Overcoming Obstacles

Lesson 3: Staying Healthy


  • Students will recognize that diet, sleep, and exercise affect their efforts to achieve a goal.

  • Students will discuss how a balanced diet affects their health and well-being.

  • Students will discuss how exercise and sleep affect their health and well-being.

  • Students will create weekly plans for eating well, sleeping regularly, and exercising.


  • Session 1: One copy of the “Getting Ahead (A)” and “Getting Ahead (B)” activity sheets cut into squares, for a total of 32 squares (Part I)

  • Session 1: A cap, hat, or small basket to hold the squares (Part I)

  • Session 1: One copy of the “MyPlate” activity sheet for each student (Part II) 

  • Session 2: One copy of the “My Action Plan” activity sheet for each student (Part III)

SESSION 1 | Starter (4 minutes)

Give students the following scenario:

Sammy bought a car. It’s an expensive car, very well made, a top-of-the-line machine. Sammy says that the car runs so well that it doesn’t need any care. He never washes it, doesn’t add oil, and tries to drive it everywhere without adding any gas. When he does add gas, he buys the cheapest brand, so the car runs well for a few miles, but over time, the gunk from the cheap gas starts to build up in the engine.

Ask, “What do you think will happen to the car?” (It will break down.)

Say, “A car is a machine, and without proper care, the machine breaks down. What do you think happens when the machine is well taken care of?” (It runs well.)

Tell students that the human body runs exactly the same way. If you take good care of it, it will run very well for a long time. If not, it breaks down.

Explain that in today’s session, students will learn how to keep their bodies running well.

SESSION 1 | Part I: Getting Ahead (30 minutes)

Purpose: Students identify how diet, sleep, and exercise affect their efforts to achieve a goal.

1. Students play a game that emphasizes the importance of healthy living.

Before class, cut the two “Getting Ahead” activity sheets into individual squares. Place all the squares into a cap or basket and mix them up. If you have more than 32 students, ask some students to assist you by distributing and collecting squares, or by working together as an observation team. Observation teams can track progress, keep time, and generally act as referees.

Walk from one wall of your room to the opposite wall, counting your steps to determine how many it takes to cross the room. Decide on which side of the room you wish to have students line up.

Explain that the goal of the game is for students to reach the wall on the other side of the room.

Tell students to line up against one wall. Have them pick a square from the cap or basket, read the square aloud, and take the number of steps indicated.

Once each student has drawn and read a square, give the following directions:

  • Raise your hand if you had a square that said you ate cookies or a candy bar, or that you drank soda or coffee. All those with their hands up must now take five steps backward.
  • Raise your hand if you had a square that said you stayed up late—regardless of the reason. All those with their hands up must now take three steps backward.

Invite students to pick another square. When the squares are gone, collect them in the cap and continue the game. After all students have had a second turn, repeat the directions for taking steps backward. Continue in this manner until most students have reached the other side of the room.

2. Students make observations about the game.

Ask questions such as the following to help students generate observations about the game:

  • What types of things helped people cross the room quickly? (They were helped by eating good food, getting a full night’s sleep, and getting some exercise.)
  • What types of things slowed people down? (They were slowed down by eating cookies and candy, drinking soda and coffee, staying up late, and sitting around watching TV.)
  • Why do you think these behaviors might keep people from getting ahead in real life?

Explain that foods high in sugar (such as cookies, candy, and soda) or caffeine (such as soda and coffee) give a burst of energy, which the body quickly uses up. When this happens, the person feels a drop in energy—they actually end up feeling tired and lethargic.

Ask students to give examples of how sleep and exercise might affect a person’s level of energy, mood, and performance.

Explain that eating and sleeping well, along with physical activity, are the factors that enable people to look and feel their best, because these things create energy.

SESSION 1 | Part II: Creating Energy (15 minutes)

Purpose: Students learn what constitutes a balanced diet and how it affects their health.

1. Students analyze the benefits of a balanced diet.

Introduce the concept of a balanced diet by asking questions such as the following:

  • Does the food you eat affect your energy level and your ability to do things well? (Yes.)
  • What does it mean to have a balanced diet? (A balanced diet means eating different kinds of foods in proper quantities.)
  • What are some benefits of eating a balanced diet? (Eating a balanced diet allows you to think better; gives your body the nutrients it needs to work and grow, so that your brain can do its job; helps you to look your best; keeps your skin healthy; and makes your hair and bones stronger.)

