(16) *!@#$%

To curb "cussing" in the classroom, I improvised a drama exercise. Please do not attempt to do the same with your students as it will upset your principal and you will get written up. Luckily for me, my principal only visited my class once a year. Since we were on the second floor, his secretary would call Mrs. Prentiss and give her a heads up when he was on his way.

The exercise went something like this:

1) Students sat in a large circle or smushed together on the floor.
2) I introduced the idea that words can have different meanings depending on how they are expressed. For example, we all got a chance to say the phrase, "I love gorillas" using a range of voices (angry, sad, irritated, softly...).
3) After practicing with a few different phrases, I picked one with a curse word for my students to repeat in a happy voice.
4) Not one student wanted to participate, and they seemed stunned to hear "I f****** love french fries!" come out of their teacher's mouth.

This led to an in-depth discussion about our words and our intentions. It was normal for some of my students to curse as a part of everyday conversation like a kind of punctuation to sentences, but things would sometimes go terribly wrong. There was always someone who took it to the next level and crossed the line with a classmate. This would usually escalate into a fight.

We then created another classroom agreement by doing two things 1) analyzing why we curse - something that is just part of our learned language or copying how our peers talk, and 2) discussing why it might be good to curb cursing in the classroom - we're stuck together for the entire day and we will eventually get on each others' nerves, possibly leading to a fight.

We didn't always stick to our agreement a hundred percent of the time, I slipped once (in three years), but it did encourage students to be more open to talking about their feelings instead of going straight to the @#!@&* shortcut.

Any other ideas for limiting cursing?


  1. Maybe I should read your blogs a little better :) I'm not sure, but what do you teach? English?

  2. I know a teacher who used something called the 'Cuss Jar.' Anytime someone cursed, they could either choose between an extra homework assignment, or putting a quarter or dollar in the jar (depending on the severity of the word). When the jar was filled, it was all donated to one of the charities the school hosted.

  3. @ Moon I taught 5th grade (9 & 10 year old students). In the US, elementary school classes are usually self-contained, meaning, each class has one teacher who teaches most subjects. I taught Language Arts (English), Math, Science and Social Studies. So, my students spent most of the day with me in the classroom. They left for lunch, Physical Education and Music. Is this the same in Belgium?

    @dwhite I love how the money was donated to the school charity. That's another good lesson in giving.

  4. It's not especially relevant to the subject at hand, but you might be interested in my thoughts on how words get their negative connotations. Check out: "Curse Words" on "Gorges' Grouse"

  5. @Gorges I just read your blog post "Curse Words" and think it's absolutely relevant. I'm posting the link to the blog below, so that other folks can check it out. Thanks for sharing.

    Look for the April 12, 2010 post

  6. Yep, it's the same in Belgium. Classes are from 8:15 to 16:00 with lunch in between (except wednesdays from 8:15 till 12:00). In elementary school kids have 1 teacher (except for a gym teacher). Kids go to elementary school for 6 years (age 6-12y).
    But I think the high school system is a bit different. It's also 6 years (12-18y) with the same hours as elementary school (but only 2 hours of gym). But students can't pick classes, they are set in advance for every year.

  7. Funny, I f*%^& love french fries too. I see we have a lot in common.

    No seriously I think this is great. Challenge the students assumptions and ideas about when and how cursing (cussing) is OK. Help them find their own standards for when it is and isn't OK. They clearly had their own ideas about when it was out of context or inappropriate. Brilliant.

    F*&%^&$ great.