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2 Questions Every Small Group Leader Should Ask 6th Graders this Fall

It’s August, which means Back to School season is upon us! Although going “back to school” does look different this year for some, that doesn’t change the fact that school is starting and a brand-new grade, a brand-new school, and a brand-new small group is waiting for our brand-new 6th graders.

It’s August, which means Back to School season is upon us! Although going “back to school” does look different this year for some, that doesn’t change the fact that school is starting and a brand-new grade, a brand-new school, and a brand-new small group is waiting for our brand-new 6th graders. 

I just started leading a small group of 6th grade girls digitally at my church three weeks ago. (Side note: They are adorable and I am so excited to spend the next three years with them!) During our first small group time on Zoom, I asked each of them two questions: 

What’s one thing you are most excited for in middle school?
What’s one thing you are most nervous about in middle school? 

There were a ton of different answers to each question. First, 

What Are 6th Graders Excited About? 

For my students going to school virtually, here are a few of the things they’re most excited about: 

Being able to sleep in a little bit more each morning.
Meeting their new teachers.
Having shorter class times.
Homework. 

For my students going to school in-person, here are a few of the things they’re most excited about: 

Switching classrooms throughout the day.
Sports.
Being old enough to join a horse competition team.
Trying out for cheerleading.
Getting to try out for the play at the end of the year.
Choosing what you do during free time.
Making friends. 

What Are 6th Graders Nervous About? 

For my students going to school virtually, here are a few of the things they’re nervous about: 

Not being able to log on to Zoom for classes.
Not being able to make new friends.
Being the only person in their class who is doing virtual learning.
Having to do all their homework online.
Not seeing their friends and teachers in-person. 

For my students going to school in-person, here are a few of the things they’re nervous about: 

Meeting their teachers.
Having to wear a mask all day.
Homework.
Balancing school and sports.
Making friends.
Switching classrooms throughout the day.
Getting lost. 

The One Thing My 6th Graders Agree On 

And while most of them mentioned at least one or two of the things in the lists above, every single student said they were both excited and nervous about one thing you might not have guessed. 

Lockers. 

They were excited to have a locker of their own.
They were excited to decorate the inside of their locker.
Some of them couldn’t believe they get a gym locker and a regular locker.
They were nervous about having to use a combination code to unlock their locker.
Some of them were excited to have their own gym locker even if that meant they don’t get a regular locker just yet.
They were nervous about remembering which locker is theirs.
And some of them weren’t too happy that they are going to school digitally and have to wait to have their own locker.  

I am 22 years old, and after that conversation, I realized it’s been a while since I’ve been in sixth grade! Never would I have guessed that all my girls would have so many feelings about lockers. But I think that their response about lockers reminded me about where my girls really are as 6th graders as they’re making the transition from elementary to middle school. 

They’re excited for something new.
They’re excited to be old enough to have a locker.
They’re excited to have a (small) space to call their own. 

It can be easy for us as adults to assume that they’re excited and nervous about the big stuff: navigating the huge new middle school, not being able to log on to the class Zoom call on the first day, having to switch classrooms multiple times a day, being the only person in the class who opted for virtual learning, fearing getting lost in a huge sea of students in the hallway, being the only person in the class not knowing anyone in their classes on the first day, or being able to finally try out for the cheer team or for the play at the end of the school year. 

But I think this can serve as a reminder to all of us that as we’re thinking about all of those big changes and new experiences, the excitement and anxiety around something as simple as a brand-new locker is just as important as the bigger things in their 6th-grade world

I’m so glad I asked those two questions from the start. 

If I hadn’t asked them, I would have missed the opportunity to meet them where they really are as they’re entering middle school. It allowed me to find out what they’re really excited and nervous about. For my group, it just so happens to be lockers. For your group, it might be something totally different and equally as random. So, as we walk alongside our 6th graders as they begin middle school, let’s not miss the opportunity we have to learn right where they are, right from the start. 

Some Practical Questions to Ask Your 6th Graders

Once you know what your students are excited and nervous about, here are a few follow-up questions you can ask them. 

If they’re excited about virtual learning and (possibly) shorter class times, ask: 

  • What’s one thing you’ll do with some of the extra time you’ll have? 
  • What subject are you looking forward to the most this year? 

If they’re excited about meeting their new teachers and making new friends, ask: 

  • Which of your friends from elementary school are going to your middle school? 
  • Which teacher are you most excited to meet this year? 

If they’re nervous about being the only one in their class who opted to do virtual learning, ask: 

  • What do you think the best part of virtual learning is going to be? 
  • Encourage them that virtual learning will be an exciting new experience for everyone. 

If they’re nervous about getting lost on the first day of school: 

  • Tell them a story about a time you got lost on the first day of school. 
  • Encourage them that most people will get lost on the first day, and if they do, they’ll have a funny story to share one day! 

And, if your students are sad that they won’t be getting a real locker this year (Thanks, COVID . . .), consider sending them the next best thing HERE.  

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