How can we support kids as they process their feelings about current or recent events happening in our world? Today’s students had a front-row seat to school shootings, terrorism events, political conflict, and drug-related deaths for example within recent years, and they might have feelings of confusion, fear, or frustration. Educators have to navigate discussing these conversations and encourage students without promoting their personal views. Though it may be challenging to do, you can take these moments that have real impact students’ lives and make it a teachable moment for students. Here’s how I’ve done this in the past when working with my students.
Journal. This was a great way to start our days when students finished their morning work or had something they needed to get off their chest. They had composition notebooks and would write about things that were on their minds, and if they wanted me to read it, they’d sit it on my desk or volunteer during our class meeting–after I reviewed the entry to make sure it’s okay for class discussion. This gave students chances to talk about their thoughts as well as create classroom community. Plus, it keeps kids from talking about it during teaching or learning times.
Research and debate. For topics with varied views, have students–with parental permission–research information to support their side. Then provide classroom time–maybe 2 – 5 minutes max. towards the end of the day–for each person/group to present. Students can write questions to be answered on sticky notes for the next day. These are particularly effective for those final minutes before the dismissal bell, which is when I used this particular strategy, but you may find a different time of day to be more effective.
Make a book. Choose the style, whether it’s poetry, song, or persuasive essay, have students create works surrounding a topic that students or you choose. This would be a great way to include students’ artistic style by having them design something to go with what they wrote. Then have the book bound and printed and/or scanned into a digital format. Each student can get a copy or donate the book to the school’s library.
Contact local representatives. For those issues directly impacting student’s lives and learning, encourage students to write emails or letters to the local, state, or national politicians. In addition to teaching an important skill, students get the chance to give their views in a way politicians may not normally hear. Plus, if they’re available, invite or visit the politician to get a personal reaction from him or her. Who knows? The words of a child may persuade them to change or revise their stances on issues impacting the student.
What ways do you engage students in your classroom to express their views on pressing events in our culture?