4 Ways to Embrace Kindness in Middle and High School

Activities for Secondary Students to Participate in the Great Kindness Challenge

If you are a middle or high school teacher and your district is preparing to participate in The Great Kindness Challenge, you might be anticipating some resistance from your students: for older students, the pressure to be “cool” sometimes overtakes the desire to participate in group events — especially one that promotes communal kindness! That isn’t to say that teenagers aren’t kind, caring, empathetic people: in fact, they have the potential to be some of the most compassionate people in our community, even when they think no one is watching. But bringing out that natural, intuitive compassion, and encouraging them to be proud of that compassion, is a different experience than encouraging kindness with elementary schoolers. Culturally and socially, teenagers sometimes experience rather extreme pressures to conform, often at the expense of their peers. But this only makes their participation and engagement in The Great Kindness Challenge all the more important. So, in order to make the very most of your middle and high school students’ experience with the event, read on for some age-specific activities to bring out the empathy, compassion, and kindness that rests in the hearts of all of your teen learners:

  1. Reading

Just as we suggested reading as a tool to nurture empathy in elementary school classrooms, reading can serve as a powerful tool in middle and high school classrooms — perhaps even more so, because teens have the cognitive abilities to do a deep, thoughtful analysis of the role that kindness plays in the novels. Psychologically, it’s easy for teens to get wrapped up in their own experiences, identities, and relationship to the world. But in order to move forward as thinkers and out into the “real world” as globally conscious, open-minded, and compassionate people, they need to practice perspective taking that stretches them way beyond the confines of their own experience. Integrate kindness and empathy into your literacy and ELA curriculum: whether you use the novels as a group read-aloud or individual selection, choose books that deal with mental illness, culturally variant perspectives, or bullying. Be sure to engage in group discussion and writing exercises that examine the way the characters in the novels are either affected by or engage in random and purposeful acts of kindness.

2. Daily Kindness Quotes

Any classroom, not just ELA, can engage in this daily discussion: select a powerful quote about the importance of kindness (see our Pinterest board, Kindness in the Classroom, for ideas) and do a thorough, class-wide analysis. What does this quote mean? Have you ever seen examples of its implications in your life? How can you work, throughout our school’s participation in The Great Kindness Challenge, to bring the meaning of this quote to life? For an ELA class, an extension of this activity might be to do a creative writing exercise: a poem or flash fiction story that depicts the implication of the quote. For a science or math class, a discussion question might be examining how a career in science or math — engineering, medicine, research — can bring the implications of the quote to life on a global scale. This should really get your students thinking about what kindness truly means, and how they can implement kindness not just in their daily lives as they participate in the challenge, but how it can be a driving force as they move into higher education and their careers.

3. Elementary School Field Trip!

If your entire district is participating in The Great Kindness Challenge, then what better way to promote a supportive community and positive school climate than to engage in some mentoring and cross-grade activities! Whether you bring the elementary schoolers to the older kids or vice versa, find a way to give the middle and high school students an opportunity to act as mentors for their younger counterparts, and model compassionate behavior for the little ones. Truly, the potential activities are endless: teens could write and perform plays about kindness with elementary school students as their audience. They could have a kindness “fair” in your auditorium or gymnasium, where they host games and crafts to teach younger ones about compassion, community, and teamwork. It could even be a simple as sending older students into elementary classrooms and libraries with picture books about kindness, and ask them to read the book aloud to the class. When given such a weighty responsibility, teenagers can surprise you with their ability to step up to the plate, and display a maturity and pride that they might have otherwise kept under wraps. And who better to get your elementary school students’ attention about kindness than the cool older kids!

4. Community Service

We also included community service on our list for elementary school students — but with the age difference, the activity should function very differently. For younger ones, the concept of “community” should be rather simple: their own school, their teachers and their peers. Community responsibility, too, should be rather straightforward, like cleaning up trash and sharing toys. But for teens, both the idea of “community” and of “responsibility” should be far more complex. While resources are limited for many schools, if your district has been looking to organize a community service trip, consider using your time during The Great Kindness Challenge to make that trip happen. As teenagers, students can begin to understand how kindness extends beyond their individual interactions with each other, and how practicing empathy and compassion can have large scale effects on global community. They can begin to understand, through community service experiences and class discussion, their role in their town, their country, and the world. Challenge them to recognize the need for change and improvement in their communities, and to identify how they — even as teenagers — can have an influence on the lives of others. For insight into one middle school teacher’s experience with community service, check out the blog below:

Tip from an Educator:

“To promote literacy I supply teachers with writing prompts about kindness to have students think about different scenarios. I provide different prompt for all teachers so that students don’t get the same prompt in each class they go to.”

— Sharon Lee Welch, M.Ed, Hackett High School, Hackett, AR

Don’t forget to download the official Great Kindness Challenge FREE app to provide your students with easy access to the kindness activity checklist, and to take advantage of a great opportunity to use technology in the classroom:

For more ideas to make the most of your schools’ experience with The Great Kindness Challenge, check out our Pinterest Board, Kindness in the Classroom.

And if you STILL haven’t signed up for the Great Kindness Challenge, you can do so here! Remember: participating in the Challenge doesn’t have to mean doing all of the above. It can be as simple as downloading, distributing, and completing the checklist: whatever your school time and resources allow!

Last week, we hosted a Great Kindness Challenge webinar with Jill McManigal, the Co-founder and Executive Director of Kids for Peace, and Karina Y. Vega, a K-12 counselor with the Office of Child Welfare & Attendance with Coachella Valley Unified, who has implemented a district-wide Great Kindness Challenge with 21 K-12 schools. Find the full recorded webinar here:

BONUS! New free resources from the Great Kindness Challenge team below!

For more SEL inspiration, resources, research, and strategies, watch this new in-depth webinar: