Sparking Student Motivation: The Power of Words

I woke up to my first official day of summer! 
What a glorious feeling.
I'm linking up with Joanne from Head Over Heels for Teaching
for Spark Student Motivation Saturdays:

Today I want to share an activity that I do each year with my students to discuss the power of words.

{Here is a recording of me teaching the lesson.}

I start out my telling my students that
I am going to tell them a
big lie.
They start giggling but sit quietly,
waiting for what I'm about to say.
I pause.
Then I quote:

"Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never hurt me."

I begin the illustration like this:
Each time you speak, you words come out like toothpaste.
I walk around the classroom and talk,
squirting toothpaste messily out onto a cookie sheet as I go. 
I say sarcastic comments, "funny" jokes at someone else's expense, insults, thoughtless comments, etc. as I squeeze it all over the place.

Then I pull out the toothbrushes:
Each tooth brush has a sign attached to it:
And I try to use the toothbrushes to get the toothpaste neatly back in the tube.

But it never works.
In the end, we're still left with a mess:

Thus proving my point:
Words have power.
Words have weight.
Words make a lasting impact.

Then I read this book to them:
It's a classic book about a young girl who goes to kindergarten and gets made fun of because of her unusual name.
This year I actually played a youtube video
of the book being read:
When the video starts, I hold up this picture of our main character, Chrysanthemum:
Then, everytime a character says something mean to Chrysanthemum, I ripped the paper.
The students were shocked, quietly whispering, "what's she doing? why is she ripping it?"

I knew I had their attention.

Chrysanthemum goes home and tells her parents what the mean kids said. They comfort her and try to reassure her.
With each comforting words, I took a piece of scotch tape and taped up a rip.
The next pages followed a similar pattern.

At the end of the story, the classmates apologize and Chrysanthemum feels better.

I show my students the picture: 

Does it look like the one at the beginning?
Because words have power.
And we can comfort someone or say we're sorry
or tell them it was just a joke.
But the words are out there.
They have been spoken.
They can be forgiven
But they are not easily forgotten.

We have a great responsibility - words have POWER.

As teachers, we also have the power.
The power to build up or to break down.
The power to stimulate or to criticize.
The power to motivate or to wound.
These refer to the words we say to students and about students.

I leave you with a quote I have hanging in my classroom:


  1. Have you ever read Mr. Peabody's Apples? It is by Madonna, but don't let that stop you. It is a fantastic book about the power of our words. I think it would fit right in with your lesson. Just a suggestion if you are looking for another book. I don't know if your kids are like mine...sometimes we need to revisit key conversations like this in the spring!

    Hunter's Tales from Teaching

  2. Love ALL of it, as usual Jessica! I actually have this book, but use it for writing. I will defintitely use it at the beginning of the year this year! Have you read Enemy Pie? I also share this book too! Thanks for linking up and sharing your wonderful ideas!
    Head Over Heels For Teaching

  3. LOVE it! I've done the wrinkled up paper heart activity before but not this one! Now that I'm moving to a looping 3rd/4th multi-age I need a new "trick" so I don't repeat myself. I'm definitely using this toothpaste idea. Thanks for sharing it!

    Sweet Rhyme – Pure Reason

  4. Jessica, this post is incredible! I just posted about wanting to do a similar toothpaste idea the other day! This will definitely be included in my beginning of the year plans!

    Lucky to Be in First

  5. I had never heard of the toothpaste idea! I love it!! This will be a perfect activity for one of my class meetings on bullying! Thank you for sharing.
    Polka Dot Lesson Plans

  6. Thanks for sharing this. I love how you told all of the things you do with this story. I always read it during the first week of school. I'm super excited to try some of your activities. Pinning this for later :)

    Reaching for the TOP!


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