Share with students the quote by Plato, "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." Ask the students what kinds of "hard battles" people could be fighting. Give examples, such as someone may not have enough to eat, someone's parent may be ill with cancer, or someone may be struggling to learn to read and feels embarrassed about it. Listen to their ideas and discuss how they treat people when they know they are going through these hard things. Ask them what the quote tells them to do if they don't know what others are facing. Ask them what their classroom would be like if everyone treated each person with kindness and respect.
- Introduce the book Thank You, Mr. Falker to the students. Tell them that this book is based on a true story about a girl who was fighting a hard battle, and other children were not kind to her about it. In fact they teased her because they saw her as "different."
- Read the book aloud or share the YouTube reading (see Bibliographical References). Ask them partway through the book to name some of Trisha's strengths and qualities, the good things in her life. Ask how they feel about the way the other children are treating her.
- After reading, discuss how different people (family, classmates, teachers) behaved toward Trisha and what effect their behavior had (positive and negative).
- Introduce the definition of philanthropy as "giving time, talent or treasure and taking action for the common good." Discuss and have students give examples of what it means to give time, talent, or treasure (ask for specific examples of volunteering, teaching someone, making something to share).
- Ask the students for adjectives to describe Mr. Falker and his personal qualities. Discuss how Mr. Falker was a philanthropist (ways he shared his time, talent, or treasure).
- Ask the students if everyone in the classroom is the same, looks the same, has the same beliefs, and has the same talents and strengths. For what traits are people seen as “different”? We all have different gifts and we all bloom at different times. Discuss whether classroom diversity (in ability, interests, appearance, experience) makes a stronger or weaker community and why. Analyze how the definition of philanthropy relates to treating diverse people with respect.
- Extend the discussion of subtle ways people show disrespect for people who are different. Teasing and bullying can be shown with looks, neglect, unkindness, and gossip. Ask the students what they think they can do to not only stop those negative behaviors themselves but also raise awareness in others about the positive and negative effects of how people treat one another.
- Reflection Activity: Give each student a large sheet of drawing paper and have them fold it into four sections. Tell them to label the sections as indicated below and make a quick drawing in each part:
- How we are different
- How we are the same
- A hard battle
- A kindness to share
- Have students discuss their reflections (how they feel and what the effect will be) in pairs or small groups. Ask for a few volunteers to share their reflections and the reflections of their group with the rest of the class.
Optional Lesson Extensions:
- Each child passes around an “I think you’re wonderful coupon” and gives a compliment to the person sitting next to him/her.
- Have students go to http://www.patriciapolacco.com/books/falker/falker_index.html. On that site they will be able to find out all about the author and more details, send e-postcards with Polacco’s artwork to others (perhaps compliment cards), and print artwork.
Experiential Component in Three Sessions
Session One: What Can We Do?
- Play a familiar song that promotes ideas of peace and cooperation and kindness. Examples: "I Was Here" by Beyonce, "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens, "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson, "Stand by Me" by Ben E. King. Give them a copy of the lyrics, and sing along.
- Discuss the song's meaning and theme and compare to the themes in the book Thank You, Mr. Falker: selflessness, teasing is terrible, knowledge is sweet. Write these themes on the board.
- Tell the students that today they are going to work in small groups to write a song about one of these themes. Discuss song-writing strategy. Ask:
- How could you go about writing a song? (e.g., start with a tune, decide if it will rhyme, assign tasks to different members of the group)
- What are the parts of a song? (Review words such as verse, chorus, lyrics, rhythm.)
- What can you do if you are trying to write and get stuck or have a hard time thinking of the words you want to use?
- Allow them enough time to work in diverse groups to create songs.
- Present their songs to the class when done.
Session Two: Preparation for service opportunity
- Allow children to go back into their small groups and practice the songs they created.
- Practice the song as a whole group.
- Discuss whether there is a need in the school community to develop tolerance of others and accept differences. Ask students to brainstorm things they can do at home, at school, and/or in the community to spread a message of kindness and celebration of diverse talents and different people. They may propose sharing their songs in creative ways.
- Lead the students to make a plan to take action for the common good. Have them assign roles and make a timeline for carrying out their plan.
Session Three: Take Action and Reflection
- Present and share songs with the other classes in the school, or complete the action plan they made.
- After the presentation, reassemble the small groups and allow each group to evaluate what they did in a final reflection. This can be a poster, a musical recording, or a reflection essay.