Community Builder Lesson
This activity is something that can be done quickly or drawn out over a longer class period, depending on whether you’re doing it at the beginning of the year/semester or using it as a touch-base somewhere in between and depending on how lively the discussion gets. In my French class it’s called La Rose Qui Pique, which is like ‘stinging rose’ or ‘thorny rose’, as a nod to the novel The Little Prince. Each student in class shares one rose (something beautiful/good that is happening in class/school/life/whatever) and one thorn (something not so good that is ‘stinging’ them or weighing them down). The meaning here is that life can be tough sometimes with many thorns, but with those thorns come beautiful and good things, too. Some students might choose “I’m really hungry and it’s not even close to lunch!” as their thorn, but others might open up to deeper issues that are affecting them negatively.
This can be done in person or virtual, speaking out loud or writing it down.
– In person, I usually ask them to stand in a circle (I join in as well) and face each other. They must always share at least one rose, but if they are uncomfortable sharing their thorn with everyone, they can write it on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and throw it into my bin of thorns in the center of the circle and I read them later. This bin of thorns is also open all year long (next to my desk) for them to throw their worries into if they feel like sharing them with me. There is something cathartic about writing it on paper and then crumpling it up and ‘throwing it away.’
– Virtually, we just unmute in an order that I determine. The bin of thorns is either a private message to me or my email inbox, and I explain to them that it is there ALL year long for them to ‘throw-away’ their thorns.
The reason I love this community builder is that it helps me build a baseline of where my students are when I first meet them and also keep an eye on their triumphs and struggles all year long. I have also found that the thorns (and roses!) get more detailed and open as the year goes on and they start to trust me (and their classmates) more and more. It also helps them see that they are not alone in their struggles, as many times once a student shares their thorn, a classmate will chip in to say that that was going to be their thorn too or that it was a thorn in the past. Having their classmates around them to help share in their burdens lifts everyone up and also builds empathy. My 6th graders are sometimes still struggling with empathy, and this activity helps me find balance in my pose of building empathetic learners. It is also a throwback to my studies in undergrad French education about the affective filter in students. When their affective filter (stress, anxiety, nervousness, fearfulness, etc.) is high, their ability to learn and desire to take educational risks is significantly reduced. I need them to trust each other and trust in the community of kindness and understanding that we build so that they feel free with one another to take risks in their learning.
I think this could be adapted to the ELA classroom by having students write down their roses and thorns instead of speaking them out loud, and instructing them to write with as much detail as possible. I don’t want to force them to write long, structured paragraphs, but I would ask them to really put some extra thought into their responses before tossing them into the bin of thorns. They could also write on their roses and thorns whether or not they would like them to be shared with the class (with their name attached or anonymously) and whether they are looking for advice or they just want to vent. Those that are ok to be shared could be randomly distributed to students to read aloud as a group, and if the author also indicated they wanted advice, the class could brainstorm some solutions together. That way, this community builder gets them thinking deeply about their lives, writing their thoughts on paper, reading aloud to practice fluency (depending on the age group), and thinking critically about how to solve problems or get through bad situations.