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These days, school is not just about academics. In the world of instant messaging and emails, students need to be armed with skills to deal with teasing and bullies. That's why Books on Bullying:Oliver Button is a Sissy sequencing activities article is an important resource to use with young children. The sequencing lesson works on reading skills and the books provide a vehicle to begin discussions of social issues.
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Oliver Button is a Sissy
One year, when I was teaching science to third graders, we were working on magnets and electricity. I placed objects on a table and asked students to vote whether the magnet would attract each particular item. I came to a nickel. I asked for a vote, “Raise your hand if you think that, yes, the magnet will attract the nickel." A few hands shot up immediately. Then I watched the others. I happened to have most of the “cool" third graders in this class. Those kids had their hands up so it didn’t take long for the others to raise their hands following their “leaders". One lone boy kept his hand down. Others started to snicker at him but he was not swayed. As it turned out, he was the only one that was right and I had a teachable moment. I commented on the fact that he should be proud that he stuck to his convictions and was not influenced by the crowd. Just like Oliver Button.
Even though this is a picture book, Oliver Button is a Sissy could still be the catalyst for great discussions about peer pressure and bullying with children from kindergarten through third grade. Beloved author and illustrator, Tomie dePoala, admits that Oliver Button’s childhood was based on his own childhood. He was teased and bullied because he was different. Like Oliver Button, he continued to pursue what he loved and did not follow the crowd.
Read the book to your class.
Write these sentences with large letters on 9" x 12" pieces of construction paper:
Oliver took dance lessons for the exercise.
The girls rescued Oliver’s tap shoes from the boys.
The writing on the wall says Oliver Button is a sissy.
Oliver signs up for the talent show and practices hard.
Oliver lost in the talent show.
Oliver does not want to go to school.
The writing on the wall says Oliver Button is a star.
Mix up the papers and then give one paper to each of eight students. Ask students to stand in front of the class holding the cards so that the writing faces the audience. Allow time for others to read the sentences or the teacher can read the sentences aloud. Then take turns putting the sentences in order by moving the students to the right place in the sequence.
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Violet the Pilot
Here is another book for early elementary children. Violet the Pilot by Steve Breen has a similar premise as Oliver Button is a Sissy. Violet is a young girl who is very mechanically inclined. She builds a variety of wonderful things and her parents are very proud of her. But she has no friends and the children at school tease and bully her because she is different. She builds an airplane to enter into a contest. On her way to the contest, she gets sidetracked saving a group of boy scouts whose canoe capsized in the river. She is sad because she missed the contest. Later the whole town, including the school bullies, turn out to honor her for saving the boys.
Remember that being “different" is not bad or wrong, it is just different.
2. Do you think Violet’s classmates will continue to tease her now that they know how special she really is?
3. Do you think bullies may be jealous or afraid of the person who is different?
4. Do you think that Violet was brave to continue building things instead of acting like everyone else?
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The Ant Bully
The Ant Bully is written and illustrated by John Nickle. Once again, the main character, Lucas, is considered to be “weird". A bigger boy named Sid bullied him. Because Lucas was bullied he, in turn, bullied the little ants by spraying them with water. The ants shrunk him and took him into their ant colony. He learned how to work hard like the ants. He also learned that he should not hurt them.
1.Why did Lucas pick on the ants? (He was mad that Sid bullied him. He thought the ants were too little to fight back.)
2. What lesson did Lucas learn?
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Teachers and parents need to begin the discussion about bullying, teasing and peer pressure when a child is young enough to understand. A good way to begin is with an appropriate book that will help to open the lines of communication. Books on Bullying: Oliver Button is a Sissy Sequencing Activities is a great resource. Choose a book to read together and keep the dialogue going.
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An Eye-Opening Experience
This is an exercise that can be powerful and yet it is simple. Choose an attribute to use to divide your class such as: eye color, hair color, color of socks, height, number of letters in your first name, etc. You may want to choose an attribute that will put one of your class “leaders" or “bullies" in the smaller group.
For example: Let’s use eye color as the attribute. Tell the students that the class is going to play a game. It may be a sequencing activity, spelling bee or a kickball game. The game doesn’t matter. Without any additional explanation, look each student in the eyes and sort them by eye color. Brown eyes go on one side of the room, blue eyes on the other, green eyes in a different spot. Most often those with the brown eyes will be the largest group. Hopefully one or two of the bullies or leaders will be in the blue or green-eyed group. The number of students in each group will be uneven and hopefully one group will far outnumber the others. By this time, students are whispering and wondering why you are dividing them in such a way. Begin the game without any explanation. If your students are bold enough, they will begin to complain, “This isn’t fair! That group has more people." Be firm and continue the game. Perhaps you could even say that they will be graded on their scores or the winning team will get a treat. Students will become agitated by the unfairness of this activity. It is up to you to decide how long the game will go on. After the activity, sit the class down for a discussion:
1) How did you feel when you were playing the game?
2) Do you think that the way the class was divided was fair? Why or why not?
3) Is it fair that someone is left out because of the way they act or look?
Hopefully most will see the injustice of leaving someone out for such silly reasons and they will understand how hurtful it is.
dePaola, Tomie. Oliver Button is a Sissy. Sandpiper, 1979.
Asch, Frank. Mrs. Marlowe’s Mice. Kids Can Press, 2007.
Nickle, John. The Ant Bully. Scholastic, 2006.
Breen, Steve. Violet the Pilot. Dial, 2008.
Clairmont, Patsy. 5 Cheesy Stories. Thomas Nelson, 2007.
Pinkwater, Manus. The Big Orange Splot. Scholastic Paperbacks, 1993.
Wojtowicz, Jennifer. The Boy Who Grew Flowers. Barefoot Books, 2005.
Binkow, Howard. Howard B. Wigglebottom Learns About Bullies. Thunderbolt Publishing, 2008.