I’ve sang the praises of Trudy Ludwig’s before before and I’ll do it again: they are phenomenal. So good in fact, that I’m using five of them for this quarter’s lessons with my 4th graders. Each tackles a different issue that my students need help with at this time each year but they share many of the same themes (choosing friends wisely, getting attention in positive instead of negative ways, and treating others respectfully). Spring semester is notorious for my 4th graders to begin testing the waters as they explore their identities, try to make a name for themselves, and start engaging in some typical (but harmful) tween behaviors. I’ve written before about how I’ve used Sorry! and The Invisible Boy and Trouble Talk. I’d previously made morning meeting plans for my teachers using Just Kidding! (affiliate link) but this was the first year I’d gotten a chance to do a lesson with it myself. It was the perfect start to our unit.
I start the lesson by showing them the cover and title of the book. Even those that weren’t exposed to it last year (my third grade teachers rock and many borrowed this from me last year) knew instantly what it would be about. I asked for a show of hands of who had seen and laughed at mean jokes on TV or movies – and I raised my hand too! I explained that most of us are guilty at this but the problem comes when we forget that it’s not ok to deliver mean jokes or laugh at mean jokes when it’s real life with real people and real feelings. I also asked for a show of hands for who likes to be funny/have others think they’re funny. I explained that it’s easy to get caught up in wanting to get a laugh and forgetting to think about others’ feelings in the process.
- Why do you think Vince made a mean joke instead of congratulating DJ? (Because he was jealous, to make people laugh, etc.)
- Why didn’t ignoring work? (Because it made Vince try harder, because other kids were laughing along and not ignoring)
- What does DJ’s dad mean when he said it was more about Vince than DJ? What is Vince’s motivation for making mean jokes about DJ? (My kiddos jump right to the “Maybe he was being bullied at home” hypothesis. I acknowledge this is possible, but push them to recognize other motivations like his wanting attention and power.)
- What’s it called, what DJ just did for Brian? (being an upstander)
Afterward, they circle up and we have a brief discussion about how to tell whether or not a joke (or tease) is hurtful vs. fun. To scaffold this a bit, I wrote out some questions like “Is there a history of this person using hurtful words?” and “Is the tease about someone’s religion, skin color, or body?” and “Is the person making the joke a close friend or just some other student?” onto cards. Volunteers pulled cards and read them, then we all discussed how the answer to the question guided whether or not a joke would be funny. Again – the engagement here was higher than in most lessons – I really attribute this to how much this topic is relevant for them right now.