Thinking about physical fighting & safety

Physical fighting can be a difficult issue in schools, particularly middle schools.  This activity was developed to address the issue of fighting, and to link it to the question of how safe children feel at school.  

Opinion Continuum Activity

In this activity students respond to several statements of opinion about physical fighting and safety.  Ask students to listen carefully to views expressed by other students.  Afterwards, they will have a chance to reflect on their own opinion of the statement and change their minds if they want to.  Begin by establishing some ground rules for discussion.  They should include:

  • listen carefully to other students' statements
  • no interrupting
  • it's OK to disagree

Designate different corners of the room as "strongly agree," "strongly disagree," and "not sure."  Then read one of the following statements, and ask each student to respond to the statement by moving to the appropriate part of the room.  an alternative is to draw a continuum on the blackboard or mark out on the floor with a "0" a the center, "-5" at one end, and "+5" at the other.  

Ask students to range themselves along the continuum depending on to what degree they agree (+5) with the statement or disagree (-5) with the statement (zero is not sure).

Possible statements include:

  • Fighting is a good way to get what you want.
  • Winning a fight is a good way to get status in this school.
  • It's smart to avoid situations where students like to fight.
  • Fighting is a good way to get out your anger.
  • In our school it's impossible to stop physical fights because students like watching them so much.
  • It's best to find friends who will not be impressed by fighting.
  • I feel safe at this school.
  • It's acceptable to tease people about the ways they look or act that seem different, because it's just joking around.
  • There would be less fighting at this school if students spoke out against it.

After reading a statement and the students have moved to the designated corners, ask several students: "what are some reasons that you might have chosen that corner?"  It might seem helpful to paraphrase after the student speaks to make sure everyone understands each perspective.  

Once several students with different opinions have shared their thoughts, ask if anyone would like to change their opinion based on new information.  It is important to acknowledge the value of remaining open to new information and being able to change one's mind in response to it.  

These steps are repeated using other statements from above, or by making up your own statements based on what you think makes sense for your students.  A vital part of this lesson is to provide safety for the opinions that might be unpopular within the class.  

Class Discussion

Finish up the activity by giving the students a few minutes to think about the following questions, either on their own or by talking in pairs:

  • How safe do you feel at this school?
  • What makes you feel unsafe at this school?
  • What helps you feel safe at this school?
  • What changes might make you feel safer at this school?

Come together as a class to discuss the questions.  Depending on student responses to the last question (what changes might make students feel safer), the class might decide to make some recommendation or to take some action to improve safety for the school community.