Tuesday, March 4, 2014


If you're curious, you can read my preamble to this project here.

I subscribe to the philosophy that simpler is almost always better. Keep that in mind as you read my macro-structure for teaching character in writing class.

Every Thursday in writing class, which is already #ThrowbackThursday, we currently play classic jams from the 80s and 90s (and some 00s, though that makes me feel old) - it's heavy on Destiny's Child, N'Sync, Backstreet Boys, and other staples of my late adolescence. We also invest heavily in teaching sentence frames (much gratitude to Doug Lemov for the inspiration) but we haven't yet put the two together with character - until now.

Assume the following:
1. Our kids know the names of the "big seven" character strengths and their definitions, with some level of background for each.
2. We have 10 minutes every Thursday for this activity, in writing classes of about 30 kids each.

We start #ThrowbackThursday by reviewing two character strengths (the ones we're focusing on) and a couple sentence frames (see below)

We then show a "protagonist card" (e.g. Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé, Frederick Douglass), two "sentence frame cards" (e.g. sentences beginning with "despite" and sentences that include the words "neither" and "nor"), and a "character strength card" (e.g. "grit", "social intelligence") and have students use the Rally Robin structure (whereby students take turns writing as many creative responses as they can) throughout the duration of the #ThrowbackThursday song that use the protagonist, one of the sentence frames, and the character strength in a grammatically accurate and plausible way. Does the song have a character-themed message? Of course it does! Does the song incorporate one of the sentence frames at some point in its lyrics? Maybe! 

Bonus points (utterly worthless bonus points, that is!) will be given for responses that incorporate a reference to the song that is playing at the time, but our debrief will focus largely on creativity, correct use of the sentence frame, and students' interpretations of the character strength being described (e.g. In your sentence "Despite her quarrels with some of the other members of Destiny's Child, Beyoncé showed a lot of social intelligence by speaking well of them even after launching her solo career," how does this action show social intelligence? Are there any other character strengths Beyoncé showed through this action? What have you done in a similar situation? What would you hope to do next time?)

For good measure, I'll ensure the debrief highlights the grit it took to continue generating increasingly ridiculous sentences, the social intelligence it took to let your partner have a turn when you really wanted to just write your next sentence already, and, of course, the character strengths exemplified in the student-generated sentences themselves. Throughout, we'll have a lot of fun (see zest.)

I don't mean to plant any ideas in your head, but allow me to highlight that I'm planning this before doing it with students (some may say "proactively"), it's a student-centered activ(e)ity, the character strengths align to both the song lyrics and the actual student actions during the activity, and this activity recurs every Thursday.* I should also point out to the hashtag-averse that all the kids are doing it, and its use gives us permission to play cheesy music under the guise of being "hip to the groove" (as all the kids are saying these days.)

Let me know how you would simplify or otherwise improve this macro-structure!



*For full points, here's one piece of relevant research: Seligman's research is not limited to character growth in the "Big Seven", but underscores the importance of using one's own "signature strengths" as levers to improve in the "Big Seven", which is the reason behind expanding our list of character traits beyond the seven that seem to get most of the air-time. Boom. Two points.

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