Tag Archives: Teaching

Building Peace: Classroom Activities

The last week of the semester is always a bit of a challenge. Our second quarter grades were due last week and there’s little point in beginning something new that will be immediately interrupted by a three-week break.

For me, this week was the perfect time to do some work with peace and conflict resolution with my grade 10 students. As I’ve written before, I believe that building peace really ought to be the purpose of education and that we need to provide our students with a toolkit to build a better, more peaceful world. This year, I’ve tried to include those ideas in every topic we study.

In grade 10, we recently concluded a unit on genocide during which we discussed social enterprises, NGOs, and other organizations that are currently working to help affected communities move forward and improve the problems that have resulted from these atrocities. Spending a few days talking about peace and conflict seemed more than timely.

Below are three activities that I’ve developed and/or adapted from the United States Institute of Peace. You can download their Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators for free! These activities require students to talk with each other and move around, which is always helpful towards the end of a semester. They tend to work best with chattier groups, but even quieter students react pretty strongly.

Defining Peace
1. In pairs, ask students to come up with a definition of peace.

2. Each pairs partners with another pair, making a group of four. Ask the group to come up with a definition of peace that everyone can live with.

3. Two groups of four form a group of eight and repeat the exercise. (Split the groups of four as needed with a small class so that the whole class is ultimately in two large groups.)

4. Continue until the class is split into two groups and have each group write their final definition on the board.

5. The last part of this activity is to see whether the class can agree on a definition of peace, either by choosing one, combining the two options, editing, or writing something new entirely.

6. Debrief as a group about this process and how the definition changed and developed (or not!) as the groups changed. Compromise, learning from others, and agreeing with different ideas are usually the topics that come up. Some groups really enjoy the language structure component of this activity, as well.

Peace Scenarios
1. Ask students to keep in mind the whole-class definition of peace (or two definitions if the class couldn’t come to consensus). Create a continuum of peace along a wall with one side as 100% peace and the opposite as 100% not peace. The middle of the room is an even split between peace and not peace.

2. Present students with a variety of peace/not peace scenarios. They should place themselves where they fit along the continuum.

3. Page 31 of the high school toolkit from USIP has a list of scenarios representing personal, local, and international conflicts. I’ve found that Personal #2 (Your teacher accuses you of cheating on a paper, but you did not. You schedule a time after class to work out the
misunderstanding.) is great starting point and then I proceed from there in this order:

  • Personal #1 – You arrive at home and your mom has taken money off your dresser without asking. This frustrates you, but you don’t say anything because you don’t want to cause a fight.
  • Local #2 – A school holds a charity event to raise money to build schools in an area affected by a natural disaster.
  • Local #3 – A high school hires armed security guards to manage school violence.
  • International #3 – Humanitarian aid with medical supplies and fresh water reaches a community affected by conflict.
  • International #4 – Children in an IDP (internally displaced persons) camp are not able to go to school for fear of violence if they leave the camp.
  • (optional) International #1 – There are 300,000 child soldiers involved in conflicts around the world.

4. Many of my students are language learners and we do pause to make sure that everyone understands both the content and concepts in each scenario. Students move according to their opinions, which is also an opportunity to share with a classmate. This is particularly helpful for language support. Then, I call on them at random to justify their views.

5. I usually start with the students at the far extremes and then choose one in the middle and one or two others before opening the floor for anyone to share. If a student moves during the activity, I ask why. Some students will purposely take the opposite perspective from the majority of the class just for the sake of discussion, which is always really fun. I also allow students to question each other.

Over the Line
This is a really quick activity that I generally preface simply by telling students that it is related to peace and conflict.

1. Divide the class into two groups and have them pair up with someone from the opposite group.

2. Tell students that you will hand out specific directions to each group and give each student the instruction sheet from page 38 of the USIP high school toolkit. The instructions are identical and read as follows: You will be sentenced to life in prison in exactly 3 minutes. Your only chance to escape is if you can get your opponent to cross over to your side and stay there before the time is up. Good luck. 

3. Students are not to look at the directions until the activity begins.

4. Tell students to stand facing each other and draw an invisible line across the floor between them. Remind students that each group has specific directions and that their task is to accomplish the goal using any means except physical violence. Announce that they have three minutes to complete the task.

5. After three minutes, ask students who thinks they accomplished the task. (The solution is for the partners to trade places.) There is usually at least one group who read their instructions to each other, realized they were the same, and figured out the solution. Ask this group how they went through this process and why they chose to share their instructions. Ask a few other groups about their experiences.

