At the start of the school year it’s important to identify shared classroom rules and expectations and I believe that these should be created with our students, and not before our students arrive on day one. It never ceases to amaze me the number of teachers who proudly display their laminated class rules posters on social media before the school year starts. Although I commend these teachers for being so organized, I do question the power dynamic that these posters set up. I believe that these posters inform students that I the teacher have created these rules and you the student will abide by these rules, without discussion. At the start of the school year my co-worker Andy Horne and I have use an activity that we refer to as ROPES that has not only been proven to be a huge success in the classroom but it is one of our most enduring resources that people often ask us about.

The ROPES acronym is an activity that we use in Health class at the beginning of our time with our students. It is important to set the ground rules for acceptable behavior in the classroom in order to get the most out of our time together. We are fortunate to be able to discuss some weighty topics that impact our teenage students and to ensure that our class discussions are as effective as possible we ask students to create an acceptable code of conduct.
This task encourages students to consider the topics ahead of us and to identify possible areas of conflict, and ultimately ways in which we can work through that.
As long as a student can justify their answer, there are no incorrect responses. This immediately encourages students to take risks with their answers and allows us to work towards an environment in which all student voices can be heard, respected and validated.
Taking time to discuss the ROPES acronym with students definitely makes for a more productive semester.

Setting the scene: I let students know that we will be creating a shared list of class expectations together and that the R.O.P.E.S acronym, which I write on the board, will help guide us through the process. I suggest that each letter of the acronym will prompt a list of words that we can remember when we are looking to get the most out of our time together. I let each class know that this activity will create a list of words unique to those present in the room – my period 1 class might have different words on their list than period 7. This allows me to let students understand that I treat each class differently and that our class discussions will be shaped by their own experiences, needs and interests.

I also let my students know that there isn’t a list of ‘correct answers’. I’ll consider each word as suggested by students as long as they can justify it’s inclusion on our list. Some students might suggest a humorous or inappropriate word and I don’t react harshly, instead of using that as an early opportunity to inform students that we are here to work and there is a correct time and place for ‘silly and serious’ (There’s two S words for you right there!).

I encourage all students to participate, setting up a dynamic that ALL voices are important and that we are all here to learn together. Although I will guide much of the learning I still learn a great deal from my sophomore health students. Finally, this activity is a great way for students to feel comfortable taking risks as essentially there are no right or wrong answers. If they think a word can be justified they are encouraged to share it with the class.

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Here are just a few words that your students might suggest.

When it’s all over: You should now have a list of student-created words that can be photographed by students, or turned into a poster to be displayed as a permanent reminder of expectations. In the course of this activity, that I would say will last about 20 minutes, you will have discussed such powerful words as respect, open-mindedness, participation, empathy, and safety. This makes it easier to bring regularly these words into future discussions.

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A poster created by Charlie Rizzuto combining his list of ROPES words along with a phrase used by his students to ‘pull the rope’

This really is a great way to empower students, encourage all to use their voice and is an example of seeing the start of the school year through the lens of building community as opposed to the lens of classroom managementRead Justin Schleider’s recent #slowchatpe blog post to see more examples of this.

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(Above) David Gusitsch delivered a ROPES session to a whole cohort of students when he was at Westport Public Schools. (Below) Jeff Bartlett shared his ROPES words on Twitter.

If you use the ROPES activity with your students please let me know how it goes. I promise you that your students will love it and that at the start of the school year it will set you apart in their eyes as a teacher who is unique and willing to listen to their voices.

If you liked this easy to implement activity you will also like these blog posts:

Three Simple Things from Scott Todnem in which he shares “three simple things to add to your teaching in order to enhance the educational experience.”

5 Steps for Energizing Your Health Class in which I share five ideas to get the most out of their time in the classroom and will have your students running to your class, eager to learn.

Did you know that each month #slowchathealth chooses a book of the month to highlight. This month we have chosen Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Dr. Wendy Suzuki which is less than $10 on Amazon, and less than $2 if you purchase it on your Kindle.

13 thoughts on “ROPES

  1. Melody Worthington

    Hi Andy,
    I like this idea. Thank you for sharing. Just out of curiosity, if you don’t mind my asking, why do you use the word ROPES? Is there significance behind why you chose that word as the acronymn?


    1. Great question Melody. I took the idea from something that I found online. It was a pdf that I used to link to my slides and blogs. However, the link is now broken so I can attribute it to the original creator. Charlie Rizzuto uses the term ‘pull the rope’ to end a conversation that has been discussed for too long. There is also the term ‘learn the ropes’, which is possibly an old nautical term meaning to learn the basics before setting sail. Either way…it’s always a good activity and I see the value in it throughout my early time with my students. It allows me to learn a lot about many of the students – the studious ones, the quiet ones, the comical ones etc.


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  3. Michelle

    I usually do an elaborate activity that involves travel graffiti and creating an emotionally safe classroom. I would like to try this ROPES activity. Will you please clarify what the acronym stands for? Also, have you ever tried using another Acronym as a prompt? Perhaps THINK? I might try it. I’ll let you know how it goes.


    1. ROPES doesn’t necessarily stand for anything. Together we are ‘learning the ropes’ at the start of our time together.
      I’m sure other acronyms would work. I like ROPES and find that it prompts some great discussion. Let me know how THINK works for you 😀


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