It took me a long time to realize that “different” is a positive thing. Being different is unique, distinct, and cool. And we ALL learn, grow, evolve, and change in different ways. It is our multiplicity as humans that makes us so special. But when I was a student, the last thing I ever wanted to be considered—by my peers or my teachers—was “different.”
As educators, how do we help students overcome the stigma of being labeled “different”? And how do we advocate for all our different learners to deliver results for each unique student?
Patricia Starek, a former middle school Special Education teacher, wrote a poem, “Different,” which celebrates teaching students with disabilities and the differences that make educators so special. Below is an excerpt:
You are different
That “crazy” Middle School
Brain on fire with metaphor and belief
The one who loves math enough
to teach it to those who hate it
How do you do it?
At HMH, we want to help educators celebrate their differences and what makes their students different. So we pulled together a couple of free classroom activities for you to help illustrate how being different is the best way to be!
All About Me Activities for Elementary Students: We're Different/We're Alike Venn Diagram
In this All About Me activity for elementary school, students will use a Venn diagram to describe the ways in which they are similar and different.
What You Need
What to Do
- Ask students to think about ways in which they are similar to their classmates and ways in which they are different.
- Give each student an All About Me worksheet and have students complete them.
- Arrange students in pairs. Give each pair an All About Us Venn Diagram. Have them compare their All About Me lists and complete the Venn diagram.
- Discuss the results as a class. Which pair had the most in common? Which pair was the most different?
- Create a word cloud of all the things that make your students “different.”
- Make a larger version of the Venn diagram to compare how everyone in the class is similar and different.
All About Me Activities for Middle School: Celebrating What Makes Me Unique Essay
In this all about me activity for middle school, students will write personal narratives that are designed to help them reflect on what makes them unique.
What to Do
- Give students two minutes to jot down words or phrases that come to mind when they hear the word different. Then have them share some of their responses with the class as you write them on the board.
- Using open-ended questions, lead the class in a brief discussion about what it means to be considered “different.”
- Instruct students to make personal lists of ways they feel they are different and unique and how they’ve embraced their differences. Have them select the one thing that has the most significance to them.
- Tell students that they will be writing three- to five-paragraph personal narratives about how they celebrate what makes them unique. Suggest they include:
- A description of the difference
- The impact it has had on their life
- The student's feelings about it
- Use the writing process to develop the essays. When the pieces are complete, they may be shared in a small peer-response group.
- Reshape the essays into other writing forms, such as short stories, newspaper articles, or poetry, like Patricia’s slam poem from above. Students may also use music, dance, or art to express what they want to say.
- Plan a reading for parents, and select a few students to share their pieces. Then, conduct a follow-up discussion with parents about the changes of early adolescence.
- Collect and publish the writing pieces in a school literary journal.