Who Really Built the Pyramids?
Another year, another class. But this one is special. No two gifted groups are alike, believe it or not. The most important thing we can do from the very beginning is to foster the camaraderie that will encourage the students to take risks throughout the school year. Especially in middle school, kids are eager to find out who has something in common with them. Students want to know exactly who their competition is in the class and who will help them get through the rough spots during the year...
Another year, another class. But this one is special. No two gifted groups are alike, believe it or not. The most important thing we can do from the very beginning is to foster the camaraderie that will encourage the students to take risks throughout the school year. Especially in middle school, kids are eager to find out who has something in common with them. Students want to know exactly who their competition is in the class and who will help them get through the rough spots during the year.
I have the answer! This is my favorite Back to School activity for upper elementary or middle school students. I give each students a white paper cup - not Styrofoam or plastic, because I want them to use regular Crayola markers to design their cups. I've been successful at finding these cups at Target or Party City, but you may have to hunt around. The students are told to decorate their cups in a way that the cup will represent them. I give them about fifteen minutes to decorate their cups while sitting in groups sharing markers. This is also a great icebreaker moment as the students begin to chat amongst themselves and ask questions as others are adding pictures and words to their cups.
After our decorating time, each student is invited to come to the front of the room to share their cup with the class. (I tell them ahead of time that this is part of the activity, and I advise them to leave information off their cup if it's something they won't want to share.) I ask each student to take about 20-30 seconds to explain their cup. I let them know we don't need the five-minute speech at this time because we will have more time throughout the year to get to know them. (They usually chuckle when I say this...)
After each student presents the cup, he/she is supposed to leave it on the desk or table that I've placed at the front of the room. After about four or five students place their cups up front, I walk up and nonchalantly arrange the cups in the beginning structure of a pyramid. It's interesting that each time I've done this, the students that follow automatically continue this pyramid shape. So, after all students have presented, we have a beautiful class pyramid at the front of the room. Here is what one of our class pyramids looked like this year.
Now, time for the grand finale! I walk to the front of the room and thank each student for his/her presentation. Then, I discuss how the pyramid is a metaphor that shows how each of us are working together to reach our goals. While I have them focused on understanding how the pyramid points upward and we're all reaching for the stars, I dramatically remove one of the cups and with a twist of the wrist KNOCK THE WHOLE THING DOWN! The audience gasps and holds their breath, and usually a boy at the back of the room yells out, "Oh man!" This is the perfect time for me to explain that if we're not all working together that our goals are now out of reach. It's important to mention to the students, like the cup that was removed, sometimes people are left out because they choose not to participate or because the group chooses not to include them. We all have to make a conscience effort to work as a group.
Another super element of this strategy is that now you have a cup that represents each student. Have each put his/her name on the bottom of the cup so you remember which is which, and use them during Open House. You could have the students write a note to their parents and roll it up in the cup for them to read when they arrive. You could fill each cup with popcorn for a snack. Be creative! This is a great way to show the parents you appreciate their child's individuality!
Though this strategy takes a while to explain, you could probably implement it with about 25-30 minutes of class time. In return, for your students, you will inspire several conversations, many new friends, and the feeling of comfort and acceptance in your classroom. As we work to assist gifted learners with some essential social skills, we should remember that sometimes all it takes is something like a cheap, white, paper cup.