6. Debrief as a class about how this activity relates to peace and conflict. Ideas that come up generally include trust, considering different points of view, compromise, and communication.


This is the type of work that I love doing and I was really glad to do these activities with my grade 10s this week, especially coming off of our unit on genocide. The classroom can be a powerful place if we’re willing to have conversations about difficult topics. I believe that this work is essential if we aim to improve our world.

I’ve used these activities for several years in grades 9 and 10 and would love to hear how they work for you in your classrooms! If you have your own peace and conflict activities to share, please do so. I’d love to learn from you.

Love people. Cook them tasty food.

Today was the kind of day that I describe as quiet but very, very loud. Quiet because I didn’t venture more than a few kilometers from home and loud because my thoughts have been racing. There aren’t many days like these.

It’s the end of the calendar year, which means that nearly every conversation I’ve had over the last few days has led inevitably to a discussion of who’s staying or going at work. Who has resigned their contracts, who has decided to move on at the end of the school year, who’s attending which job fair, who has signed up with which recruitment agency. Who’s moving on, adventuring elsewhere, pursuing different dreams.

Even though they’re commonplace and repetitive, these conversations leave me very sad because saying goodbye is hard, and it doesn’t help to think that it’s six months away.

I went for a run today in the rain – on purpose. I figured that if I was going to cry, I might as well do it when the sky was crying, too. But I ended up laughing because I was squinting to see, jumping to avoid puddles, and absolutely soaked about two minutes in. And while laughing, I realized that I had a choice.

I could be sad because people were leaving, or I could be happy for the times we’ve spent together, the ways we’ve known each other, the laughter and ideas and conversations that we’ve shared.

And I realized it was okay to feel sad, but that the sadness would never be stronger than the joy I have felt around the friends that I’ll be sending down new roads when the time comes. Basking in that joy is what allows me to feel sadness and that’s okay, too.

My mum has a dishtowel that aptly sums up my philosophy towards the people in my life. “Love people,” it says. “Cook them tasty food.”

I’m bringing gingersnaps to work tomorrow.

Travel Guide: Battambang x2

Two years ago, I spent a week in Battambang, Cambodia’s second-largest city, as part of my school’s field studies program. That week completely changed the way I see education, my role as an educator, and what is possible with and for students. Last week, I had the opportunity to return to Battambang with about sixty grade 10 students for the same program, a week that has left me again convinced that young people can do anything as long as we support them.

On this trip, I acted as the school trip leader and worked closely with the program lead from the JUMP! Foundation, the organization that really puts together the whole experience. I can’t say enough good things about the work they do for students and communities and I am so proud to partner with them.

As trip leader, I wasn’t attached to a particular group of students and instead filled in for staff as needed, managed all student issues from discipline to illness to homesickness, switched groups daily to get to know each student, and met nightly with school staff and JUMP!’s lead to hear feedback about the day. Prior to the trip, I arranged airplane travel and rooming assignment, worked with teachers on curriculum coordination, communicated with parents, and managed petty cash. And, despite mental fatigue that hasn’t quite worn off, I really enjoyed it!

Welcome to Battambang, the arts and culture center of the Kingdom of Cambodia!


We flew into Siem Reap and immediately drove the three hours to Battambang where we spent the rest of the week. One of my friends immediately pointed out how much greener Cambodia is in November than it was in February on our last trip. It was really nice to be back in a city I had come to know a couple years before and see how it had changed.

On our first full day, I went with a group taking a tuk tuk ride to Phnom Sampov. Many of the students had never been on a tuk tuk, which is a really lovely way to see and engage with the countryside. The ride itself is beautiful and provides insight into how people live in a country still recovering from decades of civil war.

Phnom Sampov is a mountain dotted with Buddhist temples. We paused in front of several, but the goal of our time there was to visit a killing cave, one of the many legacies of the Khmer Rouge. Each group was partnered with a local facilitator for the week, in addition to teachers and a JUMP! facilitator, which gave the students a cultural connection to Cambodia that they would not have had otherwise. That was a change from the first trip and made a great impact on the students’ understanding of where they were and why.

That afternoon we visited Buddhist University and two monks led us on a tour of the campus temple and then guided us through a short meditation. From there we visited teh university library, which, in addition to the novel sight of monks on laptops, had a specific section for writings by peacemakers. That made me very happy!

As our last activity of the day, we met the dancers of Cambodian Living Arts, one of the many organizations working to revive the arts and culture that were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. They performed for us and then taught us a traditional dance involving coconuts, leaving everyone laughing and in high spirits. This was an uplifting change from the somber feel of the morning.

