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 is 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! Then I explained that most of us are guilty at this. 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. It’s easy to get caught up in wanting to get a laugh and forgetting to think about others’ feelings in the process.
Then we read the story together, stopping just a few times for me to ask:
- 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.
Then the students worked in small groups to sort specific examples into hurtful vs. fun. This was fascinating for me to watch and listen to. First, it was great to hear students disagree. That really opened the door for a discussion on context and recognizing that not everyone has the same sense of humor. Second, some of the “fun” examples were viewed as hurtful by some of them. For instance, one said “You look like Santa Claus with that frosting on your face!” – and about half the groups put that in the hurtful column.
Those activities worked for my first objective of the lesson; students learning to identify the difference between mean and fun teasing and the impact of mean teasing. My second objective was for students to identify alternatives to mean jokes for being funny. They all want to be comics but at ages 9 and 10, with really mean media as their guide, many haven’t ever thought about other options. So I gave each student a strip of paper and asked them to write down three ideas for ways to make others laugh without hurting feelings. Then they got up, found a partner, shared lists, each copied their favorite from their partner’s onto their own, and then found another partner and repeated. My grand plan involved a debrief and share out of some of these ideas but the discussion was too good and long in the first parts of the lesson to allow for that.
Students were better behaved for this lesson than maybe any other in their grade this year. That’s really saying something given that it was our first lesson together after a long holiday break. Win! I’m extra excited now for the remaining four lessons in this unit.