Conflict Transformation: Unit 2: Are Conflicts Harmful or Helpful?

Conflict Transformation

Standards-Based Lesson Plans for Middle School Students



In the United States, conflicts carry negative connotations. At the same time, our society feeds on competition and conflict. It is important to strip conflicts of their glamorous allure as well as their negative stigmas to be able to confront them effectively. In this lesson students will analyze conflicts by examining their benefits and costs on a case-by-case basis.

This unit includes a brief assessment of the costs and benefits of the war in Iraq. The intention of the exercise is to ask students to take one small step into the process of research, reflection, discussion, and analysis. They will be using a real life issue as a platform, from which they can examine the complex nature of an intractable conflict. This is an exercise in digging beneath the surface of a conflict's veneer. It is important to note that the intention of this exercise is to promote research, reflection, and discussion, not propagate a political agenda. Teachers, of course, ought to encourage a wide variety of perspectives, rewarding critical thinking rather than scripted responses.

Background Reading For Teachers:


  • Students will make a poster illustrating the costs of conflicts.
  • Students will research the costs and benefits of conflict.
  • Students will identify internet sources and identify interests and perspectives.
  • Students will analyze costs and benefits in the war in Iraq according to American and Iraqi sides.
  • Students will synthesize their findings in a persuasive essay examining costs and benefits.

McRel Standards:

  • Behavioral Studies
    Standard 4 (IV. 1) Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions
  • History, World History
    Standard 44 (Level III.4) Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
  • Geography, Human Systems
    Standard 13 (III. 1) Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface
  • Language Arts
    Standard 1 (Level III, 10) Uses general skills and strategies of the writing process
    Standard 7 (Level III. 1) Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts
    Standard 10 (Level III. 7) Understands the characteristics and components of the media
  • Life Skills, Working with Others
    Standard 2 (IV. 8) Uses conflict-resolution techniques


Procedure: 3 hours

Are conflicts harmful or helpful? (hour 1)

  1. Directions: Please open up your conflict journals. Brainstorm as many words as you can think of that are related to conflict on the left hand sheet. You will have three minutes.
  2. Directions: Now turn to the facing page in your journal. Write positive on the top left side, neutral in the top middle and negative on the top right side. Create three columns under those headings with the words that you just brainstormed. Would you classify them as positive, neutral, or negative?
  3. Follow the activity with a discussion:
    Critical questions:
    • Why are conflicts perceived as negative?
    • Are we afraid of conflict?
    • What is positive about conflicts?
  4. Pass out "Costs of Intractable Conflict" by Eric Brahm. Read the first two paragraphs together.
  5. Split students into groups of 2 and give them one of the three major sections - Human Costs, Economic Costs, Organizational Costs. Use the Costs worksheet to structure the activity.
  6. After the reading is completed, give students poster paper, magazines to cut up, glue, and markers, so that they can make a collage based on the section of the article they read. Their handout includes a rubric and directions.

    Homework: In your conflict journal, fill up a page reflecting upon the following question: If conflicts are so costly, why are there so many of them?

Are conflicts harmful or helpful? (hour 2)

  1. Combine the pairs into groups of 6, so that each section of the article will be covered. Let each group present their poster informally, while the others take notes in the space provided on their worksheet.
  2. Ask for volunteers to read their journal entries in class.
  3. Read the last section of Eric Brahm's "Costs of Intractable Conflict" entitled "So Why Not Quit?" together.
  4. Show Benefits of Conflict Slideshow.
  5. Write down "The Civil Rights Movement" on the board. Ask students what it was. Give a very brief overview of the Civil Rights Movement as a conflict. Ask students to brainstorm its benefits.
  6. If you have more time, brainstorm other conflicts with significant benefits and discuss.

    Homework: In your conflict journal describe a conflict (personal or national) that appears to you to be very positive. Explain why it was (or is) productive.

Are conflicts harmful or helpful? (hour 3)

  1. Read through the Costs and Benefits of Conflicts model together. Then ask students to complete the Iraq Cost/Benefit worksheet in small groups. Students will need time to research their answers on the Internet.
  2. Allow students time to finish the Iraq cost/benefit worksheet and write their summaries.
  3. Discuss the findings as a class:
    • What facts stood out for you? Why?
    • Where did you find your information? What perspectives did they support?
    • What costs or benefits were hard to find? Why might that be?
    • How can we put values on different costs and benefits?

    Homework: Ask students to select a conflict (be it personal or political) and write a persuasive essay arguing its costs are (or were) too high or that its benefits are higher. Use the Persuasive Rubric to help structure the writing assignment.