Peace and Community Building Curriculum--Teacher Guided Lessons

This lesson will be most effective if it follows a prompted discussion about peace.  Present a newspaper clipping, a short abstract from a current magazine, a movie clip, a poem, a piece of visual art, or a song to begin discussions about world events.  Direct the conversation toward the theme for the day—peace. In this case, your goal is to grab student attention, encourage them to think, and send them on an intellectual/reflective/emotional journey regarding peace.

The following procedures can be modified for different age groups:

Define terms and discuss findings.  Make sure that the students are familiar with the following terms: agression, casuality, collateral damage, euphemism, peace, propaganda.

Ask the students to list historical people that have been advocates for peace.  If you are building this lesson off of other lessons in the curriculum, they should have no trouble doing this.  However, if this lesson is being taught separately, there might be some hesitation.  Some names are provided here.  Depending on the amount of time given to this lesson, you may wish to direct students to the Waging Peace website.  The citation is listed below.  Detailed descriptions and attributed quotes on a number of individuals can be found at the site.

  • Joan Baez:  musician and peace activist
  • Helen Caldicott: founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility
  • Cesar Chavez: Mexican-American civil and labor rights leader
  • Dorothy Day: co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement
  • Mahatma Gandhi:  spiritual leader and Indian liberator
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.:  American Civil Rights leader
  • Oscar Romero: Archbishop of El Salvador and supporter of human rights
  • Jeanette Rankin:  member of Congress who voted against WWI and WWII
  • Ginetta Sagan: founder of Amnesty USA

Discuss with students why they might have difficulty in thinking of historical figures who promoted peace.  How often is their work included in the study of history?  Is there more attention paid to military leaders?  Ask how they can support their opinions.  Ask them to consider how the study of peace can be included in the curriculum.

Divide the students into five groups.  Explain to each group that they will be given a question or a quote.  Each group will answer the questions and discuss the quote.  Two people from each group will be asked to share the questions/quote and the groups’ thoughts/discussion with the class.  More than likely you will need at least 15 minutes for students to meet as a group and at least 3-4 minutes per group to present to the class.  Each group will need a large piece of paper, possibly flip chart paper, and markers. Prepare a handout of the exercise: Quotations and Questions about Peace for each student.  Facilitate responses from each group. Transition the lesson to asking the group who are the victims of war?  The majority of casualties in war are children and other innocent civilians.  You can refer the class back to their visit to Opening of the Heart, or if they haven’t seen the exhibit, the power point of the exhibit can be shown.  Ask the group how will the lives of these people will never be the same.  Discuss the following questions:

  • What is "collateral damage?"  Where did the term come from?  Why do you think the term was invented to describe harm inflicted on civilians in military attacks?
  • Who was Timothy McVeigh?  When Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, many children were killed.  McVeigh referred to them as "collateral damage."   The children's family members responded with anger and pain when he applied this term to their loved ones.  Why do you think they were angry and hurt?  Do you think Timothy McVeigh was responsible for killing their loved ones?  How might some people relate the crime of bombing the federal building to an attack on Iraq?
  •  How do we judge moral responsibility for an act?  For example, let's say that you are throwing rocks at a telephone pole.  That's your target.  And let's say that cars are parked near the telephone pole.  You throw a rock that misses the telephone pole and hits a car, shattering its windshield.  Are you responsible for breaking the windshield?  What are "anticipated consequences"?  Are you responsible for the anticipated consequences of your actions?  In the example above, who should pay for the windshield?  The person who owns the car or the person who threw the rock?

End the discussion by asking if waging peace, even during a time of crisis and conflict, is a responsibility for which we should strive.  If the answer is yes, then explore with the class how we can begin to take steps that lead to peace.

Source: This last activity of the lesson was adapted from the work of Keitha St. Clair. St. Clair’s intention is to share this activity with students of the United States in hopes of strengthening aspirations for living within a world that embraces peace as an alternative to violence and war.

Reference site to help facilitate this lesson: The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation;

The site is rich with resource material.  Issues of the Foundation’s bulletin, Sunflower, are available as PDF files.  These can be used as resource material.  In addition, there is an entire section of the website dedicated to Youth, including a 84-page guide for the classroom, Teaching Peace, and an extraordinary section on peace heroes.


