As October is National Bullying Prevention Month, I like to hold at least a one day discussion with my students about the myths and misconceptions surrounding bullying. Students individually indicate whether they agree, disagree, or are unsure about a series of statements. Then students have time to discuss the statements in small groups before sharing highlights of their discussion with the whole class. At the end of the discussion, students indicate if their opinions have changed and reflect on the activity as a whole. I try to stay out of the conversations as much as possible, only stepping in to correct major inaccuracies.
Depending on time and students' interest, I may follow up the discussion with additional activities. These activities are separated into high school and middle school, but use your judgement of what is most appropriate for the maturity level of your students.
For High School Students
Two years ago, I didn't have time to jump into another novel at the end of the year and wanted to work on students' media literacy skills, so I designed a week's worth of activities around the topic of bullying. As tenth graders, this wasn't a new topic to them and I knew that many had an apathetic attitude about it after too many lessons they perceived as "preachy" in health class.
The first activity we did was watch a video titled "To This Day," which is a spoken word poem about the long lasting effects of bullying. Immediately after viewing, I wanted students to have space to process their thoughts about the video so we first took about ten minutes just to free write and think. I then opened up the class to discussion. Students could read what they had written or share their thoughts. Depending on the class period and the length of our discussion, I asked students to write their own poem in response. Their writing didn't have to be focused on bullying, as not all students have had experience with it (or at least claimed that they haven't). Instead the poem prompt asked them to imagine themselves as adults looking back on their childhood or high school experience and detail the memories that they thought would stand out to them
The second activity we did was to examine the two main characters in the novel Cracked by K. M. Walton. We only read the first two chapters of the book (up to page 11). If you don't have a copy of the book, those first two chapters can be viewed using Amazon's "Look Inside" feature or here on Google Play. Give students a copy of these two chapters or read them aloud. After reading the first chapter, we created character silhouettes for Victor and Bull. After reading the second chapter, we discussed how students' view of Bull changed. Students were able to see that we cannot so easily apply the labels of "bully" and "victim." Students then extended the narrative by choosing one of the character's perspectives from which to continue writing.
Our third and final activity was to evaluate the audience, purpose, and effectiveness of a series of public service announcements about bullying. You can find the five videos I used here or choose several of your own. Most of the videos are about 30 seconds to a minute long. The final video is longer, closer to five minutes, but doesn't have to be shown in its entirety. The videos cover a variety of audiences and purposes. Be sure to push students to be as specific as possible when identifying audience and purpose. Just saying "for kids" or "to stop bullying" are too vague of answers. You can probe by asking questions like "what age range of kids?" or "what actions do they want the viewer to take to stop bullying?"
For Middle School Students
I am currently reading The Misfits by James Howe (author of the beloved Bunnicula series) with my seventh grade students. Another possible activity, based on a scene from the novel, would be to have students write down all of the names they've ever been called and the labels they've ever been given. Have students rip up that paper and explain that those things don't define then.
You can then allow students to write about the things that do define them or try out the Compliments Project, where students share positives about each other. The student being complimented sits with his/her back to the board, which allows classmates to write about that student on the board. Not seeing who is writing what makes students feel more comfortable.
You could also do the toothpaste activity, where students squeeze out a tube of toothpaste and then try to put it back in the tube using toothpicks, representative of our inability to take back hurtful words.
You can find the discussion guide, writing prompts for "To This Day," and evaluating public service announcements handout here.