Home » Teachers »

What’s So Bad About Conflict?

Every journey starts with a single step. This activity is a great way to open a dialogue about conflict with any group of any age. Exploring perceptions about conflict offers a rich springboard for other activities found in the calendar and in the web resources listed throughout.

1. Write “conflict” on the board and ask the group if they know what that word means. (If they need help, explain that it is disagreement and give a few age-appropriate examples.)
2. Ask the class: What do you think of when you hear the word “conflict”?
3. Have the class brainstorm all the associations they have with the word “conflict”. List their ideas on the board or create a web chart.
4. Conduct a class discussion using the following questions:

  • Which words are negative? Which are positive? Which are neutral?
  • Why do you think there are more negative words about conflict than positive or neutral ones?
  • Describe a conflict you’ve had. Would you say it was positive or negative?
  • Can anyone describe a conflict that ended in a positive way (where everyone involved felt good at the end or things changed for the better as a result)?

Cooperative Game – Sardines

Procedure: This game can be played anywhere, indoors or out. The goal is similar to “Hide and Seek,” except that “it” hides first. Everyone else then tries to find “it.” When someone finds “it,” they hide with “it” in the same spot. The game ends when everyone finds and joins the hiding spot of “it.”

See more game ideas in the free Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change by Adam Fletcher and Kari Kunst available online at http://www.commonaction.org/gamesguide.pdf

Cooperative Activity – Group Lap Sit

This is a good activity for trustbuilding and demonstrating the power of cooperation.

Procedure: Have everyone stand in one circle, arranging themselves so that someone about the same size as them is on either side of them. Everyone turns to the right. Step in closer to the center and put your hands on the waist of the person in front of you. “Concentrate on the person in front of you sitting comfortably on your knees, and trust that the person behind you will guide you, too.” First do a trial run. On the count of three the group is going to bend down, touch bottoms to the knees and come right back up to make sure they are all standing closely enough together. Ready? 1, 2, 3… Then ask them to readjust their positions if necessary. “Now we are going to sit down and then clap our hands… Again…”

This activity usually amazes people by what they can do in solidarity.

Untangling a Human Knot

This is a versatile game that promotes teamwork and communication and that multiple group sizes can play. The goal is to figure out how to untangle the human knot without letting go of hands. Having a camera on hand is also recommended for some fun candid shots!

Recommended age: 12 and up.
Form groups of about 10 people each. Have each group standing, facing towards each other, in a circle. Each person should be standing shoulder to shoulder. First, instruct everyone to lift their left hand and reach across to take the hand of someone standing across the circle. Next, have everyone lift their right hand and reach across to take the hand of another person standing across the circle. Make sure that no one is holding hands with someone standing directly beside the person.

To play, the groups must communicate and figure out how to untangle the knot (forming a circle of people) without ever letting go of any hands. Folks may need to shift their grip due to the angle and bodies, but they should not let go. The game typically takes 15-30 minutes to complete. You can impose a time limit if you wish to make it more challenging.

When you are done with the Human Knot activity, ask some debriefing questions such as “How well did you group work together? What strategies did your group adopt? How did it feel to solve the puzzle?” etc.

Variations: To increase the difficulty level, you can either (1) blindfold some of the players or (2) require that the game be played silently (no talking).

Celebrate Earthday with the World Pledge

I Pledge Allegiance to the World
To Care for Earth and Sea and Air
To Cherish Every Living Thing
With Peace and Justice Everywhere!

As Pledge author Lillian Genser has noted, the World Pledge is not meant as a substitute for the US Pledge of Allegiance, but rather as a supplement to provide children with an impetus to gain better understanding about the planet on which they live, the people who inhabit it, and the ecosystem of which they are a part. The widely adopted Pledge was developed at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Wayne State University. Posters and study guide are available – see http://snipurl.com/wpledge

Observation Buddies

This is activity that you can use to help evaluate class participation and at the same time be teaching observation skills and watching the dynamics in mediation. Remember, it’s not always what they say but how their non-verbal messages are coming across as well.

