As my students walked into class today, they were greeted by someone new. Dr. Peterson, the Head Zookeeper, welcomed the students into class. Wearing my safari hat, vest, boots, and my official nametag, I handed the students their new nametags. They were now zookeepers in training. We continued the role playing as I shared a letter informing them of a challenge to create a zoo. The zookeepers in training would need to select an animal, design a habitat that could be dismantled for easy transport and relocation, and use only the materials provided.
Over the next hour, my classroom came alive as students designed various habitats for the zoo. They worked harder and were more engaged than ever before. You know it’s a great lesson when students end the class saying, “Can we do more at home?” Can we do extra and bring itto class?” You can see a brief trailer of our zoo challenge day on my YouTube channel here, https://youtu.be/_Aq7TWArrQ4.
The simple act of putting on a costume and role playing changed the entire tone of the class. I’m so excited to introduce measurement, perimeter, budgeting, teamwork, and research skills over the next few weeks as we continue to role play and create a zoo. It’s hard to believe all it took to get students this engaged in learning was a little role playing and fun.
We don’t need a costume or props to change our behavior and roles, but sometimes it helps. I remember my mom telling me to dress up on test days. “How you look makes a difference in how you feel and how you think,” she would say. I remember rolling my eyes at her comments and in college putting it to the test. As I began dragging myself to class in sweats, I started to realize my mom was right. I felt sloppy and tired and that’s exactly how I performed in class. When I took the time to get up and show up, it made a difference.
The best example I have of this was on the day I handed lab coats to the four boys featured in my book, Because of 4(p.72).
As the boys stood in a line in the hallway for a photo I demanded, Rick jumped in front and waved me off. “You have to turn the collar up on these coats to make them look cool,” explained Rick as he went around making sure everyone looked cool.
“Yeah, we’re gangsters,” exclaimed Larry.
“No, you are not gangsters,” I said suppressing a laugh. I put on my most serious face and looked them in the eyes. “You are scholars now.”
“Oh yeah, right. Scholars.” The boys strutted into the lunchroom. I couldn’t help thinking about the poignancy of Larry’s statement. Usually, they strutted into the lunchroom like gangsters. Today something was different. As much as tough third graders could, they were strutting like scholars.
They visibly transformed before my eyes. They stood taller and acted more like scholars than ever before. On that day, they were staying with me for lunch, and we went to the lunchroom to get their meals. They wanted to wear their lab coats. They were so proud. They asked me to snap a picture. This picture will forever be burned in my memory and heart, but it was also captured for me by my illustrator, Mackenzie Murray. Thanks to her, this sketch is prominently featured throughout the book.
Over the next few days, many of us may be dressing up for Halloween. For a moment, we can pretend to be something else, whether it is a scary witch or a superhero. But we don’t need a holiday to dress up and try on different roles. We can try out different costumes and roles anytime. Maybe you want to be a dancer? Put on some tap shoes and be a dancer. Maybe you want to add a little fun to the same old dinner routine. Dress up like a waiter or give everyone aprons and cook together. Homework becoming a chore. Grab some chalkboards and candles and pretend you are doing it like they did in the olden days. Role playing can be fun, but the most important role you can play is the one where you are just you. Bring your whole, true self to your day and see what amazing things happen when you play that role!
Here's a handout for you to use: