By Amy Martin
1. Opinion Continuum
To introduce this activity, tell the children you'll say a statement (such as the ones listed below). Designate one corner of the room for "strongly agree," the opposite corner for "strongly disagree," and the middle for "not sure." Ask students to go to the appropriate place according to whether they agree with the statement, disagree, or aren't sure. Try to think of statements on which students will have a range of opinions.
Once students have taken their places, ask for volunteers from each location to explain their opinion. Encourage some dialogue among children with differing opinions. If children change their minds in the course of the discussion, they can change places. Here are some suggested statements:
- Children shouldn't be required to do homework.
- Children should have recess in the morning and in the afternoon.
- Children should be allowed to have cell phones in school.
- Children should be limited to one hour of TV a day.
- Children should wear uniforms in school.
- Children should be allowed to chew gum and eat candy in class.
Create the Routine
This "opinion continuum" activity is ideal for starting each day, since it allows children to move around a little and to strengthen their skills at listening to multiple points of view.
Have the opinion statement written on the board when students first arrive, and have them respond to it as part of their unpacking routine (commonly known as "do now"). Then follow up with a discussion about the activity during the morning meeting.
Create a space in the classroom for children to show their opinion visually with their names. You might use craft sticks to write each child's name or have them write their names on chart paper or on the board. They will put their names in one of three places: "strongly disagree," "strongly agree," or "not sure." If you are using craft sticks, these three opinions could be posted on pocket charts or on jars and the children could place their craft stick with their names on them in the pocket or jar that matches what they think. Another possibility is to write the three opinions in a T-chart format with "unsure" in the middle and "strongly disagree" and "strongly agree" on either side. This activity as a routine is an invaluable tool for children to exercise and strengthen their skills at listening to multiple points of view.
2. Win/Win Scenarios
Before times in the day when troubles tend to surface (such as during lunch, recess or gym), present the children with an applicable situation. Have two or three students enact the situation in front of the class. For example, one scenario could involve games at recess: The boys want to play basketball and do not want the girls to play. Encourage the students in the role-play to show with their bodies and voices what would happen. You may want to prompt them with setting up the scene, such as, "the boys have been playing basketball every day, but the girls are feeling left out. One day the girls decide to try to play."
After the students role-play the situation, solicit from the students what would happen if the boys won and the girls lost? And what would happen if the boys lost and the girls won? How might both sides lose? How might both sides win?
Try to encourage multiple solutions, such as: The boys and girls could take turns each day. Or they could split the court. Or both girls and boys could play on equally divided teams. Explain that these solutions allow both parties to get what they want without feeling sad and disappointed. Have the students role-play the various outcomes. Ask, did the characters get what they wanted? How are they feeling?
Create a chart to visually represent how conflicts can turn out
||Group A gets what they want
||Group A does NOT get what they want
|Group B gets what they want
|Group B does NOT get what they want
Create the Routine
Once the activity has been introduced and the chart created, you can use this exercise to brainstorm ideas for preventing predictable problems.
You can have a box in the classroom designated as the "win/win" box. Explain to the children that this is where they can put their concerns and together the classroom will try to find the win/win solutions. Pull applicable role-play ideas from the box and use the format above to try to solve them.
When using real problems, it is important to not use the actual children involved in the problem to role-play. Having neutral children involved in the role-play will help to prevent the situation from becoming too heated. You can also give the children character names and/or use puppets to help students distance themselves from the actual problem.
Role-playing before likely problems arise helps diffuse the situation and encourages children to become more independent problem solvers.
welcome your thoughts and suggestions about these activities!
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Amy Martin is a teacher in the New York City public schools.
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