Ideas for Morning Meeting Topics for Upper Elementary
Creating a strong classroom community is so important to the function of our classroom and the well-being of our students. Today I’m sharing 16+ ideas for morning meeting topics for that are perfect for your upper elementary morning meetings. Teaching for social and emotional growth through morning meeting lessons is my favorite way to impact my 4th grade or 5th grade classroom community. While the excitement of morning meeting is strong at the beginning of the year, I know it can be daunting to keep coming up with topics and ideas for how to spend your precious minutes. I hope this list gives you some new topics for morning meeting that you can plan to discuss and implement during your morning meeting lessons.
In my theme-based morning meetings, I like to focus on topics that serve a few focused purposes:
setting the foundation for how we treat one another through topics like belonging, friendship, kindness, and compassion
helping students develop empathy and understanding of classmates that they may not be friends or “friendly” with
creating a space and forum for resolving conflict, providing students with the skills to solve conflicts appropriately, and for understanding the benefits of compromise
encouraging students to develop perseverance, growth mindsets, and provide opportunities for goal setting and reflection
encouraging the development of positive character traits like courage, integrity, and responsibility
helping students develop their emotional intelligence and abilities to respond to life’s challenges
That’s a great preview of the morning meeting topics I like to address throughout the year, but here’s a bit about each one.
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16+ Morning Meeting Topics for Upper Elementary
1) A SENSE OF BELONGING
Establishing an environment where students extend a sense of belonging to one another is of utmost importance to me at the start of the year. Belonging is my first morning meeting topic and I address it right away on the first day of school using the picture book Big Al by Andrew Clements. You can read all about my first Belonging lesson at this blog post, Setting a Foundation for a Strong Classroom Community through Belonging Themed Lessons.
Kindness is probably one of the most obvious morning meeting topics to bring into your discussions. I tend to move through my kindness lessons pretty quickly because kindness is a concept that students have (dare I say) nearly been beaten over the head with in past years. While I am a proponent of teaching lessons in kindness, I typically introduce kindness as a precursor to my compassion-themed morning meeting topic. I really like to get right on to my compassion lessons and I’ll share why in the next section.
Compassion is an important morning meeting topic to introduce to 4th grade and 5th grade students. While acts of kindness often come from a place of making ourselves “feel good,” acting on compassion means that we have “recognized the suffering of another human being,” have empathy for what they are going through, and are compelled to act because of that empathy and recognition. It is important to bring the vocabulary of compassion into our classroom so that students have a deeper version and understanding of kindness; it is compassion that guides us in the actions that we can take to most support and help those around us. Compassion is about being “in-tune” and conscious of the needs of others. I want my students to learn so much more than the importance of a kind deed or a “random act” of kindness—I want my students to think outside of themselves and to be able to relate to the needs and feelings of others on a deeper level. I’ve shared lessons and ideas from my Compassion Themed Morning Meeting unit in this blog post.
Long before growth mindset became an educational phenomenon (and an amazing one at that!), I realized that my students needed to be encouraged to persevere through the “hard parts” of so many aspects of their education. I was constantly talking about “being perseverant” and not giving up during math lessons and trying to develop my students’ awareness of how things that presented themselves as difficult at first became things that they soon mastered. The topic of perseverance fit right in to my goals for morning meeting. With stories like Wilma Unlimited (Kathleen Krull) and Fly, Eagle, Fly (Christopher Gregorowski), students learn the importance of believing in oneself and not giving up!
5) RESOLVING CONFLICT
Elementary school teachers, GOT CONFLICT?! Do you have tons of time to DEAL WITH CONFLICTS among students during your teaching time? No way! Dealing with student conflicts and disagreements when you really just need to and want to teach your lessons is one of the most frustrating aspects of teaching. However, when we spend time discussing how to resolve conflicts early in the year, we prepare our students with some of the skills necessary to talk through their issues. During our RESOLVING CONFLICT morning meeting topic unit, we brainstorm classroom routines and strategies for dealing with common conflicts. I teach students 6 Steps for Resolving Conflict based on a list I found online, but students and myself take the list of steps and make them our own to work for our classroom.
