Conflict Transformation: Unit 11: What Is Reconciliation?

Conflict Transformation

Standards-Based Lesson Plans for Middle School Students




Personally and politically, how do we handle past injustice so that it is neither forgotten nor festering? How can forgiveness and reconciliation serve in our quest for justice? This unit explores the difficult task of rebuilding after a conflict, with particular emphasis on the new roles of forgiveness and reconciliation in the stabilization process.

We will ask students to grapple with the role of personal and collective forgiveness. They will examine a case study of reconciliation in Bosnia, read personal essays about forgiveness, and write a report on the role of reconciliation in the life of Nelson Mandela.

Background Reading For Teachers:


  • Students will practice using empathy with an "enemy."
  • Students will propose possible peace plans for Bosnia after the war.
  • Students will analyze the responses of individuals who have been wronged and their reflections on forgiveness.
  • Students will write a report on Nelson Mandela's use of reconciliation in South Africa.

McRel Standards:

  • Behavioral Studies
    Standard 1 (Level III.5) Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior
    Standard 4 (Level III. 1) Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions
  • Geography, Human Systems
    Standard 13 (Level III. 1,3) Understands the forces of cooperation and conflict that shape the divisions of Earth's surface
  • History, World History
    Standard 44 (Level III. 9) Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world
  • Language Arts
    Standard 1 (Level III. 11) Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
  • Life Skills, Working with Others
    Standard 2 (Level IV. 7) Uses conflict-resolution techniques


Procedure: 3 hours

What is reconciliation? (hour 1)

  1. Ask students to take out their conflict journals. Ask them to write a letter to someone who they feel has wronged them. Explain in detail what was done, why they feel so angry or wronged. Give them ten to fifteen minutes.
  2. Ask students to decide if they have forgiven the other. If not, ask them what it would take to forgive them.
  3. Discuss. Students do not have to share their own particular experiences, but talk about forgiveness in general and what it takes for them to forgive. Question: Are their times when forgiveness is impossible?
  4. Ask students to write a letter responding to the first letter. This response will be from the person who wronged them. Their job is to try, as honestly as they can, to imagine what the other feels towards them. Encourage them to write a letter very similar to the one they wrote from their own perspective.The letter does not have to be an apology.
  5. Now debrief the experience. How could the situation be resolved? Would it be possible for both parties to see the other's perspective?
  6. Pass out the Bosnia: After the War worksheet. Ask students to read through the brief details supplied.
  7. Explain that this was a very complicated problem, but for our purposes we have simplified it a bit. Then lead a brief discussion based on the last question of the worksheet: What steps are necessary for all three groups to live together in peace?
  8. Read "Reconciliation in Bosnia" by Cate Malek and ask students to complete the accompanying worksheet. Be aware that this is a rather long article.
  9. Homework: Write a recipe for forgiveness in your conflict journal. What do you need to do to really forgive? Or describe a time you forgave someone. Describe what made you decide to forgive him or her, how you did it, and the result.

What is reconciliation? (hour 2)

  1. Open with a council circle. Ask students to share an excerpt from their conflict journal, if they wish.
  2. Read "Peacebuilder Profile: Linda Biehl" by Cate Malek, and ask students to complete the worksheet that accompanies it.
  3. Split students up into small groups. Assign each group a story about reconciliation from The Forgiveness Project. There are many options -- all short and very useful. You might want to preview them; there are a few that have relatively disturbing content. Ask them to fill out the Forgiveness Project worksheet.
  4. Next ask students to present their group's story. After each presentation, discuss the relationship the people in the story had with forgiveness.
  5. Discuss forgiveness. Questions:
    • What is forgiveness?
    • Is it really possible?
    • How does one do it?

    Define empathy and discuss how that might be a key component in the act of forgiveness.

  6. Homework: Respond to the following prompt in your conflict journal: Describe a moment of reconciliation. We have all witnessed them. It might have been when your mother forgave her sister after years of not speaking to each other...

What is reconciliation? (hour 3)

Research NotesReport Rubric

  1. Explain that today the students will start working on a research paper. The question for their research will be: What makes Nelson Mandela a symbol of reconciliation? Students will be given a thesis: Nelson Mandela is a symbol of reconciliation because he repeatedly chose to work with people rather than against them.
    Note: If students are already quite capable of constructing research papers independently, allow them to write their own theses, or offer them a wider selection of individuals about which to write.
  2. Discuss sources. If students will be using the Internet, ask them to evaluate the sites they use. Ask them to write down every source along with all the notes they take.
  3. Pass out the Research Notes and ask them to begin researching using the worksheet.
  4. Homework: Us the data you collected in class to write a research paper. Remember to use concrete evidence and examples to support your thesis. Use your paper to help structure your essay. Use Vermont's to make sure you're on the right track.