Success Lines

Starting the Year Intentionally in Grade 3

Success is often a slippery slope. It’s challenging for young students to determine what success looks like and often they equate success with being right or wrong, accomplishing a set task or failing. One of our objectives this year is to be mindful of cultivating a growth mind set so we decided to launch our Design Workshop with an activity to make the students more aware that success is a journey that can be quite different for each individual depending on both the student and the challenge.

What is it? Why did we do it?

We decided that the students needed to frame their idea of success with a story. We asked them to think of a time when something was really challenging for them. We modeled a story of a personal challenge that ended with success. During the storytelling we intentionally included the thoughts and feelings that accompanied each action step. When the story was done, we asked the students to tap into some of their own stories; we prompted them to remember a time when they really wanted to do something but it didn’t come easily. Some of the ideas we brainstormed included: jumping off the high dive, learning to ice skate, riding a bike without training wheels, learning how to play an instrument, a first performance, etc.

Next we modeled telling an experience using a tactile “five finger” reminder: first, next, then, and, finally. The students paired off and shared their stories; this gave them an opportunity to orally rehearse and sequence the story events.

Then we modelled how to “map” this event in writing by stretching out the specific actions. We asked the students to describe the feelings and thoughts that went with the step-by-step experience. The children then went off to do this task silently and independently. In our workshop environment we try to create a balance: opportunities to work independently and carve out individual understanding and opportunities to work collaboratively and utilize collective brain power.

Student working on mapping his experience with success

Student working on mapping his experience with success

We initially set a timer for seven minutes. When the timer expired it was apparent that most students were still deeply involved in this work so we had them check in and allotted an additional seven minutes to complete the task. This is a check-in process we use continually in our workshop in order to build in time management skills.

After that, we gathered the students together and watched a short video clip that turns the idea of success into a visual representation. We knew this might be a stretch for our students this early in the year but after an opportunity to “turn and talk” with a partner, they were able to articulate that everyone’s success journey is different and that the process might even look vastly different for an individual depending on the destination.

We modelled how to draw a success line based on the teacher’s story we shared at the beginning of the lesson. We also did a few quickly rendered alternative “success lines” in order to blow up their thinking and not have thirty-seven carbon-copies of the teacher’s model.

We checked again to see if the students understood the next component of the task. Again they went off solo to draw a success line that matched their personal narrative.

Student working independently to capture thinking

Student working independently to capture thinking

After they had created a visual representation of their success journey, we asked them to write on a sticky note a personal definition of success.

How’d it go?

For the third day of school, we were wowed by several things:

  • the students were engaged and invested because it was about them

  • they stayed focused and on task in part due to how we had broken the tasks up into manageable time chunks

  • they easily engaged with each other with very little prompting

  • they were able to break down their stories into key components capturing the main ideas

  • they were already able to listen and build onto each others’ ideas


We did a couple of things that scaffolded the activity. On our first day of school we read a book called “Courage” by Bernard Waber. We had the kids pair and share about times in their lives when they’d needed to be courageous. Serendipitously, this reading experience played nicely into our success activity.

We also used our knowledge of the writing workshop and third grade “beginning of the year” writers to create a tool that helped them efficiently break down their story components. This tool could easily transfer into planning during the writing workshop. These simple story boards would lend themselves nicely to crafting a “small moment” writing piece. The sticky note summary could be planted into the message of the piece.

Next time we might…

Allot more time in order to watch the video a second time and do a gallery walk. We will no doubt revisit this video throughout the year as we develop feedback lenses. The gallery walk will be done tomorrow as it is a low impact way to encourage sharing and grow an understanding of our diverse learning community.


"Courage" by Bernard Waber

Success Video