During the first week of school, my goal is two-fold: I want my students to see self-discovery through writing as their main goal, and I want to build a community based on story. I use activities that encourage students to meet each other through the details of their lives. These stories and details eventually serve as the fodder for personal essays, arguments, and informational texts they will write later in the year.
Demographic grouping is one activity which asks kids to group themselves by various identities and meet the other people in the room who share that characteristic. The key to this activity — for both community building and self-discovery– is to ask kids who find themselves in a demographic group to argue for or against their own inclusion based on their life experience, hence stories. When they find themselves in a circle of Capricorns, for example, they need to tell stories and trot out evidence as they share the details of who they are or who they think they are.
For a 90-minute block class, I use three demographics: Myers-Briggs, Western astrological signs, and birth order. I want students to share stories about what it’s like to be a part of these subsets of the larger population, and I want them to challenge or confirm their placement in these groups. Do they agree or disagree with their “label?” What stories in their lives support or negate this assessment of who they are? Do the definitions fit?
The first demographic congress we convene is around the 16 personality types founded in Carl Jung’s theories on psychological types as listed on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Students take a 10-15 minute quiz which will then place them in one of the sixteen possible combination of four paired personality traits: 1) Introversion or Extraversion; 2) Intuition or Sensing; 3) Thinking or Feeling; 4) Judging or Perceiving. Based on their answers to the personality quiz, students will be given a four-letter personality, such as INFJ.
Before class starts, I post the 16 individual personality types around the room along with a brief explanation of each type. Once students have their types, they migrate around the room and find their Myers-Briggs compadres. For fifteen minutes, I ask them to trade stories that confirm, negate, or qualify the personality type by which they’ve been labeled.
In addition to being a fun, engaging activity which generates numerous narrative opportunities, I also get to see where my dreamers, my leaders, my risk takers, and my nurturers are.
After that, students divide themselves by their zodiac sign. The Western astrological signs are based on which month of the year you were born. According to astrologists, planetary formations at the time of birth can determine a person’s individual character. I’m surprised every year by how many students do not know their zodiac sign.
Before class, I print off a generic description of each of the 12 signs and post these around the room. Students migrate to the mini-poster that bears the symbol for their sign and join the others in the room who were born under the same sign. As they did with the Myers-Briggs grouping, students spend about 15-minutes reading the descriptions of their sign (they especially love to read the section about relationship compatibility) and share stories in these groups as to how they are alike or unlike their sign. This is a great activity because it immediately creates kinship among disparate students in the class based on their birth month.
The last grouping I do is birth order. All the first born, middle, youngest or only children get together in groups. I will have printed off descriptions of the characteristic of that particular birth order, and the groups discuss whether they agree or disagree with the definition of their particular rank. Birth order is a great nugget of teacher information for me as well. I know first and only born kids are often my natural leaders, and when I select group leaders for inquiry sessions later in the year, this information will come in handy.
Once we’ve circled through three demographic groups, I ask students to return to their seat and write a reflection of the activity, such as what surprised you about the descriptions? Did you strongly agree or disagree with any of the demographic groupings in which you found yourself? What was the best story you told today? What was the best story you heard today?