For my middle school students, getting them to be “mindful” about how mindful they are is a bit of a challenge. Since I have started using mindfulness in my classroom, I have worked hard to get them to see how their brains work and how their brains affect so much of what they do. This activity helped them to determine just how mindful they are and really helped to point out how many thoughts can be traveling through their heads in a short amount of time.
For this activity, I have the students use a sheet of paper and a pencil. I tell them that I am going to put on a timer for 3 minutes. For that 3 minutes, they are to write down (I tell them to dot and jot for the sake of time) all of the thoughts that come to mind. I have them sit in various places throughout the room with clipboards so that they are not worried about anyone looking at their papers. I let them know that these lists are for their eyes only so they should feel comfortable to be honest with the exercise.
After the 3 minute time period is up, I have them review their lists and decide if each of the thoughts is a past thought (something that happened prior to coming to class, whether it was minutes before, hours or days before) present thoughts, or future thoughts. Past thoughts would be about anything that happened prior to coming to class and doing this activity. It could be minutes, hours, days or years prior to that activity. Present thoughts are anything that has to do with the activity that they are doing (for instance, “I wonder what Joey is writing about” or “why in the world is she making us do this?”) Future thoughts would be thoughts about anything that will happen after we do this activity. The thought might be about a test in the next class period, a friend they hope to see after class or a worry about what next year will be like. Once they have decided where each of their thoughts fall, they must put a “P” next to all past thoughts, an “N” next to any present or “now” thoughts, and an “F” next to any future thoughts.
Once they have identified where each thought fits, I ask the students to tally up their past, present, and future thoughts. If they are truly mindful, they will have more present thoughts than any other thoughts. If their other two categories prove to have greater numbers, it is a good visual to see how they can benefit from our mindfulness exercises.
After doing this exercise, we talked a lot about how not being mindful and in the moment can affect what we are doing. We identified how it can hurt relationships if we are not present in a conversation with friends. We talked about how it can affect our school work and learning if we are too busy day dreaming or worrying about what is going to happen in our next class. We also talked about how being mindful is so beneficial in allowing us to fully experience moments and how it helps us to be able to do our best in school and other areas or our lives.
This exercise brought about a lot of “aha moments” for my students. For those who had not fully bought in to the idea of mindfulness, they began to see it in a realistic way. For those who had bought into mindfulness, they told me that they either saw how their brain was being trained to think about the now and really saw the exercises making a difference for them.