acts of Kindness calendar: There are many calendars available online which you can download and print for your classes. My favourite ones can be found here and here. The second site also has beautiful illustrated kindness posters which you can use to introduce students to great values and have class discussions on why these values are important in our lives. Along with that you can hang a compliments poster with take-away slips of paper that students can give to their classmates. I always start the compliments circle first by handing out compliments to students during the first week of lessons and then update the compliments poster every time we run out of them. You can find my favourite poster here
- Kindness champion: As an extension of the activity mentioned above, you can decide with your students on a set of kind deeds someone can do (e.g. say please and thank you, help teammates in group projects etc.) so that at the end of each month the class can vote for a kindness champion. This activity works best if students vote anonymously as it gives them the freedom to choose the kindest student and not necessarily their best friend! Kindness champions can be given Kindness certificates (you can find one of my favourites here)
- Bonding together race: This is one of my favourite outdoor icebreakers which you can try with learners of all levels and practically all ages. You can read about other outdoor icebreakers in my post here. It’s a variation of the tagging race which focuses on empathy and team spirit. Tie some ribbon around each kid’s wrist. Tell them their goal is to run, catch a classmate and get hold of their ribbon. Once they do, they need to freeze or stop and say “Team Bond”. Now they need to share how they can help each other work as a team and have a great time during the year.
- Our class barometer- Kindness edition:This is very similar to the “Hands and feet where they belong” activity which I’ve posted about before and is inspired by an activity shared by Shelly Sanchez Terrell some years ago. It makes use of your classroom’s space either the floor ,the four walls of the classroom or the school yeard/garden if you are to take the activity outside. As an icebreaker, what I usually do is use duct tape on the floor of your classroom, line my class in two rows and tell them they will listen to me reading a list of statements such as “I love cookies”. Students need to move to the side of the tape where they are if the statement is true about themselves. In its kindness edition, I change the type of statements (for e.g. I really like helping others.) and tell students that they need to move to the side of the class/floor they agree with. Then, they need to discuss with the other students on the same side why they feel so about the statement I’ve read.
- Welcoming a new friend, XYZ2/ Please, explain: This is a task which focuses on a the story of a friendly alien, called XYZ2 who is visiting planet Earth for the first time. He/She has already met some humans and tried to make new friends, but there are certain things that confuse him/her about people. I tell my students that we need to help our new friend by describing a list of things or actions such as e.g. a warm smile, a hug, a letter by a friend etc. and using sense words in our descriptions which focus on why these actions/things matter to us.
- Showing kindness to ourselves – Letter to my past self: I love asking students to write letters to themselves (you can read more about this activity here). Usually this is in the form of letters to their future selves in an attempt to make them reflect on the year that has passed and set realistic and attainable goals for the year ahead. What I’ve noticed though is that my kids tended to focus more on their weaknesses and areas of improvement rather than their achievements. Because of this we now also work on a “Celebrating my journey” letter in which students are asked to list their achievements and write positive messages to themselves. After all, if we aren’t kind to ourselves, how can we be to others?
- What makes … special and unique: This is an empowering self-love card which my students and I work on as an alternative Valentine’s Day activity. (The original post on the card can be found here). The card-portrait is actually a piece of paper divided in 12 or 16 boxes (4 columns-3/4 rows). Each row represents 3 different aspects of students’ life and what makes them special in these 3/4 different fields (What makes me a special human being? What makes me a special friend? What makes me a special student? What makes me a special musician? ) Each of the 4 boxes along the row are filled with one word or a short phrase that makes each student unique. Last year we extended the activity and used it to write what makes our classmates special and unique and gave our cards as gifts to each other. You can see examples of the card below:
- If not kind, then what?: This is a warm-up activity that I work on with my students before creating kindness class posters examples of which you can see below. I’ve used it mostly in lessons on R. J. Palacio’s “Wonder” or Natalie Merchant’s song of the same name. The reason I’ve thought of it is because I realized that my kids had a vague, overly general idea of what it means to be kind and polite to others. The task focuses on asking students to identify upsetting, unkind behaviour, in other words to come up with examples of behaviour which is the opposite of being kind. Once we identify these examples, then we work first on the steps that those suffering from these types of behaviour can take and secondly on how those showing this behaviour can improve their attitude.