To develop an understanding that that classroom rules exist to help people get along in a group and to keep people safe.
"The emphasis in the first years of schooling should be on helping children to become aware of the range of society's implicit rules. Students can begin by finding out what the rules are in different classrooms and families, observing how children respond to the rules, and recording their findings in drawings and notes. Discussions can focus on how the rules and behaviors resemble or differ from those in their own classroom or family. Such observations should introduce students to the idea of cultural diversity (though of course no such term should be used at this stage), and this impression should be strongly reinforced by the stories they read." (Benchmarks for Science Literacy p. 154.)
Before students can intelligently observe differences among rules in various classrooms, families, and countries, they must first be able to identify and reflect upon rules that are familiar to them. Although most students should be able to identify some of the school rules and rules in their families, they may not have been asked before to think about why groups create and follow rules. Most students understand that the rule to "not hit others" helps keep people safe. They may not have considered before that many different kinds of groups have this same rule, all over the world, because keeping people safe is a way of maintaining social order. Students are not ready to talk about the term "social order," but they are ready to think about why rules are important in groups.
This lesson incorporates activity ideas written and used by other teachers. They are ideas that have worked well across many classrooms and offer creative ways for encouraging students to participate in making their own classroom rules. The focus of this lesson will be on the most fundamental concept regarding rules—that rules exist to help people get along in a group and to keep people safe. The idea of this lesson is that students will benefit from writing some class rules together and from observing themselves and each other more closely. While they are a diverse group, they will all be faced with the same challenge of working together to create a set of rules they agree to follow. Having this kind of experience will help students with the future challenge of comparing group rules and with learning about cultural influences on people.
One way to create a classroom environment in which students really integrate the rules is to begin the school year with students fully participating in developing the classroom rules. When students help write the rules, and take part in the process of deciding upon the rules and consequences, they are more apt to feel a sense of belonging and ownership. Students who are empowered in this way begin to self-regulate and develop a sense of pride in the environment they are helping to shape. They are "citizens" in their "classroom society" and are building the foundation for learning how to live in a diverse and democratic society.
Prepare an overhead with the words to the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty on it. Alternately, you can write the nursery rhyme on the chalkboard or on a piece of chart paper. You will be reciting and discussing the nursery rhyme with the class at the start of the lesson.
You will also need to cut out the crayon patterns from the Making a Crayon Pattern teacher sheet.
A good way to begin a project around understanding that different people may have different rules is to have a discussion about rules themselves. Ask students to think about the different kinds of rules they have in their lives. Also, encourage them to think about the different people and places where rules are enforced. (For example, they have rules at home, at school, on a team, at the public library, etc.)
You might ask them:
- What rules do you know about?
- What rules do you have to follow at home?
- Who makes the rules?
- What happens if you don't follow one of the rules (if you break a rule)?
Tell them that now they will have a chance to make some rules of their own! First, project the Humpty Dumpty poem using an overhead projector and recite the poem with the class. After you've recited the poem, discuss what caused Humpty Dumpty to fall. Ask, "Did he do something wrong? If so, what did he do wrong? and What should he have done?" You can list student responses on chart paper at the front of the classroom.
For a slight variation of this activity, you can also use an alternative version of this poem, found in the print publication, Father Gander's Nursery Rhymes. Since this version has Humpty Dumpty put together again in the end, you could focus the activity on asking students how people did this.
With either version, this is a fun way for students to think about how rules might have kept Humpty Dumpty from falling in the first place, and how they can write some classroom rules to keep all classmates safe.
Lead a conversation about rules and safety when they have finished this activity:
- Why do we need rules?
- How do rules help keep us safe?
- Do all people need rules?
- What would happen if everyone had the same rules?
- What would happen if everyone had different rules?
- Who should decide what the rules should be?
This conversation is a great transition into the next section of this lesson in which students do a more in-depth activity around developing rules. The idea of being able to participate in the making of rules may be a new and exciting idea for many students. Creating classroom rules together offers students a way to understand how and why rules are made. If the class makes a set of rules, students have an opportunity to hear different ideas, various opinions, and multiple reasons around these rules. If not everyone agrees on a rule, students have an opportunity to experience what happens when people disagree and they can problem solve around this.
Now that students have begun thinking about how rules can help to keep each other safe, it is a good time to think more about how rules and people are related. In other words, rules exist for various reasons, but they are all fundamentally about meeting some need of people.
