From Meanness to Meaningful: Bullying Activity for Middle Schoolers

Troubled-Teens-BullyBy Sabrina Bong — Last year, I talked to all my then 6th grade students about bullying.

During my mini speech, I also admitted to them that I was once a bit of a bully. When I said that, a lot of my students giggled; one even said, “Seriously? You’re too little to bully anyone!”

But then, I began telling the story of my bullying ways: when I was in middle school, we had a new student who joined our class. She was nice enough, but was somehow different from the rest of us. She was shorter than me (which, if you know me, is pretty tiny). Beyond that, I’m not sure why we didn’t accept her. Maybe it’s because we had all been together since first grade and had our own ways. Maybe it’s because she didn’t try to be like the rest of us, doing our best to fit in by discussing boyfriends and makeup. Whatever reasons we had, we were just awful to her and did our best to exclude her. She wasn’t one of us.

Now that I’m older, (hopefully) more mature, and a counselor, I more readily see how much bullying impacts students. When I was in middle school, I joined in because I was afraid that by not ridiculing and excluding her, I would be ostracized by my entire grade. I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be popular. So when I have students who choose to be bullies and pick on others, I completely get where they are coming from.

In an effort to stop some of the bullying/gossiping/cliques that are currently forming in one of my 7th grade classes, I went upstairs and asked the students why they thought I was there. One of the students raised her hand and said that she thought I was there because the whole class was having an issue with being disrespectful to the teacher and to the other people in class.

I saw this idea on Pinterest and knew that I had to try it with this class. I wrote “How do you want to be remembered?” in the center of the whiteboard, and then had my students google synonyms of the word “mean.” At first, the students thought I was crazy. But I kept asking for words until we had filled almost the entire board.

I explained to my students that if they weren’t careful, they would soon be known by all of those negative words that I had written down. This was sobering for some of the students. A lot of the students who had spent the beginning of class laughing and joking were suddenly staring at me with enormous eyes.

After a few minutes of silence, one of my students said, “You put all the negative words around ‘How do you want to be remembered?’ That’s not how I want to be remembered at the end of the school year.”

I explained that they could change how people perceive them, but that it would be their doing. As much as I would guide and help them, I could not make them be different. I could not force their behavior to change. I told them that they were able to “erase meanness.” As I said this, I grabbed the whiteboard eraser, erased “rude” and wrote in “kind.”

“How do you want to be remembered?” I asked, before passing the marker on to a student. The student stood up, erased a word, and replaced it with a nice one.

For the whole class period, we erased and added words. And while it’s a little too soon for me to determine if the activity worked or not, I think I made an impact with my students. Hopefully I have encouraged them to erase their meanness and become the kind, loving individuals that I know they are.

For the original activity, please check it out this blog here.

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