Assign each student a partner to observe. Their task is to observe the three specific skills identified below and evaluate on a scale of 1 to 4 their partner’s effectiveness. The partner does not know who their observation buddy is. At the end of the week, they will receive their evaluation sheet so that they can make improvements in their non-verbal/leadership skills.

SCALE for Scoring

2 OK

Listening ____
Eye contact
Not talking while another is
No side conversations
Quality input, helping the subject
Focus on speaker
Not distracting

Group Dynamics ____
Appropriate comments
Engaged or distracting
New groupings
Helpful or hurtful
Makes Connections
“Golden Rule”

Leadership ____
Follow through
Risk Taking
…give your opinion
…make connections
Problem Solving
Trouble Shooting
Positive Role Model

Sportsmanship in Action

Kidshealth.org has some good materials exploring sportsmanship ideas with different age youth. Start with a discussion such as:
Describe what it means to be a good sport.

  1. What behaviors demonstrate good sportsmanship? What behaviors don’t?
  2. How do kids learn sportsmanship? Who or what affects this the most? Why?
  3. Why is it important to be a good sport? How does good sportsmanship affect the way you feel while playing a game?
  4. How does unsportsmanlike behavior affect how you feel and play?

Follow-up with one of the age-appropriate activities found here: http://kidshealth.org/classroom/
Activities include such things as deciding if a player in the case example is behaving as a good sport or not, make a skit about sportsmanship, etc.

Ralph Bunche – U.N. Peacemaker

In honor of Black History Month, consider doing a lesson on Ralph Bunche, a lesser-known peacemaker. Bunche was born in Detroit in 1903, and orphaned at a young age and raised by his grandmother who was herself born a slave.

In 1950 Bunche was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace for his successful mediation of a series of truce agreements between the new nation of Israel and four Arab neighbors, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It was the first, and to date it remains the only, time that all the parties to the Middle East conflict signed armistice agreements with Israel. In being awarded the Peace Prize, Bunche became the first person of color in the world to be so honored.

Lesson plans geared to different levels are available from Nobel Peace Laureates.org and PBS – See http://www.nobelpeacelaureates.org/r_bunche.html or http://www.pbs.org/ralphbunche/ respectively.


Objective: To teach children at any age, even adults, how people can do things in a different way than you do and it is still OK. And also that, whenever one is learning something new it can feel weird and the desire is to rush back to the way it was, but by getting comfortable with doing things in different ways we a) broaden our view of life and b) realize that doing things differently can accomplish the same result.

1. ARMS: Have everyone cross their arms the way they always do. Once everyone has, ask them to cross them the other way. There will be some laughter as they try to do it and get confused. Then, when everyone has their arms crossed the other way and quieted down, ask them how it feels? If you saw someone else doing this, would you think they are “wrong” since it is not the way most everyone else does it? If you did this enough, do you think you could get comfortable crossing your arms a different way?
2. LEGS: If children are sitting on the floor have them cross their legs the way they normally do. Then have them change and put the other leg on top. (The knees bent, ankles crossed kind of way, not with legs straight.) Ask the same kind of questions.
3. Could use other examples such as have a boys and a girl’s shirt. Have the girls put on the boy’s shirt and button it and the boys put on the girls shirt and button it. Ask if they notice any difference and if it is awkward to button the reverse way. Neither is “wrong,” just different, and “different” takes time to learn.

Wrap up: Ask people what they learned from this exercise; how they felt doing something different. Discuss. Look for answers like:
1. Hard to learn new things, always want to go back to the old way (like printing vs. cursive writing for 3rd graders.)
2. That it’s good to be open to new ways of doing things, even if you don’t do them the same way. (Tolerance)
3. That when you have a disagreement with someone, maybe it is better to listen and look more closely to what the other person is doing before just telling them they are wrong or stupid and making them feel bad. In fact, they could ask to learn from the other person and actually make a new friend. (Use any number of playground examples.)


