My third graders have recently had all kinds of amazing adventures and experiences. Sky diving! Meeting President Obama! In fact, I've even heard that sharks have a week dedicated to them. Yes, just like those Dos Equis commercials, my kids have lately been the most interesting third graders in the world.
If you believe them.
The week started out with Demarcus’ share. I had tuned out for a minute to mark someone tardy and to make myself a note about some teacher-y thing I had to remember to do. When I tuned back in, Demarcus was describing in great detail the skydiving adventure he had with his mom the previous weekend. “Hmmm. Does anyone else think this sounds ridiculously implausible?” I thought, scanning the crowd of third graders. But no, they were impressed and completely believing. Demarcus went on to describe the oxygen masks you need to wear when you jump out of the plane, how his mom dove first and then he followed, and how the whole skydiving experience was--in a word--amazing. Just before he opened up the floor for comments and questions, Demarcus and I had the following telepathic exchange, accompanied by my most skeptical facial expression:
Me, telepathically: “Demarcus, you know you did NOT go sky diving last weekend or any other weekend.”
Demarcus, telepathically: “Let’s just keep this between you and me. The other kids don’t suspect a thing. I will now take questions and continue to blatantly make things up, but with specific details for maximum believability.”
One student asked how old one has to be to go skydiving, likely already planning a similar weekend adventure of her own. “You have to be seven years old to go” answered Demarcus. Coincidentally, that is the exact age that Demarcus is. “Six and lower—they can’t do it.”
Later in the week, I was eating lunch with Max and the other kids at his table. “Guess what!” Max said. “I got to shake the president’s hand!” “What?” I asked. “Really?” Max went on to tell how the president had attended a play at the theater where his mom worked. “And you were there?” I asked. Max nodded. “And you got to shake his hand?” Max nodded. And then embellished. “Yeah. I asked him some stuff, too.” Up until this point, I was willing to believe Max’s story. His mom does, in fact, work at a theater. We live in Washington, DC, after all, so it’s possible that the president had attended an event at the theater. And it’s true that presidents do a lot of hand-shaking, so it could happen. Chatting up the prez, however, not so sure about that. True. True. True. LIE
When I saw Max’s mom later that day, the presidential handshake (and extended conversation) was news to her. It became clear that Max’s bits of true events had blended together into an infinitely better story whose only flaw was that it never even came close to happening.
As far as ripe conditions for successful fibs, third grade is the perfect storm. The kids are becoming more skilled at making things up so that they sound at least moderately believable, but they also haven’t yet become so discerning that they will bother to evaluate the likelihood of someone else’s claims. If you can deliver the story with a straight face and can include enough realistic-sounding details, you’re golden. To take another tip from some of my most effective third grade fabricators, it helps to purposely plant some blemishes in the story so that it doesn’t sound too good to be true.
During a whole-class share on, “Can you speak any other languages?” Immanuel informed us that he knows “all of them except Chinese.” A solid strategy, really. If he had told us he knows all the languages in the world, we would clearly never have believed him.
Another morning, a student shared a cooking magazine article about his chef father and backed up this legitimate claim by bringing in the actual magazine. We were all duly impressed. During the Q&A portion, Alyssa tried to ride the wave of my-relative-is-famous with a connection to her uncle. “I think he’s been on TV for plumbing.”
Really, Alyssa? Was that the coolest made-up accomplishment you could think of? I mean--if you’re going to take the time and energy to fake a share, at least go all out. Jump out of a plane! Why not meet the president? Be a linguistic prodigy! You’d better make it quick, though—this bubble of gullibility won’t last forever. While it does, though, I’m sure we’ll continue to be regaled with even more amazing tales from the lives of the most interesting third graders in the world.
Sarah lives and teaches in Washington, DC, home of our theater-going and hand-shaking president, where she humors her incredibly adventurous third graders. More about their real and imagined escapades can be found at her blog, Dead Class Pets.