Lesson Plan: Encouraging Reflection at the Start of the New Year

Our world is so fast-paced and demanding that we never take time to stop and reflect. As an introvert, I need reflection to recharge. As a teacher, I know that reflection is a crucial part of the learning process. That’s why I put my unit plans aside on the first day back from break, and started 2019 with poetry, personal writing, and time to talk with friends. Even if you’re not a teacher, you might like to participate in this mini English lesson as a way to ground yourself for 2019!

Step 1: Poetry

I am a firm believer in enjoying poetry, not killing it via dissection. For this lesson, I only needed the poetry piece to get them started on reflecting. I don’t need an intensive analysis that will only make them shut down.

When we read “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye, these were the only comprehension questions I gave them:

  1. Summarize this poem in your own words.
  2. What are the things that burn?
  3. What does she mean by “so little is a stone”?
  4. What does she mean by “an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space”?
  5. What remains “crackling?

After some small group discussion and some big group checks for comprehension, we moved on to reflection questions. Students wrote for about a minute for each prompt:

  1. If you could burn all of 2018, what would be the things that would wither away and vanish? Although Nye implied that these were just the menial and meaningless memories, you can also think of this as a cathartic burning of bad memories.
  2. What is “a stone” for you? This would be the people/memories/things that would remain after the burning, that you could lift up out of the ashes of 2018 and carry with you into 2019.
  3. What is still “crackling” for you? What are the actions that are left undone, that you didn’t fully complete or carry through to the end? Do you want to continue pursuing them in 2019, or let them go?

Step 2: Whiteboard Gallery Walk

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about high schoolers, it’s that they love writing on walls and whiteboards. I filled up my walls with as many whiteboards as I could. To prep, the kids individually brainstormed through the following prompts:


  1. What is one thing from 2018 that made you happy, proud of yourself, or feel inspired?
  2. What is the greatest lesson you learned in 2018?
  3. What is your favorite memory from Winter Break 2018?
  4. What is one goal you have for 2019?
  5. What motivates you?
  6. What is one challenge you will have to face in 2019?
  7. How do you move forward from setbacks to your goal?

Then, I gave the kids two 90s pop songs’ worth of time to walk through the class at their leisure and write a thought at each of the boards. Be aware: this is about 8-10 minutes of unstructured “fun” time, so be ready to let go of some control and let your kids be kids.

Recommended guidelines so the kids are kind to themselves and each other:

  1. No pressure to write anything personal on the boards that they’re not comfortable with sharing. Let them know ahead of time, and allow them to write something fun instead.
  2. No editing or erasing others’ thoughts. Teacher can make it clear that only she will erase, and that’s only to keep things appropriate in class.
  3. Reminders to be mindful of varying perspectives and beliefs.
  4. Have fun!

Step 3: Share

Once everyone was back at their desks, we all shared ONE thought from the whiteboard walls that we were OK with sharing. I started my telling the kids about my potty training adventures over break, and they continued with their favorite memories and their new goals. It was a fun way to get to know each other again after a stressful end to 2018!

Step 4: Deeper Reflection

I asked the kids to pick ONE idea from the day, anything from their warm-up to “Burning the Old Year” to any of their whiteboard prompts. They had about five minutes to elaborate on the idea in the form of a paragraph. I took it up as an ungraded writing practice. I read their reflection, left a comment for each kids, gave them a sticker (because EVERYONE loves stickers, no matter what the age), and gave it back to them the next day.

I absolutely loved this way of getting to know my students better. It was also a much more pleasant start to the year than diving right back into literary analysis. It’s great to see their insightful sides come out, as well as their senses of humor.

To my fellow empath teachers out there: be ready to be completely exhausted after you read their personal reflections. I was worn out at the end of the day, after reading about all their anxieties, fears, and goals. It’s good to know it all, but it wears on you if you read 150 of them in 24 hours.

What are your thoughts on New Year’s? Do you begin with reflection? How do you begin the new school year?

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