Whistleblower, Snitch, or Concerned Citizen? 

When is it right to share information about what we see as wrongdoing by others - and when is it meddling in someone else’s business? How do our morals and ideals affect our decisions to share information? Students consider these questions through this circle on social responsibility. 

To the Teacher

In November 2019, Congress held impeachment hearing proceedings of a sitting president, for only the fourth time in our nation’s history. The impetus for the trial came from information provided by a whistleblower. 

For the past several months, both pop culture and mainstream news outlets have been ablaze with hefty discussion around - to put it simply - folks who tell on other folks. An unnamed whistleblower provided details on a controversial phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a quid pro quo, and dirt on presidential opponent Biden.  Meanwhile, incarcerated rapper 6ix9ine was labeled a snitch after naming several high profile members of the hip hop community and details regarding their alleged involvement in illegal gang, drug, and intimidation activities.

Are there commonalities between these two situations? Is one undeniably more honorable than the other? What is the difference between a snitch and a whistleblower? 

The following lesson guides students in considering, when is it right to share information about others, and when is it merely meddling in someone else’s business? How do our morals and ideals affect our decisions to share information?

This activity uses a circle process. Please see this introduction to circles.


Define Terms

Elicit or share the following definitions with students:

Whistleblower:  A person who informs on a person or organization engaged in an illicit (illegal) activity.

Quid pro quo:  A favor or advantage granted or expected in return for something beneficial, or of worth.

Snitch: Someone who informs/tells on another person; a person who tells someone in authority (such as the police or a teacher) about something wrong that someone else has done.

For the next 3 minutes, have students discuss whether these terms have positive, negative, or neutral connotations. Afterwards, ask one partner from each pair share out their conclusions with the rest of the class. 




Tell students that we will now read about two incidents in the news that have raised questions about whistleblowers and snitches.

Provide students with the following background readings detailing recent events around both incidents.

Note: The 6ix9ine article contains some graphic language. Read it in advance and consider whether you want to explain the background, edit the article, or have students read segments of it together as a class.



Circle Discussion

Invite students to sit in a circle, if they're not in circle already.


Ask students to respond to one of the following statements. What comes to mind when they hear the statement?  Do they agree with it or disagree with it? Why?

  1. "Snitches get stitches."
  2. "It’s always the ones with the dirty hands pointing the fingers."
  3. "75%-90% of the murders that occur in Black and Latino communities are solvable. Everybody knows who did it. Or somebody knows." - Cheo Hodari Coker

Circle Rounds 

In go-rounds, ask students to share out their thoughts on some of the following prompts. (Select 3-4 that will work best for your class.)

  • When does tattling become telling on someone? When does telling on someone become snitching? Is it just a matter of age? Maturity? 
  • How might it feel to be called a snitch?
  • In what types of situations should people “tell” on each other? What role does loyalty play in the decision to tell?
  • Discuss the common phrase, “If you see something, say something.” 
  • Nobody wants to be a victim. What do you think/feel when you hear this statement? How does it feel to witness someone else being victimized? In the case of viral videos, are there some that you intentionally avoid watching, and if so, why?
  • What role does one’s culture play in the decision to tell or not to tell?


Ask students to share their response to these questions:

  • What is one thing you will take-away from today’s circle discussion?
  • Are you thinking differently than you were at the beginning of the circle? 


Extension Activities

Explore "community." Ask students to work collaboratively to define "community." Afterwards, ask them:

  • Can communities function optimally without the element of telling?
  • Is there a better way to hold each other accountable and address injustice and wrongdoing in a community?
  • What is the role of individual community members?
  • When is telling beneficial to the larger community vs self-serving/selfish?

Consider examples. Present examples and thought questions for students to discuss. For example:

  • You are aware that your best friend’s girlfriend - who is also your friend - is cheating on him. Do you tell him? Does telling on someone else always include an element of self preservation?

Research.  Ask students to research the historical context of snitching. From where and when did the term originate?

Create community norms.  Invite students to generate classroom community agreements ornorms regarding when it’s important to tell or involve others.