End of course activity: Final messages

I first heard about this idea in the early 2000’s when I was still teaching in Taiwan. It sounded meaningful, helpful, and potentially the most important thing to come from a class; or rather, classmates. I have since lost the original text; I found it somewhere on the internet, either via email or some website. The original story went something like this:

A teacher in the 1960’s asked his class in their final week of high school to write a one-line message to each classmate. The teacher cut these into strips and reorganised them so that each student would receive all the messages intended for themselves. This was done anonymously, and with one rule: it had to be true. On the last day of classes, each student got a piece of paper with all of these anonymous messages for them. One of these students was a boy, who put his into his wallet and forgot about it. He joined the army and was sent to the Vietnam war. In amongst the horrors of war, at his lowest point in his life, when all hope seemed lost, when death could happen at any moment, with bombs, rockets, grenades, and bullets were a daily threat. He remembered his messages paper. In a lull in the fighting, he took out his paper and began to read it. He began to cry uncontrollably. All of the messages were sincere, nice, thoughtful, and full of admiration for him. He never knew how his classmates felt about him. This changed him. He gained new courage and need for life.

Today, I do something similar to this with my classes with the hope that at the student’s lowest point in their life, this paper could help them out of whatever hole he or she might find themselves in. Let’s face it, everyone will have sunny days, and dark dark nights; we all need a light in times that seem darkest.

A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.

A4 paper prepared for the Messages activity. A.Blyth 2017.

When

Final day of class/course.

Time

It takes about seven minutes to set up, and allow about two minutes per student in your class, but you don’t have to complete this (read below for more on this). A class of fifteen students would need about 37 minutes.

Equipment

  • One quarter of an A4 paper per student.
  • A timer

How

Of course there are many ways to conduct these activity; this is just one possible way.

  1. Cut up clean A4 paper into quarters, so you have enough sheets for each student.
  2. Have them write their name, date, and class name on it.
  3. Pass it on. Go around to each individual student, and tell them to pass the paper onto the next person. Specify who to give it to. Organise this so that each paper will travel around the whole room to every student in turn. Clearly tell them that it is really super important that:
    • Papers never get mixed up and out of order
    • When the timer goes off they pass the paper on as soon as possible
    • Don’t have any papers pile up on one person (thereby depriving the next few people from being able to write a message)
  4. Concept check: Ask, “Talk with your partner, what do you need to do?”

Point out the rules:

Messages activity: Rules and how. A.Blyth, 2017.

Messages activity: Rules and how written on the whiteboard. A.Blyth, 2017.

The rules are:

  1. Should write something nice.
  2. It must be true.
  3. Must be anonymous.

Concept check: Anonymous.

Funnily enough, I have never had to specify that it should be in English, but students automatically write in English. This might be because in the previous lesson we do a short activity on describing their personal gains in terms of personality, achievements, and any funny or nice memories through the year. That way, they have some ideas and vocabulary to use.

First give three minutes to write something (without the owner of the paper seeing). After the timer goes off, pass the paper and write for two minutes. Then each turn thereafter is about one and half minutes. It takes a few iterations for students to get into the swing of things. They only need to write one or two sentences anyway.

After the first turn on this. Point out that most people probably wrote in the “first person” place. The second person shouldn’t write in the “second person” place, but somewhere different. Otherwise, the paper owner can count around and match the comment with the author. Instead, they should write in various places on the paper, and write on both sides.

As they are doing this, don’t read their messages, and don’t add your own. Keep an eye on how close the paper is to the owner near the end of the activity.

If you have time for each paper to go around the whole class, then you’ve done well. Ideally, it should stop at the final person before the owner. Then you say, “don’t pass it on to the owner just yet. Wait!”. It’s ok if you run out of time and finish early, as long as there’s quite a few messages to act as a sample of the class consensus.

Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.

Messages Activity: Putting the paper away. A.Blyth, 2017.

Tell them they need to do four things:

  1. Take out their wallets (or smartphone with pockets in the case, like pictured).
  2. Fold the paper three times.
  3. When they receive their own paper, put it straight into their wallet, and look at it tonight. Not now; there may be tears of joy.
  4. When they pass the paper to the owner, they should say something like, “Good luck with your future. I hope this will help you.”

Before returning the papers, tell them the original story above, and the reason / motivation / purpose for this. Then let them give the paper back to the owner. The class has finished, and wish them luck with their exams and futures and to stay safe during their holidays.

How does a teacher spend his holidays?

A lot of people think that teaching is a great job. You work for a while, and then you get long holidays. In fact, the opposite is true. In Japan, the academic year runs from April to January the following year, which means the holidays is but a week away now. During semester, most teachers work nearly seven days a week during semester. We spend our free time marking student work, planning, preparing, and getting ahead on tasks. Actually, for the first few weeks of each semester I struggle to keep my head above water with all the tasks that need to be done. So, what about holidays?

Person holding coffee cup. CC0 PicJumbo.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-ceramic-teacup-in-front-of-a-macbook-pro-210658/

Person holding coffee cup. CC0 PicJumbo.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-white-ceramic-teacup-in-front-of-a-macbook-pro-210658/

The holiday time is a busy time for me. A point lost on a lot of people. They work Monday to Friday, from nine to five, and when they leave work, they completely stop thinking about work. In contrast, I have research to do. I have syllabuses to prepare. I have exams to mark and submit. I have reading to do (reading about the latest educational psychology theories), and so forth. However, most importantly, I have write my thesis and try to get published. Consequently, when the holidays come, it’s not a relief for me, it’s a chance to catch up on the things I need to do.