Activity time: 17 minutes
Materials for Activity
- Newsprint, markers and tape
- Inexpensive wooden rulers for each participant
- Permanent fine-point markers or other instruments for writing on the rulers
Preparation for Activity
- Decide on your approach to the activity and adjust the session if your group will need more time than suggested. See "Notes," below, for possible variations. Try writing on rulers in advance of the session so you can be sure your implements work.
Description of Activity
This activity asks youth to consider some of the unwritten rules in their lives, especially at their schools.
Begin by introducing the idea of unwritten rules. First, ask if youth have an idea of what you mean by unwritten rules. Share ideas like these to build understanding:
We all have written rules in our lives. In school they might be in a handbook and on wall signs or posters. Our most important written public rules are called laws. Many of them are written by Congress and state legislatures and are signed by presidents and governors. In sports, we have rule books and on streets we have signs telling us what we must do or risk punishment. However, unwritten laws and unwritten rules are not in books. They are in our minds. They are what we understand about how we are supposed to behave with certain groups, in certain places, and at certain times. In some families, for example, people always sit in the same places at the dinner table. If a visitor takes one of those places without knowing, somebody might feel a little uncomfortable. There is no written rule about this. That is just the way things are. The right thing to do when you visit such a house is wait until somebody in the family tells you where to sit.
Ask the youth about other places where there are unwritten rules. What are some of the rules? Are there unwritten rules about how kids behave with each other? Do the behavior rules change when parents or teachers come into the room?
Now set up the activity: Ask youth to imagine that an alien has just arrived at their house in a puff of smoke. The alien came in looking like a small green being from Mars, but then, with another puff of smoke, transformed into a human of their age and gender. Now all the youth and their aliens are great friends. Your alien will start going to school with you next week and you are sure it will learn the official school rules by reading your handbook. However, the alien needs to know about some of the unwritten rules, too. What will you say about those?
Divide the youth into smaller groups of two or three. Position the groups far enough apart so they can work independently. Give each group enough wooden rulers and writing implements for all participants and then ask them to write unwritten rules of behavior at their schools. They should come up with as many rules as they have members in their group. Say they should write all the rules on newsprint first, so they can change them until all members are comfortable with them. Then each member should write one rule on her or his ruler.
If groups need help getting started, ask some leading questions:
Are their cliques in your schools and unwritten rules about them? Are different types of kids treated differently? Did you ever get in trouble or feel uncomfortable because you did something one way before you understood that everybody else does it another way? Should you always do things the way other people do them? Should you always follow the same rules about how to treat each other?
When all the groups have finished, have them gather again and share their (formerly) unwritten rules. Do they agree on what the rules are? Are they good rules? Silly rules? Bad rules? Can they change them?
If nobody has yet talked about an unwritten rule that youth should never "tell on" their friends, even if the friends do something really wrong, talk about it now. Do the youth in your group have experience with such a rule? Is it a good one? Can it be dangerous? Is it a rule the youth would be willing to break? If so, under what circumstances?
Conclude by saying that unwritten rules are one reason that life can be so complicated. Rules that disagree with each other are another. That is what this session's central story involves.
Notes: (1) Permanent markers will work well for writing on most wooden rulers, but if you think your group is so active that ink may wind up on clothing or work surfaces, use washable markers instead. Whatever you decide, try writing on a ruler in advance of the session. (2) Reviewing their own lives and extracting unwritten rules can be a challenge for sixth graders. If they seem to be struggling, consider changing the instructions and asking for "the most important rules in your school (congregation, or family), whether they are written or unwritten." (3) You can energize the activity by asking the groups to act out their rules so that others can guess what they are. This approach will increase the time required, though.
Including All Participants
Plan workspaces and locate supplies so that youth with limited mobility have equal access.