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Bury Those
Negative Thoughts


Arts & Humanities
--Language Arts
--Mental Health
Social Studies



Brief Description

A powerful activity "buries" students' thoughts of "I'm not good at" and "I can't" and builds perseverance.


Students will

  • talk about how we all have special skills and talents; things that come easy to one student might not come so easily to all students.
  • write about some things they are not good at or can't do.
  • discuss the importance of perseverance when things get difficult or challenging.


perseverance, persistence, self-esteem, bury, negative thoughts, shred

Materials Needed

  • paper and pencils
  • paper shredder and a large see-through plastic bag (optional)
  • a shovel and a small tree/bush/sapling (optional)

Lesson Plan

This is a good lesson for anytime in the first half of the school year -- the earlier the better. You might use the lesson during the first days of school to set a positive tone for the year.

Write these sentence starters (or others you might add to them) on a board or a sheet of chart paper.

I'm no good at...
If there is one thing I can't do, it is...
I feel stupid when I...
I can't...

Talk with students about how they are all unique. They have a wide variety of talents and skills. They have strengths and weaknesses. For some, new skills will come easily; others will find those skills more challenging to develop.

Ask students to share some things they are good at in school; take time to discuss those things and how it makes them feel to be good at them.

Then draw students' attention to the sentence starters on the board or chart. Ask them to think about how they might complete one or more of those sentences. Pass out paper and let each student complete one or more of the sentences by writing their thoughts on the paper. Let them know before they write that no one will read these papers.

Invite a few students who are willing to share a statement they have written to do so. Invite others to comment on what the students have written. You might ask some leading questions, such as

  • Just because something has been difficult in the past (just because you might not have experienced much success with something in the past), does that mean that you will never be good at it?
  • Have you ever not been very good at something and then -- all of a sudden -- something "clicked" and you "got it"?
  • Just because you are not good at something, is that an excuse to give up? Many times, if you persist or persevere, you can work beyond the difficulties or roadblocks or mental blocks and experience success.

By the end of the discussion, you want students to comprehend your point, which might be summarized using some of the following words:

"Persisting and persevering -- concentrating more and working harder -- can help you achieve things you might not believe you can achieve. Make the point that statements such as "I'm no good at..." have no place in your classroom. Those are just excuses for not trying hard, for not persevering and putting in some extra effort. Persevering and putting in extra effort are just part of learning. While a new skill might come easy to some, it will not be easy for everyone. But, guaranteed, everyone will find some things we do this year to be difficult or challenging. Everyone will encounter times when they must persevere in order to succeed."

Driving Home the Point
Once all students are in agreement/on-board with the idea that persevering is necessary and good, it's time to "shred" or bury" those negative thoughts they wrote on their papers.

  • Shred them. Use a paper shredder to shred the "I'm no good at" and "I can't" statement papers. Take the shreds and pack them into a large transparent plastic bag. Place that bag in a corner (or another prominent place) in the classroom. From time to time -- when the class or some students are having difficulty with a new skill or concept -- you might point to the bag and remind students what you talked about back at the start of the school year. You shredded all those negative thoughts and made a commitment to work through them when you encountered them.
  • Bury them. Collect the "I'm no good at" and "I can't" statement papers. Go into the schoolyard and dig a hole. (You will want to get permission to dig that hole first.) Bury the negative thoughts in the hole. You might even plant a small tree/sapling in the hole as a reminder of what is buried in that spot. If you ever hear a student sharing "I'm no good at" thoughts, just point to the tree as a reminder of the need to focus and work extra hard to persevere through the difficulty.

Alternative Idea
Another teacher I read about some years ago held an "I can't" funeral in her classroom. As a "coffin" was carried among the students, they dropped in their "I can't" slips. At the end of the funeral, the teacher announced that "I can't" was officially dead.

"Can't closes doors, allows you to walk away and give up," the teacher said. She taught her students alternative phrases that were acceptable, such as

  • I'm struggling.
  • I'm having a hard time.
  • The solution is eluding me.
  • I don't understand.
  • I need help with...

Another teacher did similar activities and shared how she and her students treated "I can't" as a swear word in their classroom. Whenever students heard the phrase, they would gasp as if someone really had said a swear word.

More Perseverance Lesson Ideas
Instilling Perseverance in Children
Education World columnist Leah Davies says, "Perseverance means having the self-discipline to continue a task in spite of being confronted with difficulties. As Albert Einstein once said, 'It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.'" In this column, Davies offers a handful of activities that you might use to develop students' perseverance.


Assess students based on their comments and contributions to the discussion. You might have students write a summary statement about what they learned from doing this activity.

Lesson Plan Source

Submitted By

Gary Hopkins

National Standards

NL-ENG.K-12.3 Evaluation Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.4 Communication Skills
NL-ENG.K-12.5 Communication Strategies
NL-ENG.K-12.6 Applying Knowledge
NL-ENG.K-12.11 Participating in Society
NL-ENG.K-12.12 Applying Language Skills

NPH-H.K-4.4 Health Influences
NPH-H.K-4.5 Using Communication Skills to Promote Health
NPH-H.K-4.6 Setting Goals for Good Health
GRADES 5 - 8
NPH-H.5-8.4 Health Influences
NPH-H.5-8.5 Using Communication Skills to Promote Health
NPH-H.5-8.6 Setting Goals for Good Health
GRADES 9 - 12
NPH-H.9-12.4 Health Influences
NPH-H.9-12.5 Using Communication Skills to Promote Health
NPH-H.9-12.6 Setting Goals for Good Health

More Lesson Ideas

Find links to more health and safety lesson ideas in these Education World archives: