Student Grit-building Activity

How do you teach grit?

concrete rose_editSometimes, when people talk about grit, it’s as if they’re saying we just need to tell kids to toughen up. Instead, EduGuide focuses on proactively teaching students a set of specific skills that lead to higher grit levels and thus higher achievement.

As we prepare to expand our grit-building program to more schools, our nonprofit is sharing more of what we’re learning so that we can achieve our goal of equipping every student with the skills they need to reach their potential.

Here’s an activity to get the conversation started, based on a poem by late rapper Tupac Shakur (bet your students didn’t know he wrote poetry!), that you can use with your students right away:

Rose that Grew from Concrete_Student GO

Rose that Grew from Concrete_Teacher LP

This activity introduces one element of Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII), developed by the psychologist Dr. Gabriele Oettingen. Her research indicates that it’s an effective skill for helping students learn to overcome obstacles. And MCII has been shown to contribute to higher achievement.

It’s important to note, though, that successfully teaching grit and other core learning skills involves a range of factors. For instance, this activity does not teach the full MCII process, but rather is an introductory exercise to meet students where they are at and help them start to think concretely about defining obstacles in their life and specific steps they can take to overcome them. In our work, we’ve found that getting students habituated to this part of the process is a critical step.

Secondly, the value of the exercise will depend on how deep the teacher goes with the students on pushing them to be specific in their answers. Our online tools automate that process for schools in our program, but in the classroom teachers will find that their students get more from the exercise if they’re pushed with follow up questions, such as “what about that is an obstacle.”

Finally, it’s helpful to focus on goals that students have some confidence about overcoming. Some studies have shown that using MCCI in areas where the student lacks confidence can undermine its effectiveness.

We would value hearing more from you: what do you think of this activity? What skills do you think are important to teaching grit?

And if you do use this activity in your classroom, please let us know how it goes!


21 responses to ‘Student Grit-building Activity

  1. Hello, I think this can be used in many different ways. Yes, I agree with the research; something like this can/ will lead to students handling adversity/ overcoming obstacles better than they would have. This can also be used for poetry analysis; the kids can write their own poems about adversity/ overcoming obstacles for National Poetry Month. There can also be a writing assignment aligned with the Common Core Standards. Overall, I think this is a useful activity for a student, both academically and emotionally.


    • Thanks, Ms. Brady. Yeah, we’re thinking of this for an English class, since it has some interesting writing prompts. It could even be used as a journaling activity. We’re also thinking about it for Special Ed classes. If you use it, let us know how it goes!


  2. I love this activity! I plan on using it next week with my freshmen. We are reading Of Mice and Men right now, and I can already see connections. I will be sharing it with my department because there are so many different ways to tie it in to our curriculum. Thank you!


    • Excellent! Connecting this to classic literature is a great idea. Please do let us know how it goes when you try it out with your class, we’re very interested in any feedback from students. Did they like it? Did they get it? Did they think it was dumb?


  3. I am so excited to use this activity next week. The only thing I’m changing is that I will show the video of the trees growing in a junkyard first and have students think about what they are seeing and what that is a metaphor for in life. After the lesson activities, I will show them the video again and have them write their reaction to see if they can expand on their ideas and how it can relate to their lives. Thank you so much! Perfect anytime, but great before spring break.


    • Showing the video first is a great way to get the students’ attention up-front. The broader curriculum we’re developing relies more heavily on videos and images than this worksheet does, all on an interactive web-based platform that walks the students through exercises like this one.

      Please let us know how your class responds to the activity!


  4. I love this! We are going to try this with some groups of students to see how it goes. I like that the author is someone that teens can relate to.


    • Sometimes it’s hard for “us old folks” to connect with the cultural influences that are most meaningful to our students. In our work so far, we’re learning which celebrity examples students generally do and don’t find compelling and relatable. Tupac is one that seems to go over really well, so far. Students tend to be surprised to learn that he wrote poetry, and it can be a gateway for introducing poetry lessons.

      Part of our inspiration was this cool science teacher’s use of rap to teach photosynthesis:

      Let us know how your students respond to the “Rose” activity!


  5. I used part of this activity this week in my freshman English class. I’m introducing poetry and how to “talk to the text”. My students liked how the poem was accessible to them, and we used it as a jumping off point to demystify poetry as this medium that is only written in complicated rhyme and verse. My students also liked the images; they helped them come up with really good literal and metaphoric interpretations of the poem. It also didn’t hurt that the poet was Tupac! We had a great class discussion about how many songs have elements of poetry. This was a great addition to my poetry unit!


    • Great idea to tie this in with a poetry unit. So glad this worked well for you! Many of our activities involve multimedia (including photos and videos) and pop culture (such as rap and celebrity examples) to teach critical thinking and other learning skills that are invaluable for common core requirements, not to mention in later academic and life pursuits! The activities are designed to be taught in 15 minutes of class time per week, and a lot of classes choose to integrate the activity into other units as you have done. If you’re interested in learning more about the program and how it can work for you, you can schedule a web meeting with us here:

      Thanks for sharing your feedback about the activity!


  6. I am going to try this upon our return from Spring Break. No time to implement it purposefully for a week and half or so. I agree with using the video first and will follow that format. Thanks for that suggestion! I’m thinking that this is appropriate at 9th grade level. Is that the proposed audience for the entire program??? Are their multiple levels?? Sorry If I missed that earlier. I’ll let you know how it goes with older kids. I’m interested in their response to the poem.
    THANKS for this!


    • You’re very welcome, Karen! The program is designed for middle and high school students, but can be adapted for younger or older students. Do let us know how the activity went over! 🙂


  7. This activity is great! I see QMS using it as part of our boot camp program. Through the program we aim to build strong relationships with kids, help them find safety at school, and grow the power within each of them. I’m excited to add this component across the building. I will first use it with the teachers and have them work through it as an individual – it’s tough in today’s world of Michigan public education to find the grit! Through my modeling, it should assist with the fidelity of delivery in the classrooms.


    • Thanks, Penny! Did you use the activity in your boot camp program? How did it go?

      We’re working on developing a professional development version of our program as well, because often teachers — and pretty much everybody, for that matter — need help learning grit as much as students do.


  8. I really like this activity. The only suggestion I would make is that the teacher share a personal story of overcoming an obstacle or obstacles in his/her life. I might even begin with the story for hooking the students in. Then go to the poem and activity. The video of the trees is nice, but some photos are hard to see. Still like it as a closing reinforcement activity.


    • That’s a great idea, thanks Carol. We’ll include that tip when we’re coaching teachers on how to use this activity in our program.

      The photos definitely look better in color, but we realize a lot of folks will print it in black-and-white.


  9. I love this activity. It touches deep in social skills as well as a life skill experience. It is something that most students can relate to when having a discussion in life. However, it is one that must have an opening activity to activate students mind and then students must be guided that the they do not get off-task reminiscing about Tupac’s life instead of thinking about how can I apply this to my life. A compare and contrast graphic organizer can also be used when doing this lesson.


    • Thanks, Cassandra. What kind of opening activity would you suggest? We agree that the teacher/mentor needs to guide the discussion so they don’t spend too much time talking about Tupac.


      • You can open this activity by finding out how much the students know about Tupac. I can bet you that not many of them know that Tupac wrote poetry. This is an eye opener to encourage them to learn about the people they consider as role models which also increases reading comprehension.


      • Good idea, thanks for sharing. We’ve definitely heard that from others, as well — that students are surprised to learn that Tupac wrote poetry, and this can be an interesting segue-way into a conversation about the similarities between poetry and rap.


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