This is an important concept for students to think about because they are building a foundation now for learning about how rules help maintain social order. Students must first understand how they and their immediate neighbor play a part in rule making before they can understand this on a larger scale.
Lead a discussion about how each of us is special and unique and that one of the hard things about making rules for a group is that we need to find rules that are fair to all of us because we are very different. Help them think about how rules help us all get along.
- Can you think of a way that rules help us get along with each other?
- Do you think all people want the same rules?
- What if each person could make up their own rules?
- What would happen if the person sitting next to you got to make up all the rules?
Now that students are reflecting upon their similarities and differences, have them each color their own crayon portrait as outlined in the activity A Box of Crayons, found on the KinderArt website.
Once the class box of crayons is completed, encourage students to think about the similarities and differences they see in their box. It is very important to try to frame all comments and questions from students in a constructive and instructive way. If someone notices a physical difference about one student, keep the discussion focused on the idea of difference rather than on that individual person's difference. For example, if the comment is about someone's eyes, then this provides an opportunity for all students to look at their own eyes and at each other's eyes to see how many differences there actually are. Skin color may be another observation.
Using multicultural paints or crayons is a wonderful way for students to notice more closely how many different shades of skin tones there are. This helps challenge some of the stereotypes, labels, and categories that students already may have developed.
Now students are ready to make another set of classroom rules. Display their box of crayons in front of the classroom to help students remember how many similarities and differences exist among them. Tell students that even though there are many differences among them, they will now decide, as a group, about some classroom rules that they will all follow in the classroom.
Let them vote on the topic around which they will write rules. (It is often helpful to offer three choices for which they can vote.) Once they have voted, break the students into groups of 3-5, depending on the size of your class. Each group will write one rule.
For this part, print copies of the pizza slice as outlined on the Family Education Network, Inc. website. Have each group write or draw their rule on a slice. When each group is done, the class can assemble all the slices into a whole pizza. They have made a "Rule Pizza." (This idea also works for problem solving throughout the year around many topics.)
Remind them of the differences and similarities they saw in their classroom box of crayons and then ask them to look at their classroom rule pizza. How do they relate?
Ask questions such as:
- Did all of you write the same rule?
- Are any of these rules alike?
- Does any one of these rules keep us from following another rule?
- Are these rules OK in school?
- Would these rules be OK in your family?
- Why don't all people have the same rules?
- What will the rules from your rule pizza do to help keep all your crayons together in the box?
If you used this lesson for establishing classroom rules that students will follow throughout the year, then you might need to help students integrate their rules and the consequences. For example, when a rule is not being followed, refer back to the rule pizza to remind students of the rules they established. Let them help determine the consequences. Ask them what should happen if someone does not follow one of the rules. You can also refine the rules as the year goes on with their input. This will give students experience in evaluating the usefulness of a rule and experience with rewriting a rule.
This activity works well for establishing other classroom rules as well. You could use this same activity or use this as a springboard for further rule development throughout the year. Students now have some experience with the process of developing rules and they will become more familiar, comfortable, and adept at creating classroom rules as they gain experience.
As stated in the benchmark, students should know that there are different rules, but also understand that some behaviors are not acceptable in other places. What happens if a person demonstrates an unacceptable behavior?
Thinking through consequences for breaking the rules they have established is a good way to assess how well they have understood the process of rule making and all the different issues that play a part in creating rules for a group of diverse people. When students have carefully thought about the reasons for rules and how to create fair rules, they will more easily be able to develop matching consequences.
Questions that might be good for a class discussion are:
- What do you think the consequences should be for breaking a rule?
- How can we decide on the consequences?
- How do we make sure the consequences are the same for everyone?
- Do you think these rules and these consequences would work everywhere?
- Do you think you would need these same rules at a soccer game? At the library? At home? (Help them identify that kicking at a soccer game is OK, whispering at the library is OK, etc.—there are different rules for different situations.)
- Is there ever a time when a rule needs to change? When? How could this happen?
You might also team up with another teacher who is willing to do this same lesson, and the two classes could compare their boxes of crayons and rule pizzas. This would be a beginning exercise in comparing group rules.
To extend upon this lesson, you might want to explore the following activities for ideas that match the interest of your particular group of students: