Starting Dialogue after a School Tragedy

Grades 6 through 12

Social Studies, Language Arts

In the wake of a tragedy like the February 14, 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University, teachers may find many of their own students becoming curious about the events that took place, and raise concern of their own safety.  Teachers should be able to disseminate knowledgeable information and calm any fears.  Therefore, this lesson allows students to develop an understanding of the facts regarding a recent tragedy, and express their own reaction and concerns. Students will also understand that their school and community have a structure designed to assure safety and well being.  (Teachers should familiarize themselves with their school’s emergency plans before this lesson).

Students will discuss the recent events of a school shooting or other school violence.  Students will then explore alternative responses for managing anger and avoiding self-destructive decisions. 

Students will be able to communicate effective and appropriate ways to respond to a crisis (following directions of an adult, safest part of the building, etc.) and to situations of escalating anger.  Students will explore ways to reduce exposure to violence in our society and tragic deaths of peers.  Students will think critically about recent events and how it affects their own lives.


Activity 1: Understanding the events -

Open the class by explaining the recent tragic events. Teacher will share facts that have been provided by administration that answer: "Who, what, when, where?"  (If there was a perpetrator, care should be taken to avoid their glorification).

Allow students to ask any questions to clear up any confusion.

Activity 2: How does this affect us? -

Open the floor to a roundtable discussion.  Students should be able to gain a better understanding of the events, and how it will affect day-to-day lives.  This discussion should also serve to alleviate any fears.  Ask questions, such as:

Why do you think this happened?

How do you think this could have been avoided?

Is it possible for this to happen in our own community?

What could make you feel safer right now?

Conclude the discussion by explaining what measures the school has in place to assure student safety in an incident like this, and what the school is doing to assure that this will not happen in our own community.

Activity 3: The bigger picture –

Students will be given time towards the end of class to write a short reflection journal.  With the information from the teacher, administrators, and news media, students should think about the questions that were raised during discussion and any thoughts they did not share.  Students should address such additional questions like:

            Is there too much violence in movies, television, music, and video games?

            What do you think are the leading causes of death for our children in America?

            How can we reduce exposure to violence and make appropriate choices?


Students will be evaluated on their thoughtful participation and contribution to class discussion in their written reflection journal. 

Lesson adapted from: Teachers First,