July 23, 2019
by Meena Srinivasan

Lesson plan

The Power of Words

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Grade Subject

Students will be able to identify the impact that helpful or hurtful language has on others.

(30 minutes)
  • Join the class together in a circle, on the rug or in chairs.
  • Tell them that today they will participate in a personal experience panel.
  • Explain that three or four volunteers will describe a time when someone used positive words with them, and a time when someone used mean words with them (no names will be used).
  • Share an example of each instance from your own life. For example: "When I was in college a guy in my calculus class said women aren't good at math, and that really impacted my confidence. I learned to persevere because I love math, and now I'm a math teacher."
  • Tell students that everyone who isn't speaking should listen to each volunteer on the panel with kind attention.
  • Write "Personal Experience Panel" on the board.
  • Underneath it, write a list of the following guidelines for the panel:
    • Each person has equal time to speak.
    • No one interrupts, gives advice, or breaks in with a personal story.
    • What is said in the classroom, stays in the classroom.
    • Focus on each speaker with eye contact and listening ears.
  • Ask for three or four volunteers to come into the center of the circle to form a smaller circle.
  • Explain that they will each have three minutes to share an experience.
  • Ask the class to take a few deep breaths into their bellies, and to relax their shoulders and hands.
  • Then, have them return to normal breathing and feel their feet in their shoes or on the floor.
  • Give each volunteer the following prompt: "Describe a time someone used mean words with you. What was this like? How did you feel?"
  • Remind the listeners of the guidelines on the board, and have the volunteers speak one at a time.
  • Afterwards, give the next prompt: "Describe a time someone used kind and uplifting words with you. What was this like? How did you feel?"
  • Again, remind the class of the guidelines, and have the volunteers speak for three minutes.
  • Thank the volunteers, and ask them to return to the larger circle.
  • Ask the class, "What was it like to hear your classmates' stories? How did their experiences impact them? How can our words impact others and our community?"
  • (Note: If a student shares a situation where they have been emotionally abused or inflicted with physical harm, teachers must follow up as they are mandatory reporters.)
(20 minutes)
  • Write the following question on the board: "How do we handle social pressures and unkindness?"
  • Ask students to reflect on this prompt in their journals for a couple minutes.
  • Then, have them share what they wrote with a partner.
  • Facilitate a classroom discussion, with each pair sharing what they talked about. Guide them to reach some agreements about how they can all support each other in acting and speaking in kind ways.
  • The following activity is optional:
    • Show the class the book Desmond and the Very Mean Word, and tell them that you will be reading it to them.
    • Ask students to consider the same question as you read.
    • Read through the story, and pause periodically to check for comprehension.
    • Ask, "How do we handle social pressures and unkindness?" Write some of the students' answers to the question on the board.
    • After reading the story, ask the following questions, one at a time: What happened in the story? How does Father Trevor explain forgiveness? How did Desmond forgive? How do Desmond and the red-haired boy end up showing each other forgiveness and respect? How can people show compassion and respect for one another?
(10 minutes)
  • Show the class the poster with "Compassion," "Forgiveness," and "Respect" written on top.
  • Explain to students that when they are seen demonstrating these three qualities (the teacher or students may see this), their name will be written on the poster.
  • Tell the class that they will be drawing a picture from their life or a recent book they've read that reflected compassion, respect, or forgiveness. Their pictures will be placed on the poster. (If your class read Desmond and the Very Mean Word, they can draw a scene from that book that represents compassion, respect, or forgiveness.)
  • Pass out the Compassion, Forgiveness, Respect worksheet.
  • Read the worksheet's instructions, and model how to complete the activity.
  • Ask the students if they have any questions.
(25 minutes)
  • Have students return to their seats, and work independently to complete the worksheet.

Enrichment: Ask advanced students to write a poem about forgiveness and/or overcoming negativity from others.

Support: Work one-on-one or in small groups to help students complete the worksheet.

(5 minutes)
  • During the independent working time, move through the room and connect one-on-one with as many students as possible.
  • Ask them to share when they've seen a classmate practice compassion, forgiveness, and respect, and when they've practiced these three things themselves. As students share, take notes, and try to have every student's name on the poster by the end of the day.
(10 minutes)
  • Bring the class back together in a circle.
  • Show them the Compassion, Forgiveness, Respect poster with everyone's drawings.
  • Go around the circle, and ask each student to share one word that is connected to the power of words, forgiveness, and respect.
  • Remind students that their names will be placed on the poster when they are demonstrating compassion, forgiveness, or respect.

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