Teaching Mindfulness to Teenagers

Евгения Тащилина

What is mindfulness?

Cambridge Dictionary defines this word as “The practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.” Living in a stressful world full of information, speed and innovations, slowing down seems almost impossible.

However, when I see my students coming to my lesson exhausted after school, when I see them stressed out before an exam, when I see them up to their necks in their homework, I do want to provide them with a calm and relaxing atmosphere.

It doesn’t mean that we spread on the sofa or carpet and do nothing. It means that we learn to experience every moment here and now, we concentrate on our feelings and emotions and learn to deal with them instead of ignoring and hiding from unpleasant situations. It is also about purposeful, nonjudgmental awareness.

Why should we teach it?

Information overload together with lack of encouragement, a feeling of insecurity and high levels of stress result in short attention span and inability to concentrate. We strongly believe that by incorporating mindful practices into our lessons we can make our students more involved in the process. It might help them to become more aware of their lives and problems.

It is beneficial because …

  • It improves attention as it teaches to improve focusing skills;
    It enhances focus by learning to focus on one thing (e.g., breath, sound) while filtering out other stimuli;
    It mitigates the effect of bullying;
    It enhances social skills, skills for understanding their emotions and how to work with them.

How can we teach it?

  • We should start with a mindful moment – find five minutes in our lesson (at the beginning or at the end). Be careful as if your students are on an active wave, they won’t be able to appreciate your attempt. This should be done in a calm atmosphere. Be patient.
  • Ask your students to close their eyes and take a few deep breaths. Ask them to notice their thoughts – what is that their mind is so busy about now. You can use a short video if your students are reluctant to close their eyes.

  • Ask students to concentrate on what they are feeling at the moment. Let them come up with a gesture or a sound that shows this emotion (a loud sigh for tiredness or a beaming smile for happiness). Ask them to stand up and mingle. When you clap hands they find a partner and work in a pair. As present their gesture. Bs repeat. Bs present theirs. As repeat. You might ask them to group according to their feelings. This activity might help you to check if a planned activity or topic matches your students’ mood and get you an idea on how to change your lesson.
  • Try practising mindful listening. Ask your students to listen to various voices (take some celebrities from YouTube). Ask them not to concentrate on the meaning, but on the voice. How does it make them feel? How do they think the person looks? As a follow-up activity, show them the photos of these people. Work as with usual listening task.
  • Start a new routine: at the end of each class ask your students to close their eyes, think about their lesson (what they have achieved, what they have learnt). Always see them off with a positive statement and express your pride of them and their hard work (do not overdo it if they have misbehaved). This routine is supposed to improve the behavioural problems in the long term.
  • Get a jar to your classroom. Put water, glue, and glitter in it. When your students become too anxious, angry or nervous, shake the jar and explain that when they feel like that, their thoughts are like the glitter in the jar – too unstable. Put the jar on the table, ask your students to watch it for a couple of minutes. Ask them to concentrate on their thoughts, on the glitter in the jar. Ask them to compare the two states of the glitter, how it has changed, how it shows the processes inside them. Next time your students are in the same state, just shake the jar and put it on the table. Students might feel relieved and calm even faster than the previous time.
  • At the end of the course, ask your students to stand up, walk around, and come up to each student. Put a piece of paper on each student’s back. Ask the students to write a thank you note on each back. They should write “Thank you for…” and express their gratitude. They can do the same for you.
  • While reading a story, ask your students to think over the following questions:

Is there a moment when a character concentrates on the moment, feelings and emotions at that time?? Why (not)? What would you do in this situation?

Is there a moment when a character does something kind/helpful/true? Why (not) do they do that? Would you do it in a different way?

Does the character show compassion to another character? Why (not) do you think they do it? How would you behave?

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