Looks like a big mess, right? Would you believe me if I told you this pile of crumpled up papers did more for the self-esteem of some of my students than all the positive feedback I've put on their assignments this whole year? It's true! These papers are actually the flattened out "snowballs" from our "snowball fight" in class yesterday.
Before you decide I have gone off my rocker for letting the kids have a snowball fight in class, let me explain. I am a big proponent of the Responsive Classroom approach to classroom management. If you don't know about Responsive Classroom, you can read about it HERE. In a nutshell, Responsive Classroom is a widely used, research and evidence-based approach to elementary education that increases academic achievement, decreases problem behaviors, improves social skills and leads to more high-quality instruction.
A widely recognized component of the Responsive Classroom approach is Morning Meeting. Morning Meeting, in addition to being my students' favorite time in the classroom, is a powerful teaching tool for building community, increasing student investment, and improving academic and social skills. The daily, or in my case twice weekly meetings, include a morning message, a greeting, sharing time, and an activity.
The components of Morning Meeting appear simple, but they are powerful. The power starts with the idea that every child is guaranteed to be acknowledged in a positive manner during greeting time, and increases with sense the of safety, trust, cooperation, and community you can foster with carefully planned sharing topics and purposeful play.
The kids may not always be consciously aware of all of the social and emotional benefits of Morning Meeting, but they do LOVE the activities and games we play toward the end of each gathering. The kids like the activities, because they are fun. I appreciate how the games and activities build community, encourage cooperation, and foster group cohesion. It is so awesome to see the kids relax around one another and have fun TOGETHER.
Yesterday's meeting was an especially good one. The kids signed in with the name of a movie they've been wanting to see after reading my message about the Oscars. We did a quick "Numbers" greeting where one student went and greeted another student before giving them a number between one and five. The "greeter" sat in the other student's spot and, the "greeted" student then counted off the assigned number of students and passed the greeting on. This continued until everyone had been personally greeted by someone else in the class. This greeting is effective for two reasons. The randomness of assigning numbers forces children who might not normally talk to one another to at least exchange a pleasantry. I also like how this greeting switches up the seating arrangement in the circle.
Everyone then took a turn sharing about the movie they are looking forward to seeing. It was great for the kids to see who had interests similar to theirs. Since the kids were no longer sitting next to their "friends"after the "Numbers" greeting, they were actually turning and talking to children they might usually shy away from every time someone brought up a new movie release they were all interested in.
Yesterday's activity, Snowball Fight, is a real crowd pleaser. Originsonline.org, a great site for finding morning meeting activities for students of all ages, explains Snowball Fight like this:
How To Play: Players write their names on a sheet and crumple it into a snowball. On the teacher's count, players throw them in the middle. Each player then picks up a snowball, opens it, and writes an acknowledgement. This can continue for several rounds.
I'm not going to lie. I actually let my students throw the snowballs AT each other. This may sound a little wild, but it's really not. I state my expectations before we start: NO running, NO throwing at anyone's face, and NO hiding behind furniture. The kids are great about following the rules, and it's a nice opportunity to incorporate some physical activity into the day. Letting the kids have the freedom to throw the paper balls at one another has a huge payoff. The kids get so caught up in the fun of the fight that they forget to feel uncomfortable about writing nice things about one other. They are so eager to get to the next round of throwing, and ultimately to hearing the compliments that were written about them, that they come up with the compliments readily.
The last time we had a snowball fight in class, (It even sounds fun.) the children wrote very vague compliments on the snowballs. This time I took a minute before the activity started to reinforce the importance of specific language and meaningful praise. I projected this handout that I found online on the SMARTBoard and left it up for the duration of the game. It was a big help!
When we sat back down in the circle after three rounds of throwing and writing compliments, the children shared the compliments written on the last snowball they picked up during the game. Then, they returned the paper to its owner. The expressions on the kids' faces, as someone read the compliments about them aloud, were priceless.
When I asked the kids how they felt hearing the compliments, most of them said it felt good hearing nice things about themselves. One student summed it up well when she said she liked knowing that people saw her as a good friend because it was something she worked on really hard. One student did acknowledge that it felt a little awkward hearing nice things said about her. For me, that was the perfect segue into a conversation about positivity and negativity. I was really able to illustrate the power of kind words, and the importance of taking the time to recognize each other's good qualities.
I want to leave you with a sampling of the things my kids' got to hear about themselves yesterday. I think the list clearly demonstrates how a simple activity like this can have a lasting impact on your students' self-image and their confidence.
~You're a good friend, and you cheer me up when I am sad.
~Your science fair board was very awesome!
~You're really good at getting rebounds in basketball.
~You make everyone smile!
~You always come to school with the coolest sneakers.
~You are a fair player when it comes to games.
~You make things better.
~ Love the bun!
So, is it time for a snowball fight in your classroom? I hope so!