Brush Up on Respect

Whenever I feel that students are starting to pick on each other and get disrespectful, I use this activity to get them to think about their behavior. For this activity, you need a tube of toothpaste, a four-by-six index card, a marker, a popsicle stick and a toothpick.
Grade Level

Tell students that today everyone is going to brush up on respect. Start by asking these three questions: “How does respect look? How does respect sound? How does respect feel?”  Allow for five to ten minutes of discussion.

Using the marker, draw a big “R” on the four-by-six card. Let students know that the “R” represents “respect”; talk about what respect looks like when it comes out of our mouths. Talk about the words, the tone, the facial expressions and even the body language people use to show respect.

Tell students they’re going to freshen their words by covering that “R” with toothpaste. A volunteer takes the tube and squeezes paste out of it to paint the “R”. As your volunteer is making sure it’s completely covered, help students make a connection between fresh breath and speaking good words, using good manners and maintaining a friendly tone of voice.

Then tell the students you’ve made a terrible mistake. You’ve just realized that this “R” actually stands for “rude.” Invite your volunteer to help you take the word back.

Challenge your volunteer to put the toothpaste back into the tube. On the first attempt, your volunteer may try to retrace with the tube itself, hoping that the toothpaste will go back in. When that doesn’t work, offer your volunteer a popsicle stick or toothpick to keep trying, all the while discussing how it’s impossible to take “disrespectful, hurtful” words back. This serves as an excellent visual demonstration of the power of words because in the end, it’s very messy. Use that as a springboard to discuss the mess that ugly words can cause.

Follow up by brainstorming ways in which a student could fix a mess like that. Discuss the steps you’d have to take to right the wrong. Have students role-play to learn how to give a genuine apology. Ask them to reflect on the lesson during morning meeting the next day, or in their journal writing. And, of course, give everyone a breath mint to remind them that what comes out of their mouths matters.

Barbara Gruener
Westwood Elementary School
Friendswood, Texas


Order Benjamin and the Word ($14.95) at www.artepublicopress.com to reinforce this lesson. It’s a bilingual book that dispels the myth that “sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you.”  Perfect for starting discussions on name-calling.

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