One of the most popular and most powerful activities of the entire Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum is “Cross the Line,” the third lesson of our Celebrating Diversity theme. The timing and tone for this activity is so important. It’s a serious, important learning activity with tremendous potential for building empathy by asking for vulnerability. There needs to be trust in the group, and that’s why it comes toward the end of our Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum. We make the assumption that trust has built over time both between and among your students and between you and your students.
You may have seen this activity before in other settings with adults, and we like to use it with them too, but it can be equally meaningful even for very young students. It is important to use developmentally appropriate questions for your group and to monitor how they are responding emotionally. We include some facilitation tips in the lesson itself that will help. We welcome your calls and emails as you prepare if you want to talk it through.
When your students line up to begin the activity, you need to set a caring, serious tone. You may want to say something like this:
We’re going to share some things about ourselves that may be difficult to share. We’ll be recalling times when we or someone we knew felt different and perhaps felt put down. Remember in the Torn Heart activity, we sat and listened to a story with put downs. We discussed and learned how to turn put downs into put ups. Now we are standing up and letting each other see that each of us may have experienced a variety of put downs and these put downs sometimes have to do with the very essence of who we are. If we do this activity with sincere empathy, we can become stronger individually and as a group. So I ask that we do it in silence and with respect.
The silence is important. While we integrate a lot of communication skills into our lessons overall, we want this experience to be about observation and personal reflection. No one should feel like they have to tell the story of when or how they had that experience. They shouldn’t feel like they have to reveal whether it is them personally or someone close to them. That may come and may even be known before this activity, but the point is to observe how many people have had an experience with being left out for certain reasons and to realize that some people perhaps never have.
This is a lesson in perspective that continues to build on the windows and mirrors concept we have mentioned several times. Through its sequence of questions, actions, reflections, and observations, a deeper understanding of diversity emerges. I’ve participated in this activity many times, and I remember not crossing the line for the statement, “Cross the line if you or any one of your family members or any friends of yours has a disability that you can see or can’t see.” My elderly mother in her later years had a stroke and was confined to a wheelchair; I suddenly realized that I should be crossing the line. Now I had something in common with those who were crossing the line, and it opened a new understanding of their experience for me.
By the way, we really love the picture book, Red, which we suggest to begin this Celebrating Diversity lesson, and we think that “If I had a Hammer” with its message of love between my brothers and my sisters is a pretty perfect ending. As always, though, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. If you have a good opening or closing for this lesson, we would love to learn about it. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell us how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.