Conflict Transformation: Unit 4: What is The Nature of Violence?

Conflict Transformation

Standards-Based Lesson Plans for Middle School Students



Violence is ubiquitous in American culture. Headlines track our involvement in Afghan and Iraqi conflicts, while the entertainment industry capitalizes on blood and gore to bring crowds to the box office. It is estimated that upon the completion of elementary school, the average American child will have watched over 8,000 murders and 100,000 acts of violence on television.

In this lesson, we will ask students to analyze the meaning of violence. Is slapping a mosquito violent? Is property damage violent? Is discrimination violent? Students will tackle these difficult questions and then consider the cycle of violence, illustrated beautifully in the short story, "The New Kid" by Murray Heyert.

Background Reading For Teachers:


  • Students will evaluate definitions of violence.
  • Students will articulate arguments in a class discussion about violence.
  • Students will listen to their peers attentively and actively in a discussion about violence.
  • Students will formulate an argument about the short story "The New Kid" using concrete evidence from the text.

McRel Standards:

  • Behavioral Studies
    Standard 4 (Level III. 1) Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.
  • Language Arts
    Standard 1 (Level III, 1, 2, 7) Uses general skills and strategies of the writing process.
    Standard 8 (Level III. 2, 3) Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
  • Life Skills, Self Regulation
    Standard 3 (Level IV. 1, 2) Considers risks.


Procedure: 3 hours

What is the nature of violence? (hour 1)

"Violence"Violence Overview

  1. Arrange students into small groups. Give each student a quotation from the Ruminations on Violence handout. As a group, ask students to help interpret the meaning of each student's quotation, and to discuss its purpose and their reactions.
  2. As an entire class, ask students to share their quotations and their thoughts about it.
  3. As a group, come up with a working definition of violence to be written in their conflict journals.
  4. Pass out the Defining Violence worksheet. Ask students to determine if the actions listed are violent or nonviolent.
  5. Put students into small groups to discuss their answers.
  6. As a whole group revisit the definition of violence and adjust if necessary.
  7. Hold a structured group discussion about gradations of violence. Tell students that they will be graded on their participation. Explain that they will get points for supporting their arguments with concrete examples, asking good questions of their peers, and referring politely to other students' ideas.
  8. Main Question:
  9. What is violence and what purpose does it serve?
    Secondary Questions:
    • Is destruction of property violent?
    • Is name-calling violent?
    • Can physical abuse be separated from verbal abuse?
    • Why do people use violence?
    • Can we generalize about the results of violence?
    • How does our society view violence?
    • Why is violence such a staple in the entertainment industry?
    • What is our fascination with violence as individuals and as a culture?
  10. Homework:
    Option 1. In your conflict journal, brainstorm all of your acts of violence in the past month and classify them as different degrees of violence. Then reflect upon the following question: When do you resort to violence (or when would you resort to violence)? What are (would be) the results?
    Option 2. Read Charles Hauss' overview on along with the guided reading .

What is the nature of violence? (hour 2)

Great Books

  1. Read "The New Kid" By Murray Heyert.
  2. Ask students to complete Violence in "The New Kid" in pairs.
  3. Next, group students into a circle and explain the format for the discussion (very similar to the previous day's discussion on violence).
  4. Students will have time to answer the question silently and look back over the text to find quotes that support their answer. The question they will discuss is:
    What statement is the author making about violence in general in "The New Kid"?
  5. Students will be graded for:
    • Referring to other students' ideas
    • Asking questions of their peers
    • Articulating ideas supported by evidence from the text
  6. Please note, this discussion, although slightly different, is similar to a discussion format. Visit their website for resources and workshops.
  7. Keep track of the comments (supported or unsupported) and the references to other students' ideas while the discussion goes on, only contributing questions when the discussion needs redirection.
  8. Homework: Write a story about a moment of violence. Think of violence in its smallest component, however you define it. Perhaps it could be killing a bug, or giving someone a dirty look. It can be fictional or autobiographical, but in either case, it cannot be a saga. You will describe one small, brief act of violence. Your homework is to decide on the event.

What is the nature of violence? (hour 3)

Proofreading worksheet

  1. Pass out the Narrative Rubric. Read through the rubric together.
  2. Now pass out the Narrative Assignment worksheet as a prewriting tool. Ask students to take out their copies of "The New Kid" and complete the Narrative Assignment carefully. Once "The New Kid" section is completed, students should work independently to fill out their prewriting sections of the Narrative Assignment.
  3. Put students into groups of three's. Ask each student to share the basic components of the story he or she is planning to write. Ask each student to discuss with the group how his or her small incident makes a bigger statement about violence in general. Encourage students to use this time to gather ideas and refine their focus.
  4. Finally ask students to begin writing their narratives in class.
  5. If students finish their work and there is still class time, ask them to use the Narrative Rubric to gauge their work for their first revision.
  6. Homework: Use the and read through your first draft. Complete the worksheet and write a second draft. Turn the first draft, the proofreading sheet, and the second draft in at the next class session.