February 2023 Update: At NewsHour Classroom, we’re revisiting this lesson on bullying given the major studies on the youth mental health crisis that have come out in recent years. To learn more, read teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg’s Educator Voice piece here.
The resources below are designed to provide educators with a variety of quality materials that they can use in the classroom to authentically teach students about the topic of bullying.
Varies for each activity
Middle and High School Activities
1. Warm Up Activity | Crumpled Paper Lesson
This short and powerful activity has been adapted from a story that at one point was circulating around the web.
- Either provide paper or have students take out a sheet of their own. As a class, ask for students to volunteer words that describe the blank sheet of paper. For example: clean, smooth, useful, etc.
- Now instruct students to crumple the paper, mess it up, stomp on it, everything except rip it.
- Tell students to unfold the paper, smooth it out and try to get the paper back to its original state. Encourage them to use whatever tools they can to make the paper the same way it was when they started this exercise. After letting the students try to “fix” their paper have them examine it and as a class share words that describe it. For example: dirty, wrinkled, practically destroyed, etc.
- Now ask students to apologize to the sheet of paper- admit all the things you did to it and tell it that you are sorry for what you did.
- Have students to reflect on what they did to the paper and the state that it is now in. Think of how even though they had apologized and did everything they could to return the paper to its original state that that there are still many scars that their behavior had left on the paper and those scars will never really go away completely.
- Now explain to the class that this is the same principle that happens to people when they are bullied. Even if there is a heartfelt apology the scars never completely go away.
- Give students time to reflect on the message and debrief as a class about their reaction to the activity.
2. Lesson Plan | The Heart Exercise for Groups
- Place students into group of at least four and give everyone a large sheet of newsprint and markers.
- Explain to students that they are going to do a lesson that you need them to take seriously because the topic of the lesson is bullying and everyone has been bullied before at some time in their life.
- If you want, ask students to close their eyes, put their heads down on their desk and listen for your instruction. Ask them to raise their hand if you have ever been bullied, or made fun of. You have a choice to either tell the students the number of hands you saw or keep it vague (i.e. I saw a few/several hands just now.)
- Have groups of students read aloud the first section to students as they follow along. Allow students time to complete each section of the Heart Exercise (5-10 minutes each). At the end of the activity have students debrief first with their group by answering the questions —. Then have the class debrief together and have each group volunteer their answers. You may choose to hang students’ work on the board or wall, so students can see the similarities among the groups.
Bullying: Group heart exercise
- THE HEART: Draw a large heart (the size of your hand) on a piece of paper that fills up the middle of the page.
- Each of us begins as a baby depending on others to care for us. Imagine that you are holding a new born baby- what words or thoughts come to mind?
- With your group members share these words and write them down inside your group’s heart.
- When you have 10 words in your heart, talk to your group members about the feelings they get when hearing those kinds of words and think of a baby and jot them down.
- HURTS: As we continue the journey from infant to young child we often have things said to us by others that are not so nice to hear and cause shame and embarrassment. Click on the links below from Common Sense Education and Student Reporting Labs to hear students talk about being bullied and misunderstood:
- Common Sense Education
- Emma’s story: Cyberbullied by a best friend — bit.ly/CSEemma
- Stacey’s story: When rumors escalate — bit.ly/CSEstacey
- Student Reporting Labs’ “No Labels Attached” Series
- “Middle school bullying still affects how I dress” — bit.ly/nolabels1
- “I’m Mexican and people mock how I talk” — bit.ly/nolabels2
- “I’m Guatemalan and people label me as Mexican” — bit.ly/nolabels3
- Common Sense Education
Listen to the stories and for each unkind word/phrase that was said to the students you chose, draw a slash through your heart and write the specific hurtful word on the slash.
3. SHIELDS: When people are called these words enough they often start to believe them and search for ways to shield themselves from the pain. For example, someone who is being called stupid might act silly or avoid asking questions to discourage others from teasing them.
- When you are teased or made fun of, what do you feel like doing?
Think back to the students you heard from the videos and write down ways they coped with bullying.
- For each behavior students used to shield themselves from the pain, draw a shield/line between the hurtful words and the ways that people cope with feeling badly about themselves.
- In your notebooks, describe your responses to these questions:
- Can you think of other ways that people your age cope with bad names that may affect their self-image?
- How can putting up walls lead to negative behavior, including things that may numb the pain, but not improve the situation? Do you see examples of people who are coping with bullying around you? What does that look like?
Assessing the effects of bullying
To reflect on your experience answer the following questions:
- Remember how your heart looked and felt in the first part of this exercise? Describe it.
- was there any reason to hurt this person with words or actions?
- How did your heart change once it had been called bad names?
- How hard is it to get back to the original innocent heart once walls have been put up to protect it from dealing with the pain?
- How did it make you feel to watch the students in the videos talk about being bullied?
As a class, discuss the answers your answers from “Assessing the effects of bullying.” If there are any insights, questions or feelings you want to share with your classmates, use this time to speak about them.
Adapted from a Campus Activism Lesson
3. Video Resource | Student Reporting Labs
PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs is a national youth journalism program and public media initiative that trains teenagers across the country to produce stories that highlight the achievements, challenges, and reality of today’s youth. This 2013 video about bullying and its affects on middle school students was produced by students at W.E. Putnam Middle School in Birmingham, Alabama.
4. Resources | Learning for Justice
Teaching Tolerance is an invaluable resource for teaching about bullying. Start here with their basics about bullying. For a holistic look at bullying that addresses the problem of bullying as a behavior that can be changed, read this Teaching Tolerance article, “There Are No Bullies” and try out their Tool Kit designed to help all students create healthy relationships.
For an in-depth lesson and engaging documentary visit Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case That Made History which tells the story of Jamie Nabozny – a bullied student who fought back and won. Jamie (pictured at the right) is also recognized as a human rights defender by the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights.
5. Resources | American Federation of Teachers Resources
This page houses many resources on bullying for all ages including FAQs for teachers and quality classroom activities.
6. Video Resource | PBS Learning Media
Use this video resource on cyber related topics including online-bullying, freedom of speech and “trolling”. This six minute video clip is suggested for older audiences (grades 9-12) because of the hurtful nature surrounding “trolling.”
7. Video Resource | eMediaWorks
MyFriendRyan is a unique video resource that creates an opportunity for students to learn about their peers with Aspergers and Autism. Ryan, a student with Aspergers, explains the different ways in which he experiences the world around him with the hope that better understanding will lead to less bullying and more acceptance among other students for all kids on the Autism Spectrum.
Compiled by Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for the PBS NewsHour
Special thanks to Esme Ojeda for City Beat Magazine for the use of her photograph