Last spring, my 4th graders became overly focused on being cool and some of my 3rd graders started doing really…well..stupid things…because others told them to. I wanted to do a lesson on peer pressure but needed something that was elementary appropriate and had nothing to do with substances. Something about staying true to yourself. And something that wasn’t about accepting yourself for being different.
I found an unlikely winner in the book Sorry! by, of course, Trudy Ludwig (affiliate link). As I mentioned here, the book certainly does discuss genuine vs. disingenuous apologies, but the real focus is on staying true to who you are. The book is rich with discussion topics.
But to start, I wanted an additional “hook” to help get their brains going about peer pressure. In rooms I had a little extra time, I did a “lemmings” activity a middle school counselor friend told me about.
- Send one student on a brief errand. While they are out, have everyone put a notebook or folder on their head and walk around the room singing a song. Ask them not to talk to their classmates when they return, to just keep going.
- When the students come in, they will likely imitate what the others are doing. Once this happens, stop the exercise and ask: What happened? Why? Try to elicit students’ acknowledgment that they joined in because “everyone else was doing it”.
In rooms with less time, or if I feel less confident about how they would work, I just give them a brief rundown of what peer pressure is and looks like:
- Ask students to share what they know about peer pressure. Give some examples of ways that are direct (“You should take some of her candy, I bet she would never notice”, “I am mad at him, so if you want to be friends with me, you can’t be friends with him.”) and indirect (everyone wearing their hair the same way, everyone choosing to not do their work when they see others not doing it). Explain that it can also be good (when people encourage you to do something hard, when you see classmates all being kind to a new person).
- Ask students: What does it mean to stay true to yourself? When you do what everyone else is doing, are you being true to yourself?
Read the Book
Process the Story
One activity I use after reading this book is “Ask-Ask-Switch” with discussion questions about the book and theme. I did this with my 3rd graders because it was a better fit with their abilities than the silent talk activity below. Each student is a given a card. Then they stand, find and high-five a partner, then take turns asking and answering the questions in their hands. When they finish, they switch cards, find new partners, and repeat!
The other activity I use is what I call “silent talk” but others have called “chalk talk”. I explain to the students that they are going to discuss the story…silently. Most are able to guess we’ll be writing. I put 5-6 discussion questions on sticky chart paper and post them around the room. The idea is that after answering each question, they will continue to walk around the room and read each other’s responses and add comments, ask questions, use symbols, etc. I project some ideas of ways that they can interact with one another’s responses. I usually have to model this and remind them as we go, because they all get hyper focused with just answering all of the questions.
With about 10ish minutes left, I stop them, gather the anchor chart question sheets, and we circle up on the floor. I go through each question and share what I notice about their responses and they share what they’ve noticed.
*In the past, I did this lesson after this sort of thing had already become an issue. This year, something similar started to pop up earlier than usual in one of the homerooms so I went ahead and moved this up in the curriculum map. It made the lesson more reinforcing (of their still strong beliefs in staying true to themselves and being kind) and preventative than in the past. I haven’t decided yet if I think this is the right timing or if I should have waited. Time will tell!*