A Middle School Anti-Labeling and Anti-Judging Activity

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Last week, I introduced a new activity with my middle school students called The Anti-Labeling and Anti-Judging Project. This experiential activity is designed to increase empathy among students and to decrease labeling and judging.

During recess and lunch time, the 7th graders {who were the leaders of this activity} all wore signs with instructions for how others should treat them during that time. Some examples of signs they wore include, “Treat me like I’m invisible,” “Treat me like you feel sorry for me,” “Treat me like you respect me,” “Treat me like I don’t fit in with you group,” and “Treat me like I’m a genius.”

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Prior to the beginning of recess, the 5th and 6th grade students were told that there was going to be a special activity during recess and lunch, and their only instructions were that they had to interact with the 7th graders and that they had to do whatever it said on the 7th graders’ signs.

The students did a exceptional job executing this activity. Those who were “invisible” weren’t spoken to or acknowledged for about 45 minutes, and those who were “cool” were fawned over for that same amount of time.

After lunch {during which the 7th graders were mixed into the 5th and 6th grade tables}, I spent about 15 minutes processing what had happened with all of the middle school students. The 5th and 6th graders understood the purpose of the activity without being told, and seemed to have a better grasp of how labeling others can really hurt them. Since the 7th graders actually got to feel how others do, they had some powerful experiences that they shared with the group. One boy, who isn’t necessarily considered “popular,” got the sign that said, “Treat me like the coolest person you’v ever met,” and he shared that after 45 minutes of being treated like he mattered and like people wanted to be around him, he was already more confident and felt better about himself. Imagine how he would feel if other kids treated him with that level of respect and kindness EVERY DAY! Another student who got the sign, “Treat me like I don’t fit in with your group” really struggled during the activity and said that she couldn’t even imagine being treated that way on a regular basis. In that short amount of time, she already began to feel left out, not cared for, and lonely.

I closed out the activity by saying that we all wear signs like this every day…our signs just happen to be invisible. We talk about the importance of not labeling someone {especially when you don’t even know him or her}, and we discussed the power we have to bring joy or pain into the lives of others based on how we decide to treat them.

I definitely think I will repeat this social experiment, having the 7th graders lead each year. That way, they all get the experience of treating others a certain way and of being treated a certain way.

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