Defusing School Violence

This lesson explores the complexities of a situation in which immigrant students attend a school that is plagued with racially motivated violence. Working in small groups and as a class, students will discuss possible solutions and outcomes and apply their problem-solving skills to issues affecting their own school and community.
Grade Level


At the end of the lesson, students will be able to…

  • develop and practice analytic and problem-solving skills
  • recognize that students can defuse violence and tension at school
  • understand and value other perspectives, especially those that differ from their own, through dialogue
Essential Questions
  • How does hate language affect those who are targeted?
  • How can people increase intergroup tolerance and reduce bias attitudes that lead to hate-based violence?
  • Enduring Understandings
    • Hate speech is language that promotes fear and incites violence against vulnerable or singled-out individuals or groups.
    • Establishing relationships and increasing communication between individuals or groups can enhance understanding among people. 


slur [ slər ] (noun) an insulting remark

immigrant [ im-i-grint ] (noun) a person who moves to a country to live there

mediator [ me-dee-ayt-er ] (noun) someone who works with opposing sides to reach an agreement

Somalia [ sə-mäl-ēə ] (noun) a war-torn country in East Africa, formerly a colony of Britain and Italy. Civil war raged in the early 1990s, and tens of thousands of Somalis sought refuge in the United States.


Suggested Procedure

1. In this lesson, students will imagine that they are students at a high school that is polarized by violence between native-born students and foreign-born African immigrant students. Tell students that they are going to listen to an account of what was happening at the school. Then, as a class, we will work together to improve the school’s situation. Read Setting the Scene aloud for the students.

2. After listening to the account, have students read and complete the activities on Handout What Do We Do Now? Students should work in small, diverse groups. Choose a representative in each group to report back to the class.

3. When students have completed the activities, sit together as a class. Taking turns, each representative should report its group’s top two solutions and explain to the class why they chose those solutions. Keep a class chart that lists the favored options. If there is no clear class consensus on two solutions, ask students to return briefly to their groups. Ask: “Have you changed your minds based on what other groups have presented? Return to the entire class and come to an agreement about the best solutions.”

4. Now read aloud what actually happened at the school: ‘The students felt some urgency, but they weren’t sure what to do. Together with the conflict mediator, they decided that a quick solution would be to talk to their peers and tell them that the violence had to stop. They weren’t all that eager to do it, and they weren’t confident that it would work. But they could do it right away, and at least it was something. So the 25 leaders left the lunchroom that day, each agreeing to talk to five of their peers and tell them that things had to change.’

“A week later, when students returned from spring break, something had definitely changed at the school. There were no fights that first day, or that first week. In fact, things stayed pretty calm for the rest of the school year. No one was more surprised than the students themselves. They had felt so helpless to make a difference. But they had: just by talking with other students, they had defused the violence in their school.”

5. The students found an immediate way to change the situation at their school. As a class, discuss: Does their actual experience change your thinking? Why or why not?

Alignment to Common Core State Standards/ College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards CCSS W.4, W. 7, SL.1, SL. 2, SL. 4, SL. 6, RH. 3


Extension Activity

Do Something

Tell your class, “The students at this school learned that they could change their attitudes by connecting personally with people who were, in some ways, different than they were, and whom they didn’t know. As a class, brainstorm issues that create tension in our school or community. Make a list of ways you might foster discussion and change.” Remind students that their actions—whether big or small—can make a difference.

As a class, select three problems and possible solutions or ways to alleviate them. Divide students into small groups and ask each group to reach out to others around the issues you’ve identified. After a week or longer, have students discuss the results and/or write about them. For one idea, read about Mix It Up at Lunch Day.