We caught a gorgeous sunset on our way to dinner, still travelling by tuk tuk. The sun rises and sets very early in Cambodia, something I always forget, but that also means that the stars are out when it’s still early enough to enjoy them.

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The next day I joined a group at FEDA, an educational organization we used to work with that had just stopped its operation. Now, the visionary leader behind FEDA is working to build a peace museum on FEDA’s campus to chronicle Cambodia’s history and ongoing reconciliation work. That afternoon, we visited Banteay Srei, an NGO working for women’s empowerment in a country where there is a clear status difference between men and women from childhood onward.

It rained the following day, which was delightful because it cooled everything down and left the air quite pleasant. It’s always amazing to me how great of an impact weather has on the way we experience pretty much anything.

Another group started their morning with COMPED, an NGO that focuses on waste management and composting. The students learn about what COMPED does before going to the market to pick up organic waste. They then deposit it at COMPED’s dump sight. I missed it this year but remember the lesson very vividly: Everything goes somewhere and nothing disappears; we leave traces of ourselves wherever we are and that impacts people the world over.

Laster that day, I joined a group heading to Cambodian Children’s Trust. This is the organization that had the greatest personal impact on me from our last trip. CCT opened my eyes to the realities and dangers of orphanage tourism and the astonishing statistic that 80% of children in residential facilities worldwide have living parents. CCT works to support families by providing holistic care and services to the children they work with and their family members.

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I went to bed laughing after spending the afternoon with a particularly entertaining group of young people. There’s a certain ease and genuineness that comes from eating together, learning together, and playing games together outside in sweaty clothes. It’s my favorite way to interact with students because everything I want for them, everything that leads to real questions, connections, and ideas, comes naturally.

The next morning we visited the Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit providing children with academic education as well as arts education, specifically centered on circus skills, as a way of providing them with future work opportunities. I’d seen Phare’s show in Siem Reap on this trip two years ago, but this time we were able to participate in an amazingly fun circus skills workshop! We learned tumbling and how to juggle, took a tour of the campus, and got to watch some of the students rehearsing. We saw Phare’s Battambang show on the last night of the trip and were excited to see the same students perform.

That afternoon, in keeping with the arts theme, we visited Lotus Gallery to meet a local artist and make some art. The gallery itself was beautiful and had a very calming influence on the students.

I spent most of the afternoon chatting with the artist about the creative process and how she gets inspiration from her love of nature and purposely surrounds herself with plants and flowers, even building a garden sidecar for her motorcycle!

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I also enjoyed chatting with her husband about his work in drugs education through theatre. He told me that the drug of choice in Cambodia is methamphetamine, which likely comes into the country from Thailand. It was a real joy to meet a couple who have invested their lives in work that they are passionate about and can also make a positive impact on others.

I spent our last full day on a cycling tour with Soksabike, which had been a highlight for me the first time around. We stopped periodically to learn about local livelihoods and the local families that Soksabike supports. We visited a family making rice paper . . .

. . . Cambodian scarves, which are called krama . . .

. . . banana chips . . .

. . . and bamboo sticky rice, which is a popular street snack. . . .

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The bridge that we would normally take to cross the river had been dismantled, so we crossed by ferry instead. Needless to say, I loved this part. Water and I get along really well.

After the cycle tour, we continued that day’s local living theme by visiting the market, which was just such a joy. The students had a scavenger hunt to help them interact with locals and my job was to follow a group and make sure they didn’t get into any trouble. We saw food stalls . . .

. . . the usual array of meat, fish, and produce (my favorite!)  . . .

. . . textiles, toys, and dry goods . . .

. . . cosmetics and toiletries (and hairdressers and nail salons!) . . .

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. . . and a surprising number of jewelry counters! (Hint: This is where we found the most English speakers.)

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I love markets. They are always my favorite part (or pretty close) of any place I visit. I love seeing people come together for the same needs the world over. I love watching people interact and engage in the common pursuits of humanity. I love watching life happen in its most natural ways.

After Phare’s circus performance to round out the program, it was time for an early night before a 3am wakeup so that we could make the three-hour drive to the airport in time for our 10:30 flight. Absolutely worth it.

JUMP!, I can’t thank you enough. I watched students learn, grow as individuals, become closer to each other, create new friendships, engage with new ideas, and experience a culture and a place that is very different from what they usually see in Singapore. Thank you for bringing out the best in our young people. Thank you for all that you do.

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