2. Students learn about important food groups.

Distribute copies of the “MyPlate” activity sheet. Ask volunteers to explain why they think this chart is in the shape of a plate. (Students should mention that the design shows them what their own meals should look like.) Then, briefly discuss each section of the chart:

  • Grains: Breads, cereals, rice, and pasta are foods that are high in proteins and carbohydrates. Proteins and carbohydrates are important for creating energy. Half of the grains we eat should be whole (e.g., whole-grain bread).
  • Fruits and Vegetables: Vegetables and fruits are high in vitamins and nutrients. They help the body fight infections and diseases. Fruits are also a source of sugar, which gives the body energy when eaten in small amounts. Notice how much space these two sections take up. This means that half of your plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables.
  • Protein: Meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts are important sources of proteins, which are considered the building blocks of the body.
  • Dairy: The small blue cup above the plate represents fat-free and low-fat dairy products—like yogurt, milk, and cheese—which are high in vitamins and an important nutrient called calcium. Calcium helps bones, teeth, and nails grow strong. We should have at least one cup of dairy with each meal. People who are lactose intolerant can have lactose-free dairy or calcium-fortified soy milk.

Note that foods high in sugar and fat aren’t on the plate. It is important to eat these foods sparingly, because they slow the body down. Sugary foods include soda and candy. Foods that are high in fats and oils include potato chips, french fries, hamburgers, and fried chicken. Eating too many of these kinds of foods can affect your skin and your body in unhealthy ways.

Point out that the purpose of the “MyPlate” chart is to show what kinds of foods people should eat and—most importantly—in what amounts. Following this chart ensures a balanced diet.

3. Students reflect on the foods they eat.

Ask students to list on a sheet of paper what they ate yesterday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They should also list snacks they may have eaten.

Ask students to compare their lists of foods with those listed on the “MyPlate” chart, and to place a check mark in each category for each food they ate from that category.

Have students analyze their check marks and determine from which food groups they ate too much and the groups from which they need to eat more. Encourage them to make notes in each section of the “MyPlate” chart.

Tell students to save their activity sheets for use in the next class. 

SESSION 2 | Part I: Review (8 minutes)

Hold up a copy of the “MyPlate” activity sheet, and ask volunteers to briefly explain what it is and why it is important. (The chart reflects a balanced diet because it shows what we should have in each meal, including foods that should be eaten and in what amounts.)

Remind students of the following:

  • The foods they eat affect their energy levels and their ability to do things well.
  • Two other factors can affect their energy levels and their ability to do things well: exercise and sleep.

SESSION 2 | Part II: Creating More Energy (20 minutes)

Purpose: Students identify how exercise and sleep affect their health and well-being.

1. Students analyze the benefits of exercise.

Ask students the following questions about exercise:

  • What does exercise do to your level of energy and the flow of oxygen to your brain? (Exercise increases your energy. It increases the flow of oxygen to your brain, which makes your mind work more effectively.)
  • What does exercise do for your bodily tissues and organs, including muscles and bones? (Exercise strengthens muscles, bones, and other bodily tissues and organs.)
  • Does the body work better if it is used more? (Yes. The body is like a machine that works better if it works more.)
  • Have you ever noticed that if you are angry or upset about something, going out and doing something often makes you feel better? Why do you think this is? (Exercise relieves the body of tension and stress.)

2. Students brainstorm a list of physical activities.

Begin a discussion about exercise by asking students to describe the kinds of exercise or physical activities they enjoy. List responses on the board. As more examples are listed, encourage students to stretch their thinking. Remind students that exercise does not have to be a sport. They can climb the stairs instead of taking an elevator, or walk or ride a bike instead of riding in a car.

Explain that young people should exercise for 60 minutes most days of the week, whether they walk, run, dance, skateboard, etc.

Leave the list of activities on the board. Students will refer to them during the activity in Part III of this session.

Invite students to stand up and stretch. Lead them in some bending and stretching exercises to get oxygen flowing and to relieve tension and stress. Invite students to share some exercises they know and lead the class in those exercises.

3. Students recognize the importance of sleep.

Take a quick poll to determine how long most students sleep each night. Ask for a show of hands from those who sleep about ten hours each night, then from those who sleep nine, eight, seven, or six hours. If these hours seem to reflect the majority of the class, make the observation that most students seem to sleep between six and ten hours per night.