I define integrity as the “quality of being honest and adhering to strong principles and character.” Integrity is a topic to address in morning meetings so that we can encourage our students to act with integrity and to help them begin formulating and solidifying their ideas about what is “right” and what is “wrong.” I use Mr. Peabody’s Apples by Madonna as my foundational read aloud for introducing integrity as a morning meeting topic. This book sparks a discussion about protecting one’s reputation, not starting rumors about others, and making things right when you have done something wrong. I’ve shared some ideas for Integrity themed morning meeting lessons in this blog post.
During the first week of school, I am always sure to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. It is not uncommon for us to have a few students in our classrooms who generally lean towards a negative outlook on life. I find it so important to teach students that “Happiness is an inside job” and that they are responsible for managing their emotions and using coping skills (along with MY SUPPORT in helping them learn how to deal with all of the emotions of growing up, going through puberty, and handling interpersonal relationships). I also like to discuss “happiness stealers” and help students overcome grumpiness by learning to laugh at life more often.
Obviously, this unit doesn’t address students who truly need some therapy to overcome depression or deep negative outlooks on life, BUT I have found that it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT for us to have conversations about HAPPINESS, what makes us unhappy, and our PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to take care of ourselves and our feelings WHEN WE HAVE NEGATIVE/SAD/DEPRESSED students in our classrooms. I have truly seen it make a difference in their lives and their behavior in the classroom environment—and I have had parents extend gratitude to me because I took the time to place importance on their child’s overall well-being.
With books like Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon (Patty Lovell), A Bad Case of the Stripes (David Shannon), and my personal favorite, Wings (Christopher Myers), individualism and the importance of being oneself is the perfect topic for morning meetings. Upper elementary students are often at the age where they notice differences in their classmates and themselves, and we’ve all had students who are really unique and quirky. It’s important that we teach our students to CELEBRATE differences and what makes us unique. Being brave enough to be an individual also comes into play when we discuss COURAGE, INTEGRITY, and standing up for what we believe in. Often, we have to go against the crowd to maintain our individuality. We have to accept ourselves for who we are, and in doing, so, we hopefully learn to be more capable of accepting others—which also leads to compassion, empathy, and a sense of belonging! (Wow! Have you noticed how so many of the morning meeting topics intertwine?!)
The ability to compromise is deeply connected to how possible it is for students to solve their conflicts. I love incorporating compromise as a morning meeting topic. I want students to learn to listen to one another’s perspectives in hopes of understanding one another better. We learn from books like Feathers and Fools (Mem Fox) to discuss what happens when no one is willing to bend or sit down and listen to the other’s side.
10) GOAL SETTING
Goal setting is one of my FAVORITE topics to discuss with my 4th grade and 5th grade students. I think it is so important to begin teaching children how to think about setting and achieving goals at an early age, because children who can set goals, come up with strategies for achieving them, deal with setbacks, and persevere become adults who have a better understanding of how to make their dreams and ambitions come true. I also feel that goal setting is a crucial component in creating an educational setting where students take responsibility for their learning and progress. I have students generate social, academic, and personal goals during this unit.
We know that the changes that 4th and 5th grade students go through often involve changing friendships, developing new friendships, and trying to understand how to navigate the social environment of growing up. When I address friendship as a morning meeting topic, I tend to focus on how friends enrich our lives. One of my favorite books to read aloud for my friendship focus is C.R. Mudgeon by Leslie Muir. C.R. is quite an introvert and when his new neighbor, Paprika (spicy as the name implies!) moves in next door, CR comes out of his shell—after a few encounters based on his annoyance with her. It’s definitely a perfect “opposites attract” story—and perfect for a “friends enrich our lives” discussion.