Conflict Resolution Style Animals

Five very different styles for resolving conflict are common, each with it’s own preferred approach toward handling conflict. Exploring these styles is a good activity for a variety of different age groups. Here’s the basic styles and commonly associated animals:

Avoidance (I Leave)– Turtle or Ostrich;
Competing/Forcing (I Take Charge)– Lion or Shark;
Accommodating (I Give in)– Chameleon or Teddy Bear;
Compromising (We Meet Half-Way)– Zebra or Fox;
Collaborating (We Both Win)– Dolphin or Owl;

Activity Idea: Learn the characteristics of each style and an associated animal image. Discuss why this is an appropriate image? What other animals could have been chosen? (NOTE: Wildlife posters, stuffed animals, masks or puppets are all good visual aids. Having each student make a mask or puppet of a style can be a fun art project.

Another activity idea: divide the class into five groups. Privately assign a different conflict style to each group. Have each group make up an original skit which illustrates the style assigned to their group. Have each group perform their skit and the remainder of the class identify the conflict style portrayed.

Take a Conflict Resolution Style Quiz
There is a free, age adjusted conflict styles quiz that can be taken online or downloaded for printing from the Peace and Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church. Find it at: peace.mennolink.org/resources/conflictyouth/

Literature-based Mediation Roleplays

When teachers want to support classroom climate with peer mediation even if they do not have a program in their school, they can teach and guide practice using literature. Pooh has plenty of disputes with friends as does Arthur. Alice’s trip to Wonderland was fraught with conflict and all are role-play-able.

Once the students have identified the essence of the conflict, the ‘Mediators of the Day’ can mediate with classmates who take on the roles of characters in conflict. When peer mediation becomes a way to enjoy literature, the study of character motivation and relationship repair are equally important and students have enjoyable lessons for life.

Celebrate Conflict Resolution Day

The Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) has designated every third Thursday of October as Conflict Resolution Day in order to increase public awareness about conflict resolution and its many benefits. This idea, which began at the grassroots level in October 2005, has grown into an international celebration of conflict resolution with wide participation. For the details see: www.acrnet.org/crday

Successful Ideas to Build On:
• Recognize conflict resolution leaders and/or volunteers in your community.
• Sponsor a day of cooperative games for peer mediators and the public.
• Have your students create a puppet show exploring ways to deal with conflict peacefully.
• Have students nominate fellow student peacemakers in their grade. Honor these peacemakers on Conflict Resolution Day.
• Organize a film festival that highlights conflict resolution. Afterward, discuss peaceful conflict resolution strategies. Many popular children’s movies and television shows already explore such themes.
• Create a mini-retreat! Dedicate part of Conflict Resolution Day to addressing common sources of conflict through workshops and group activities in class.
• Host an art or t-shirt contest. Have students create artwork or t-shirts reflecting the theme of conflict and peaceful conflict resolution. Work with community partners at art galleries, libraries or museums to display the winning entries.
• Adopt a Conflict Resolution Day proclamation, or have students write individual pledges. Have your school peer mediation group, your Student Council or another group of student leaders draft and adopt a Conflict Resolution Day Proclamation. Have students sign their pledge and display it prominently in school corridors.
• Host a Mock Mediation for the public, policymakers, elected officials, community leaders/organizations, or school personnel.

FUN Charts – Human Needs Activity

Objective: To see how people find different ways to meet the same needs
Type of Activity: Small group Discussion;
Time: 20+ minutes;
Materials: One handout with two columns titled, “Everyone in our group has fun doing this” and “Some people in our group have fun doing this;”
Make a poster of the Universal Human Needs list (http://snipurl.com/humanneeds)

1. Display a Needs List and talk about the need for FUN.
2. Demonstrate for class: Sit in a circle with three volunteers. Say something like, “One way I meet my need for fun is by swimming. Is that fun for you too?” If everyone in the small group says yes, then write it in the column on the handout labeled EVERYONE. If not, write it in the column labeled SOME. Pass the handout to the person next to you in the circle. He says something that is fun for him and repeats the process.
3. Break into groups of 3-5 students each and ask them to follow your demonstration and fill their chart. (Note: Ask them to think of ways they have fun that don’t create problems for others).
4. Meet back in large circle to share what they noticed and what they learned in this activity.

Discussion Options: Make the statement, “We all have the same basic needs. However, the things we choose to do to meet those needs may be different from what others choose”. Ask for examples from their small groups, or use a Venn diagram of overlapping circles to represent the discussion on the board.