Point out that young people usually need about ten hours of sleep each night, but this can vary from person to person. Ask students to identify techniques for getting a good night’s sleep. Prompt students to respond by asking questions such as the following:

  • Is the body resting when it is digesting food? (Your body cannot rest when it is busy digesting food. Don’t eat heavily before going to sleep.)
  • Is it easy or hard to fall asleep when you have a lot on your mind? (It’s hard, so you should relax before going to sleep. If you have a lot on your mind, write in your journal. Do whatever will help you feel that you’ve done all you can today—you’ll have tomorrow to tackle more.)
  • Do light and noise stimulate your mind? (Your mind won’t be able to relax if you continue to stimulate it; if your mind is awake, so is your body. Sleep in a quiet, dark room.)

4. Students role-play and reflect.

Ask volunteers to demonstrate how they’d act in the following situations if they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Read each situation, and then have a volunteer act it out:

  • Leave the room, and then come back in and take a seat as though this is your last class of a long school day.
  • The elevator is out of service, and you must walk up to the fifth floor.
  • Your parent wants you to clean your room.

After each role play, have students describe the energy level, mood, and level of performance demonstrated by the volunteer.

Point out that after a full day of work in school and at home, and activities with friends and family, our bodies need time to rest and mend. This is especially important when our bodies are going through periods of change and growth. Point out that when you have had little sleep you are more likely to be irritable. Ask students if they are more likely to get into an argument or a fight when they are irritable. 

SESSION 2 | Part III: Take Action! (20 minutes)

Purpose: Students create individual plans for eating well, sleeping regularly, and exercising.

1. Students create customized food plans.

Have students visit www.eatthismuch.com and enter the appropriate information to create their own customized daily food plans. Have students print out or take note of their results.

When they are finished, distribute copies of the “My Action Plan” activity sheet, and divide the class into groups of four or five students. Explain that students will spend about 10 minutes brainstorming in groups before working individually to fill out the activity sheet. Suggest that members of each group do the following:

  • Make lists of foods they like to eat.
  • Compare their lists with their customized daily food plans to see how their favorite foods fit into the plans.
  • Make a list of the physical activities they like to do.
  • Refer to the list of activities on the board for suggestions.

2. Students make individual action plans.

Tell students to fill out their copies of the “My Action Plan” activity sheet. Suggest that they use pencils to write so they can adjust their plans as the week progresses. Encourage students to create lists of foods for breakfast, lunch, and snacks so that they can choose appropriate foods from the lists for each meal. The goal is to create a balanced diet. Suggest that students leave the dinner menus open and fill them in at the end of each day.

Remind students that if they want to be in charge of themselves, they need to take charge. Also remind them that the daily choices they make about food, exercise, and sleep will impact their ability to be and do their best. Circulate around the room as students work, offering assistance and encouragement as needed. 

SESSION 2 | Conclusion (2 minutes)

Ask students how often they will review their action plans. Have students describe how to live a healthy lifestyle. Elicit from students the following key points that were taught in this lesson:

  • When you are healthy, you look, feel, think, and do your best.
  • The food you eat affects your energy level and your health.
  • Exercise increases your energy, strengthens your body, and relieves stress.
  • Sleep is essential to good health. The amount of sleep you get affects your mood, energy level, and performance. 

Student Assessment


  1. List three reasons why it is a good idea to avoid eating foods with too much caffeine or sugar.
  2. What are the five food groups? What does each food group give the body?
  3. What does it mean to have a balanced diet? Why is it important to have a balanced diet?


  1. List three positive effects that exercise has on your health.
  2. Aside from playing a sport, list four ways you can exercise.
  3. List three results of not getting enough sleep.
  4. List three things you can do to help yourself sleep well.

Extensions for Lesson 3: Staying Healthy

Using Quotations

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” —Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Have students draw themselves as if they literally appear to be what they eat.

Addressing Multiple Learning Styles

For one week, have students keep track of the amount of exercise they get each day, the number of hours they sleep each night, and the kinds of foods they eat. Have them create graphs showing this information. Have students compare their bar graphs with their personal journals to look for correlations between performance and health habits.

Writing in Your Journal

Have students keep a daily journal for one week. This journal should include entries about school, friends, and/or home. Students should also note if each day was good or bad. Have students compare their entries with their exercise, sleep, and diet graphs. Discuss the correlations as a group.

Using Technology

Have students prepare a healthy dish that’s a family favorite or reflects their cultural heritage. Have them bring the dishes in to share with the class. Have students type recipes on a computer and organize them by food group to create a class recipe book.


Have students research various forms of exercise. They should include noncompetitive exercise from other cultures, like yoga and tai chi. Have students share their research with the class, teach a new exercise, and/or provide information about after-school athletic programs.

Additional Resources

Have students read page 122 of Jump Starters, by Linda Nason McElherne. Have students turn a part of their action plans into a cinquain (five-line) poem. Have students share their poems.

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