Courage, defined as “showing bravery in the face of fear,” is an important topic that I address in morning meetings because I want my students to act courageously when a situation calls for it. Discussing the importance of being courageous in situations where it is unpopular, risky, or challenging to “stand up” empowers our students to make good decisions when facing different situations. I also want to create a classroom community where students feel safe to experience failure, to share their fears, AND to step outside of their comfort zones. Sometimes I break my COURAGE unit into two morning meeting topics—personal courage and historical courage. During our historical courage unit, we turn our attention to people who have courageously fought for social justice, equal rights, and worked to change the world for the better.
13) Managing EMOTIONS
While I like to address happiness as separate morning meeting topic early in the year, our students struggle with managing many other emotions—stress, anxiety and worry, anger, jealousy, and sadness. It’s important that we discuss strategies for dealing with these emotions, help students identify the triggers that cause them, and create an overall supportive climate where we help our “young” students learn to handle life’s challenges appropriately. During this unit, I also like to address what it feels like when we are relaxed and strategies for calming our minds because students need to discuss and visualize their ideal personal state so that they can tap into it more often.
Oh, the struggles of lack of responsibility with upper elementary students and how that wreaks havoc on our classroom environments and our personal stress as teachers! It’s so important that we discuss responsibility as a topic and that we give our students time to process how they can become more responsible and act with responsibility in unique situations. One of my favorite activities for discussing responsibility is a set of scenarios where students are asked how they would be responsible in that situation.
15) INTRINSIC MOTIVATION
Intrinsic motivation is one of my favorite morning meeting topics. During this unit, I help students identify what motivates them to be and do their best. I like to address motivation head on as I think it helps students to take ownership of their potential and learn to rely on outside motivations more often. During the unit, we compare and contrast intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and discuss the benefits of intrinsic motivation and the concerns that come with needing to be extrinsically motivated too often.
16) GROWTH MINDSET
Growth Mindset is an obvious topic for our discussions (and I’m so glad that Carol Dweck’s work has caused the topic to sweep into classrooms across the world!). I love to include Growth Mindset as a morning meeting topic because it provides the perfect space in my school day to address key vocabulary and the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. Growth mindset conversations piggyback and complement so many of our morning meeting topics—perseverance, intrinsic motivation, goal setting, and managing emotions. Developing a growth mindset can even be a layer of our discussions when teaching students about resolving conflict and developing friendships—if resolving conflict, developing friendships, being kind, or any other topic is challenging for individual students, we can address how a growth-minded person would approach those challenges.
A Bit More about Theme-Based Morning Meetings
My morning meeting topics are taught through theme-based morning meeting lessons. I focus on one topic or theme for 1-3 weeks (depending on how deeply I want to investigate the topic with my students and based on how greatly my students need to develop their abilities in that area).
Along with my theme-based morning meeting topics, I am sure to introduce students to key vocabulary for each topic. This key vocabulary is critical for helping students develop their ability to communicate their thoughts and ideas and to establish a common language in our classroom. With exposure to those new words and definitions, we can now communicate more easily about social and emotional topics.
I have developed each of these morning meeting topics into morning meeting theme sets that utilize picture books, online videos, group discussions, theme-related quotations, key vocabulary, suggested activities, student journal pages, and much more. Not only do I teach my students about the themes listed above, but through morning meeting topics designed around common themes in literature, I am able to enhance and teach quite a bit of my key literature standards.
FREE MORNING MEETING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
If you want to learn more about theme-based morning meetings, you can sign up for my “Getting More out of Morning Meeting” professional development where I go into detail about my morning meeting routine, the importance and benefits of theme-based morning meetings, and tips and advice on scheduling morning meetings into your school day. If you want to learn more about the training before signing up, you can read the details here.
What other morning meeting topics would you like to see added to this list? Did I leave off an important morning meeting topic that you address during your meetings? Let us know in the comments! I am always looking for new topics!