Mali Kouanchao


Critical Thinking and Active Non-Violence

Overview and Objectives

The theme of this unit is critical thinking and active non-violence. Peace education began as a response to violence and war. As stated in the preamble of the Constitution of UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), "Since wars began in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men [and women] that the defenses of peace must be constructed." The knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to prevent violence and promote the non-violent resolution of conflict are central to the process of educating for a culture of peace. As summarized by one organization:

A culture of peace will be achieved when citizens of the world understand global problems, have the skills to resolve conflicts and struggle for justice non-violently, live by international standards of human rights and equity, appreciate cultural diversity, and respect the Earth and each other.

Peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace-building are complex and important responses to the proliferation of violent conflict. The root of these approaches lies in the basic knowledge and commitment to the practice of non-violence and critical thinking. When we eliminate violence as an option for resolving conflicts, we make room for creative alternatives. Co-operation, critical thinking, communication and problem-solving become essential tools. Conflict itself can be viewed as an opportunity for growth and expanded communication rather than a precursor to violence and a threat to dignity, security and life. Peace educators are developing tools to help transform the current "culture of violence" in which hurt and harm are advocated and glorified to a "culture of peace" in which the preservation of life and human dignity are the central guiding principles for living together in a secure world.

The following suggested Learning Activities connect this global process with classrooms. The first is a simple demonstration of the rewards of working co-operatively to achieve a goal. The second activity utilizes the valuable tools of active listening, critical thinking, and imagining creative, non-violent responses to conflict. This Unit can be used with all ages and level of student, though it may be most suited for youth over the age of twelve.

A desirable treat or reward (candy works well) for each student in the class.


Peace of My Mind by Larry Child

Cooperative Behavior

The following exercise highlights the rewards of co-operative behavior. In so many ways, education presents a competitive context for learning. Often in grading, classroom participation, limited access to classes, programs, or schools, and in testing, the "winner" is the student who succeeds at the expense of others. In peace education, learning is a cooperative effort where students help each other succeed.

Step 1

Introduce this activity in the context of other learning in the class. It fits especially well with subjects that deal with power relationships (such as history and politics) and topics related to conflict, cooperation and competition (such as sports and recreation, economics, debate, or law).  Because peace education aims to connect learning rather than segment or separate subjects, each activity should be related to previous and forthcoming lessons.

Step 2

Ask students to form pairs and sit opposite their partner at a desk or table. Announce that students are to clasp hands as if to arm wrestle. Explain: "Every time your partners’ hand touches the table, you gain a point". Students with the most points win a prize. (If necessary, remind students that no one in the class has the right to inflict pain, hurt or harm on another.)

Step 3

Allow one or two minutes for the students to gain points. Give a ten second warning before calling time.

Step 4

Debrief the activity. Which students gained the most points? How did they decide what to do? Who "won"? (Note: When the activity begins, some pairs will likely struggle to force each other’s hand down. Others will realize that a cooperative approach, in which each student in turn allows the other to touch his or her hand to the table, will enable both students to accumulate more points.) In the debrief, discuss the relative merits of co-operative and competitive methods. Also, allow students to share their feelings about the exercise and make sure no one has been hurt or upset by the experience.

Step 5

Award prizes to those with the highest points. However, the class as a whole may choose to discuss and ultimately decide if the prizes should be re-distributed. Keep in mind the idea of a "win-win" solution, where all participants come out feeling they have succeeded.

Step 6

Assess these activities with the students.

Learning activity #1 is adapted from "The Smarties Game" in Smith, David C. and Terrance R. Carson, Educating for a Peaceful Future, Toronto: Kagan and Woo Limited, 1998.


Exploring Non-Violent Responses to Conflict

In the context of learning cooperatively and exploring non-violent responses to conflict, critical thinking is an essential skill.  Practicing critical thinking skills involves active listening, withholding judgment, questioning assumptions and stereotypes, exploring alternative interpretations of information and allowing time for self-reflection and contemplation. In a conflict, these skills enable us to take a step back, assess the situation, and make responsible choices about how to act. The following Critical Conversation exercise enables students to practice these valuable skills.

