How to Inspire the Best in Your Students

Were you inspired into action by the October issue of Educational Leadership, “Student Who Challenge Us”? If you’re now planning a coherent effort to help students develop inter- and intra-personal skills crucial to their future success—or just looking for in-class activities that support social-emotional learning—here’s a book that should be on your radar.

Excerpted below, Inspiring the Best in Students by Jonathan C. Erwin presents activities that help educators, social workers, counselors, parents, and anyone else working with grade 3–12 students teach essential skills.

Perplexing Preferences

This structured discussion is about something that interests all students: food. This once again brings out how diverse our worlds of perceptions are, even at a very basic level, like our sense of taste.

Students will demonstrate an understanding of the following:

  • Even on the most basic level, the level of the senses, our perceptions of the world differ significantly.
  • Our perceptions are affected by our experience: our culture, our family, our exposure to different things, and much more.
  • Our tastes (our perceptions) often change with maturity, new experiences, and so forth.
  • In order for a perception to change, we must be open to the possibility.

In a class meeting format, ask students to think of the following:

  1. A food (or combination of foods) that they like but that many people, if not most, do not like. I give students an example by telling them that I like Brussels sprouts, an announcement that is almost always followed by groans and expressions like “Gross!”
  2. A food (or combination) that they do not like but that many people, if not most, do. Here, I give them my example: I like chocolate and I like peanut butter, but I don’t like them together. I don’t like, for example, chocolate–peanut butter cups. Again, this is met with gasps of disbelief by many.
  3. A change in tastes: a food (or combination) that they used to like but that they don’t like anymore, or a food that they used to not like but that now they do like. Here, I give my examples: I used to like sweet breakfast cereals, now I prefer oatmeal with raisins only. I did not like Chinese food when I was a kid, but now I love it.

To give students a moment to think out loud about their answers in order to be ready for a large-group discussion, I have them turn to a partner and discuss their possible responses.

Next, I’ll ask a volunteer to start, and quickly going around the class simply have students state their answers to question 1, then question 2, and finally question 3. It’s amusing to hear the different likes, dislikes, and changes in taste.

Next, divide the students into groups of three or four and assign a recorder. Explain that our taste in food is simply one kind of perception, that our perceptions are simply the way we taste, smell, hear, feel, and see the world. Ask them, “What general statements can we make about perceptions based on our food discussion?”

After giving them a few minutes to discuss in small groups, hold a large group discussion, asking the small groups to share their answers. Here are some typical responses:

  • We all have different perceptions.
  • Our tastes (perceptions) are based on what we’ve grown up with—what we’ve experienced and have been taught.
  • Some perceptions are better for us than others.
  • Other people can influence our perceptions.
  • Our perceptions often change as we get older.
  • There is no right or wrong about our tastes; they are just different. This includes our tastes not only in food but also in art, music, recreational activities, and other areas.


Editor’s note: The ASCD Office is closed on Monday, November 12, 2012 in observance of Veterans Day. We’ll have a new post for you on Tuesday, November 13.

Katie Test is a public relations and social media professional on the ASCD Communications team. Prior to joining the communications team at ASCD, she worked for D.C. Public Schools, Durham Public Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools as a communications staffer.