Finding Smiles

The following activity is part of a series we created to support students, teachers, and caregivers, during this unprecedented time. If you try this activity with your student(s), we’d love to see what you do. Share your journey via the #Inspired2Learn hashtag on your preferred social platform.

Created by: Jenna Fournel and Aleta Margolis
Discipline:  This can be done in any class setting but would be particularly useful in advisories in middle and high school or during reflection times at the start and end of the day in elementary school.
Age level: Elementary through High School
Time:  10-20 minutes
Materials:  None

Something wonderful happens when we feel seen for who we are and what we contribute to the well-being of others. Focused and specific feedback on how we positively relate to others is good for our self-esteem and encourages us to lean into our authentic selves. We can encourage this kind of awareness in our students by giving them the opportunity to look for the good in one another. In this #Inspired2Learn activity each student is paired with someone whom they will secretly observe, noticing what this classmate does that makes them smile. The observation period lasts over the span of a class period or a few days.

COVID NOTE: Many students are wearing masks all day in school which means their actual smiles are not visible. But that shouldn’t prevent you from doing this activity! We smile behind our masks, and smiles are as much in our brains as they are an outward expression. In fact, this activity can build student awareness about facial expressions which will be helpful when we get back to the day when we are not wearing masks in schools. You may need to foreground the instructions by saying something like, “I know we cannot actually see each others’ mouths and therefore much of our smiles are hidden. But how can you tell if someone is smiling even if they wear a mask?” And to this question, students may note that you can see smiles in the eyes, in how people hold their bodies when they are smiling, in the sounds of their voices, and in other ways too.

What to Do:

Set up the observation activity by explaining the following to your students:

  • We will be taking some time (can be a class period or a span of a few days) to pay attention to what makes us smile.
  • We’ll do this by observing what our peers do that leads to our own smiles.
  • You will each be secretly assigned another person in this class to observe. Pay attention to what they say and do and what they do that makes you smile.
  • At the end of class (or in a few days depending on how long you want them to observe), you’ll be invited to share what you noticed that made you smile about the person you were assigned to observe.

You can have the same students observe each other or give everyone someone different to observe. If you are doing this over a span of days remind students periodically that they should continue observing.


After the specified period of observation is over invite students to share what they noticed. You can invite the discussion with a question like: “What did your secret partner do that made you smile?” Students can respond out loud, which can be affirming for everyone in the class. However, if public speaking isn’t comfortable for everyone in your classroom consider having them write down and exchange their observations. After initial observations have been shared consider further discussion along these lines:

  • What did it feel like to pay attention to someone else in this way?
  • Did you ever feel aware that someone was observing you?
  • What did it feel like to have someone share these observations about you?
  • How did your own interaction with others feel while you were doing this activity?

A few days / weeks after the activity remind students about it and ask them the following:

  • Have your interactions with the person you were observing changed in any way?
  • Have your interactions with the person who was observing you changed in any way?
  • Are you noticing anything different about your own smiles or those of others?

Inspired Teaching Connection 

This activity is inherently Joyful as it focuses on smiles – the seeds of joy. But it is also deeply rooted in Students as Experts because the students and their actions drive the entire learning experience. Nobody can be wrong in this activity which means students can find confidence in whatever they bring to the experience. In addition to these two Core Elements of the Inspired Teaching approach, Mutual Respect occurs when this kind and thoughtful feedback is given and shared. Each of the 4Is, Intellect, Inquiry, Imagination, and Integrity, is at play as students observe, listen, and learn from the observations and wonderings of their peers.

See our instructional model here.

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