Step 1

Divide students into groups of five.

Step 2

Students then choose one of three roles: in each group, one student becomes the "Storyteller", three are "Detectives" and one student becomes the "Umpire". The Storyteller is the person who makes him/herself the focus of the critical conversation by presenting a conflict incident from his/her experience. The incident can be one in which the Storyteller observed a conflict or directly participated, and it can be an example or a positive response to conflict or one in which there was a negative outcome (such as hurt, unresolved anger, or violence). (NOTE: This role can be very difficult and the storyteller should be prepared to be respectfully questioned on his/her beliefs about what happened in the incident.)

The three Detectives are the people who will critique the presentation by listening for unacknowledged or unquestioned assumptions that the Storyteller may convey. (NOTE: Detectives do not critique the person, but rather challenge possible assumptions that may be evident to them in listening to his/her story.)

The Umpire is the person who will monitor the process and make sure that the others are speaking to each other in a respectful and non-judgmental manner. The Umpire should remind participants that the purpose of the critical conversation is not to pass judgment on the actions of the Storyteller in any way, but rather to remain impartial as they try to understand what happened and offer alternative perceptions of what took place.

All three roles work as a team to better understand the incident and shed light on others ways to look at the same situation.

Step 3

Once the roles are established, the Storyteller begins relating his/her story. The Storyteller should be given five to five minutes to speak and should not be interrupted in any way.

Step 4

While the Storyteller speaks, the Detectives listen attentively and make eye contact with the speaker. Their task is to identify the assumptions underlying the story. Does the Storyteller have any biases related to the story? What do they appear to be? What assumptions or conclusions has she/he drawn about what took place? What is stated as an assumption and what seems to be implied, or unstated? What are some alternative interpretations that could be given based on the same facts and circumstances described?

Step 5

When the Storyteller completes his/her remarks, Detectives may ask impartial (non-judgmental) questions to gain more information about what happened. For instance, Detectives may pose alternative interpretations of the facts presented and ask if the Storyteller thinks these other viewpoints could also be true. The Storyteller provides all additional information as long as he/she feels it was requested without judgment. The Storyteller may also choose to ask Detectives why they are asking particular questions.

Step 6

The Umpire should intervene if at any point questions are posed in a judgmental way. For instance, Detectives should not say things like, "You can’t seriously believe that…."  A question such as: "Why did you do that?," may be asked in a neutral, curious tone, but not as an accusation.

Step 7

Detectives also explain their alternative interpretations of the story. They could see what happened in a different light and say, "Perhaps from a different perspective, you might conclude that …" or "another possible way to explain what happened might be…"  Detectives should provide their reasons for drawing such alternative conclusions. Ideally, they provide insight that sheds new light onto the story. Their feedback should never be asserted as "the truth" but only another possible interpretation of what happened.

Step 8

The Storyteller then has a chance to respond or comment on these alternative interpretations and to ask questions about them. It is not necessary for the Storyteller to always agree with the Detectives, but rather to respectfully consider what they have shared.

Step 9

Finally, the Umpire should offer any feedback he or she has about the process or the outcomes.

Step 10

When all parties have had an opportunity to speak, participants should step out of their roles and discuss what took place and any new insights they gained. The group may also discuss ideas about how they might act differently if a similar conflict situation arose in the future. The teacher should then bring the groups back together to assess the activity together as a class.

Learning activity #2 is adapted from a "Critical Conversation" exercise in Developing Critical Thinking, a manual based on a two-day workshop with Stephen Brookfield sponsored by The Centre for Educational Outreach and Innovation at Teachers College, Columbia University.


Assessment: Group Report
Ask students to take ten to fifteen minutes after the exercise is over to reflect on the experience. They may want to discuss their reactions as a group or focus on themselves individually. Provide an assessment worksheet for the group to report back their response to activities. The group report could ask the following: 

  • Please describe what you enjoyed about this activity.
  • Please describe what was difficult about this activity.
  • How would you change this activity to make it more effective?
  • Would you use this activity to teach critical thinking? Why or why not?
  • Please add any other feedback here.

Student activities follow.