Monday, December 28, 2015


Guest Post by Madelyn Rosenberg

When I wrote my how-to-behave books, I wanted to invoke the idea of a vintage manners book, the kind whose cover stars included a young lady in pin-curls and a young gentleman nearly choked by his skinny, black tie. And, because those books are ridiculously hard to adhere to – So many pages! So many rules! -- I wanted everything to blow up. To make that happen, prim and proper Julia needed a foil (or two or four). And she needed to learn that when it came to fun, other people’s rules were important, too.

The books work to stimulate a discussion with students as you work together to set classroom rules and expectations in September -- or as you revisit those rules at the start of the new year.  They also lead into a fun exercise of do’s and don’ts for starting a school day on the right foot.

Here are some examples from my books:
From How to Behave at a Tea Party: We DO send out invitations, sip quietly, and hold our tea cups just so.
We DO NOT burp like Uncle Victor or make towers out of the tea cups. We do not invite frogs or the Mckagan Brothers.

From How to Behave at a Dog Show: We fill out the form, and use a firm but quiet voice.
We do not eat the judge’s shoes. Or pants.

In class: Read a How-to-Behave book and have the students discuss what the classroom rules should be. Do we exclude our friends, or is everyone allowed to play? How do we speak to others? How do we make sure everyone gets a chance to share their ideas for classroom fun?

Next, have your students write their own wacky version of a how-to guide for your class. You could start with getting ready for the school day or from the moment the kids arrive in the classroom.

Brainstorm two lists: Things you must do and things you mustn’t. For the mustn’t list, the more outrageous and specific the better. Here are some examples, though of course your results will have your own, unique classroom flare.

Get on the school bus.
Talk quietly with your friends.
Walk into the school building.
Greet your classmates and teacher with kindness.
Feed the fish

Bring Shanice’s ball python in your backpack.
Yell like Tarzan and tell the bus driver to turn left and drive to England.
Knock over the principal.
Konk your classmates over the head with a giant pickle.
Put every single block and lego and crayon and piece of paper and dress-up thing in a super high castle so that no one can have them but you.
Go swimming in the fish tank.

Now put your list together in your best how-to style. You may want to keep it simple, by using must and mustn’t. You may want to mix it up a little more, to sound exasperated like Julia does.


Let the students decide which should come first in their story and which thing should come last. Having an end point in mind – a time of day, for example – also helps, so work together on a destination. Do you want your story to end at recess, with everyone playing together? Or the end of the school day, with everyone saying they’ll be back again tomorrow, ready to learn? Ask your students to think about the things that will make their own school day end happily ever after.

As a journalist, Madelyn Rosenberg spent many years writing about colorful, real-life characters. Now she makes up characters of her own. The author of eight books for young people, she lives with her family in Arlington, Va. For more information, visit her web site @ or follow her on twitter at @madrosenberg. And if you try this exercise in your classroom, she’d love to see the results!

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