Finding Smiles

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.

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.

Standards Addressed by this Activity

Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.


Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Competencies

Self-Awareness: The abilities to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts. This includes capacities to recognize one’s strengths and limitations with a well-grounded sense of confidence and purpose.

Self-management: The abilities to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations. This includes the capacities to delay gratification, manage stress, and feel motivation and agency to accomplish personal and collective goals.

Social awareness: The abilities to understand the perspectives of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and contexts. This includes the capacities to feel compassion for others, understand broader historical and social norms for behavior in different settings, and recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.

Responsible decision-making: The abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations. This includes the capacities to consider ethical standards and safety concerns, and to evaluate the benefits and consequences of various actions for personal, social, and collective well-being.

Relationship skills: The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups. This includes the capacities to communicate clearly, listen actively, cooperate, work collaboratively to problem solve and negotiate conflict constructively, navigate settings with differing social and cultural demands and opportunities, provide leadership, and seek or offer help when needed.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries

Dimension 1 features the development of questions and the planning of inquiries. With the entire scope of human experience as its backdrop, the content of social studies consists of a rich array of facts, concepts, and generalizations. The way to tie all of this content together is through the use of compelling and supporting questions. Questioning is key to student learning. The C3 Framework encourages the use of compelling and supporting questions, both teacher- and student-generated, as a central element of the teaching and learning process.

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