It's Kindness Week so it seems like a great time to share one of my favorite activities - Kindness Assassins. The idea is adapted from one of my favorite books, Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken. In it McGonigal argues that games can encourage people to be better. She talks about a game she organized called Cruel2bKind. I adapted it to work for my middle schoolers.
I play this with my elective kids but it could work with any group with which you wanted to build relationships. Each student is secretly assigned another student in class. That student is their target. They are to "kill" them with kindness for the duration of the game (I usually run it for two weeks.) After the game ends each student selects the person they think is their assassin (or their top two or three choices depending on how you want to do it.) If they choose correctly the assassin earns 3 points.
So, couldn't the assassin just tell the person? Sure, but then they'd almost certainly lose the game.
The trick is that you earn a bonus point for every student who thinks you are their assassin. You want your target to know you are their assassin but you also want others to think you might be theirs as well. If you just flat out say "I'm so and so's assassin you aren't going to get others to pick you. If you want to win the game you have to be kind to everyone and you've got to do it sneakily!
I generally avoid "Secret Santa" type activities because some kids end up left out. Their Santa just doesn't participate well or at all. With this game that just doesn't happen. If your assassin doesn't join in surely another assassin will jump in to kill you with kindness to take advantage of the situation!
And, of course, I play too. I put my name in the random drawing. I also announce that the winner will receive a cash prize and I'm not afraid to do it because I know I'm going to win anyway! That's usually all the motivation they need. I model by doing very visible acts of kindness for each student over the first few days. I leave inspirational notes on desks (dry erase markers rule!), drop candy here and there, compliment everything, etc. The kids catch on pretty quickly and the kindness grows exponentially as they try to outdo one another. I push the idea that it doesn't require spending money to be kind. I love seeing the creativity they show in sharing kindness!
Now, I have to admit, there is a bit of a feelbad at the end of the game. There are always kids who don't play. They don't do anything kind for the two weeks. They naturally get called out when they are revealed as someone's assassin. I make sure before the game begins to make it clear that anyone who doesn't show kindness to their target is going to feel bad at the end of the game.
When they do, I honestly don't feel bad about it myself. Every student writes a reflection on their own participation and I end with the question of "If we played again how would you play differently?" Those kids always say they'd speak up more, give compliments, etc. Sometimes we sanitize things too much. If a kid is upset because they chose not to be kind - good! Maybe it will change their behavior.
I've never had a kid mad at the end. I've definitely had them change their behavior for the better.
A couple times I've won but certainly not every time. The last time I ran it our winner had 11 out of the 31 kids in class choose him as their assassin (we did a top 3 picks that year.) That's pretty impressive!
I highly recommend reading Reality is Broken if you're still not clear on how this can work. It's a great book. Here are my own files as well which may help too.
Bonus Kindness Activity: For one with far less planning try dropping a Kindness Storm on a student. When a student is called out of class or absent I'll sometimes announce a kindness storm to the rest of the class. When they next see that person they have to be overly kind to them. "Oh, I'm so glad you're back!" "I missed you for the last two minutes!" "Your shoes are amazing!" It's a ton of silly fun and always makes the person feel special, even if they know it is "fake" kindness. I say it isn't fake, it's just practice!