Hurtful Language

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Lesson Plan Summary: 

This activity has the students identify "Hurtful Language" through brainstorming and writing the hurtful terms on a board. Then they have the opportunity to play an "agree-disagree" game/activity to see where they stand on the name-calling.  A subsequent Council allows them to find commonalities, empathize and hopefully reach concensus.

  • To identify terms that can be the root of bullying
  • To play an “agree-disagree” activity that breaks the ice and opens the dialogue
  • To go deeper into people’s reactions to these hurtful words and learn more about each other
Grade level: 
Time Required: 

50 minutes

Materials needed: 

White Board and Markers - Space big enough with chairs and table pushed back or perhaps a larger empty room.

Pre-Council Activities and Discussion: 

While you or a volunteer write on the board, have them brainstorm (maybe using a talking piece) a list of bad  things that people call each other.  These can be things they've been called, things they've heard or just know about, and even things that one person might not find offensive but another would.  No arguing about that while creating the list.  If one person says it's hurtful, it gets written down.
  If you do this activity, please clear with you institution's policy around language. YOU need to decide beforehand what degree of language you and your group are okay with:  are b*tch or assh*le okay,  but you don't want m*therf*cker on the list?  Do you want no cuss words at all, or anything goes?  In any event steer them away from getting gratuitously nasty just to get a laugh.
Then these words are used for a silent "agree-disagree" activity.  First read the list through.  Then have them all start from the center, and move to one side of the room if they agree, the other if they disagree, then come back to the center before the next statement.  It's more impactful when they move, but if that's too hard to manage in your space, they can stand up, or just raise hands if they agree with the statements:
•    I really hate disrespectful language like these words  
•    I never care what people call me, it never bothers me  
•    Most of these are funny, I don't get why people get pissed off  
•    I have been called one or more of these  
•    I have called someone else one of these  
•    I have gotten angry at someone because of their use of one of these  
•    I have gotten attitude from someone because I used one of these  
•    I have gotten in a physical altercation due to usage of one of these or one like it  
•    There is one or more thing on this list that would set me off if I heard it about me  
•    I am okay with saying things about me, but not about my Mom or someone else close to me  
•    Sometimes people say they are joking, but they cross the line  
•    I have heard these so much I have gotten numb to pretty much all of it

Suggested Council Opening: 

Bring your students back into the center for a dedication and Council. The council can build directly from these statements.  You may want to start with the debrief question warmup round below, then continue with the Council prompts.  But if the activity provokes a lot, go with that.

Warm-up Round(s): 

"What was it like or what did you notice doing this activity?"

  • Talk about a time when one of these names caused a problem.
  • Is there a particular word or name that really bothers you, or a kind of teasing/joking that you don't like?
  • Have you ever been somewhere when a line got crossed, either for you or someone else, and things got ugly.  
  • How can you tell when a line gets crossed?  what happens?  
  • What about your own usage of language -- do you use these words, do you  swear a lot?  
  • When did you start swearing?  How do your parents react?
Witness Round: 

In a Popcorn Council, have your students check-out with phrases that offer encouragement from what they have heard, having focused a lot on the negative, try to emphasize the positive possibilities.

Suggested Council Closing: 

If there is time, end with a fun song or game, like the “HumanYurt” ( See Welcome Back Hi-Lo Council lesson plan.)

Additional Notes: 

There are lots of directions you can go in with this council, so be flexible and see what works.  It may be that you'll get some racial slurs on the list, so the debrief may need to go there.  If need be, try to keep them from defending why a term is just fine, and emphasize that people  react differently and for their own reasons, and in council we can actually  learn about those reasons and hopefully respect them.
DEFINITIONS: There are a helpful definitions in the Lesson Plan "Social Justice and the Bully Part Two" that you may want to refer to for information and terms that will help the students understand more.


This Lesson Plan is a good opener for the "Social Justice and the Bully One and Two" Lesson plans.

Council Form(s) : 

Popcorn and Basic

Contributed by: 

Lise Ransdall

Grand Council WP11_0.JPG