What if Peace Possibilities Blew into Class with Spring?

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Have you seen spring’s new life jolt teens alive?  When warm south breezes begin to blow into young lives, it’s no surprise that original ideas also begin to emerge like new sprigs poke up into the morning sun. It’s the perfect season to fan innovative possibilities such as robust peace plans, and to watch old, taken-for-granted war narratives retreat along with those weary winter weeks. Or at least to balance warrior strategies with the challenge of risking a few original peaceful alternatives.

Spring’s a perfect season to build on teens’ wonder, suspense and hope that tend to claim central spaces in any social studies class quite naturally.  It’s a time to welcome their seedling insights, discuss opposing views, and to water fresh ideas that flourish on various sides of textbook topics. Students it turns out, hold valuable ideas on pretty much any lesson engaged.

As  learners become critical thinkers, for instance, a war can magically transform into a proposed robust peace plan.  Simply stated, student brains become engines of possibilities and progress, rather than sit as mere warehouses to stockpile problems or re-enact historic battles.

Brain based writing prompts usually get the ball rolling with my students, partly because they love to discover things never before articulated by using parts of their brains never before used in a social studies class. How so?

I spark students’ innovative juices by displaying a poster of critical thinking triggers as seen below. Then students complete an exit slip after class discussions, for instance, to show evidence of one critical thinking tool used during class. Before long they gain thinking skills that translate into exam essay counterpoints – and they love to compete for participation points in this way.


I also change it up with writing prompts that I laminate and sign out to students when they write individually, or work on a project in small teams. Often we use these writing prompts to teach one another in a task called mind-guiding. Simply stated – students become mutual mentors in a vibrant back and forth that’s especially popular with my seniors and was invited to form a chapter in a Wiley mentoring textbook coming out this fall. You may be wondering how specific critical thinking tasks earn grades for students. This is the part students especially value since it places assessment in their hands and allows them to grow their grades. For each critical thinking tool used, students submit specific evidence in their work and grades are assigned for correctly applied skills. This point system motivates students to correct and re-shape their critical thinking skills in social students class.


Veterans gave gifts of their lives and teens enjoy giving back insights in gratitude!

Your class might open with an open question such as,  What if we give vets’ families peace gifts in return, for example. Or as one teen put it in his team’s sizzling exchange, “You’d have to have the brain of a coconut husk not to value our vets!”

Up for the challenge? If you teach peace as one possibility to a traditional lesson on warfare,  for instance, learners may well try on its hues, colors, music or shapes.

Lessons on peace tend to stoke teens’ sense of social justice,  simply because they offer genuine thanks to vets, while holding out hope to the rest of us! And have you noticed how lessons on peace lean toward action? How so?

Peacemaking tasks invite critical thought and action that often leads my class into lively and highly engaged debates on the benefits and barriers of leading war or proposing peace. They especially love to debate a passionate topic such as, “Peace is the best resolution to any conflict.” Each team prepares to debate both sides of this issue with valid evidence and specific supports for and against peace possibilities that work well. In fact I use tournament guidelines, and some students have gone on to compete and win on a national and international tournaments. 


Here are a few more tasks my students enjoy as they consider leading  historic events in a peaceful way forward:

1). Write and deliver a Thank You letter to show your sincere appreciation to specific sacrifices that a vet made so that we all could have peace.

2) Brainstorm words that signify peace. Students might: a). call out words while somebody writes these on board; b). toss a crumpled paper to team participants who shout out a peace related word, and then toss the ball quickly along to another player (teams with the most words and the most number of players used wins when time is up; or, 3). line up in a few teams and run to the board to write peace related words (one player from each team at a time – and when players return to team next one in line runs to add a new word). No words can be repeated. Winning team has most words that relate to peace.

3). Draft a letter, using brainstormed peace related words,  and mail to an editor to propose a peace plan that would settle a conflict which involves people in your community. capture1

4). Create a poster in your team to help create a “Peace Bulletin Board Display,” to teach others how to resolve conflicts with peaceful resolutions that benefit all concerned.

5). Describe a workable Mid-east peace plan that would clearly benefit all concerned. Defend that plan to a mock world conference on peace possibilities for the Middle-east.

6). Toss a real or imaginary rope down the center of your group. Participants stand on one side of the rope to defend how war can be justified, and on the other side of the rope to defend peace with benefits for all concerned.

7). Impersonate the viewpoint of an immigrant who will lose everything, and persuade a war hero to change his or her mind about the merits of war from that immigrant’s perspective.

8). Research peaceful strategies and make suggestions to a group of your peers, with insights from a great leader of peace such as Gandhi, Malala, or Martin Luther King.

9). Contribute to a blog where each person in a team or class adds a meaningful quote that shows the deepest values of peace.

10). Compose and perform a song about the values and methods of peace. You are welcome to get help from a musically gifted peer or adult to perform your peace-keeping song.

Looking for more war-peace-related learning tasks, or critical thinking lessons well-suited for spring classes that teens love? Find ready-to-roll materials at my TpT site. What could spring add to your social studies class?

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Created by Ellen Weber, Brain Based Tasks for Growth Mindset