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Lesson Plan Booster: How Can Students Help a Bullied Peer?

This brief guide can be used to generate a student discussion after a case of student bullying is highlighted in the press. The guide also can be used at any time as a companion to anti-bullying curricula, activities or programs—during a student advisory period, following a school assembly on the topic, or as part of a social studies, psychology, health or current events class.

Grade level


Student learning objective

Consider the impact of bullying on the school as a whole, as well as the impact on the bullied student who does not receive the help he or she needs. Learn about safe ways to help a student who has been mistreated. Talk openly about whether the climate of your school supports bullying prevention.

IMPORTANT: Bullying prevention should be an ongoing, comprehensive, school-wide effort. This discussion guide may be viewed as one small piece of that larger effort. Be aware that bullying is a highly charged topic; as such, student discussion may provoke emotional reactions or self-disclosures, in addition to negative opinions regarding how particular students experience your school’s climate. Before using this guide in your classroom:

  • Ensure that you have administrator support. Have a plan in place to address students’ expressed concerns about how the school currently handles bullying incidents.
  • Prepare to manage self-disclosure and make referrals. Remind students that for the purpose of confidentiality during the discussion, it is better not to refer to either themselves or other students by name. Consider having the school counselor co-facilitate the discussion with you, and at the very least, consult him/her for advice beforehand. Let students know they can speak to you after class if they have specific concerns about themselves or another student. Know how to make student referrals if they are needed.
  • Ensure that this guide’s research-based advice regarding bystander actions will not contradict your school’s rules or policies. You should also ensure that the school has a clear method for reporting bullying incidents, as you will want to share this protocol with students at the conclusion of the discussion.


  • If planning a discussion following coverage of a case in the news, teachers should research the details, including responses of the school’s administrators and students (if known), as well as any criminal charges that may have been filed. Here is one example, a January 2011 retrospective of coverage related to the Phoebe Prince case:
  • If there has not been a recent case in the news, another option for framing discussion might be talking about celebrities who have admitted to being bullied as youth. Do a little research on a particular celebrity and his/her story.
  • Consider the long-term impact of bullying on the individual as well as the school as a whole. Of course, the victim can suffer both physical and psychological harm, but if incidents go unreported or the school does not take action, the entire school climate can suffer. Students may feel intimidated even if they are not specific targets of bullying.
  • Consider the following statistics from (1) Adults only intervene in four percent of bullying incidents; (2) peers only intervene in 11 percent of bullying incidents; and (3) roughly 25 percent of students in America have been the victim of bullying at least once in the past year.
  • Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. The Youth Voice Project gives an excellent snapshot of the kinds of peer support that mistreated students say is most helpful to them. Many students in this study said they already provide this kind of support to peers.

Introducing discussion to students

We should all think of our school as a community. That community is harmed when some of its members intentionally hurt their peers. We all need to work together to make sure this doesn’t happen and that everyone feels safe. Teachers will intervene if they witness instances of student bullying, but there are fewer of them compared to the number of students in a school, and sometimes bullying occurs in places and at times when adults cannot easily observe it. That is why we encourage students to speak up and report what happened to them, or report what they’ve seen happen to someone else, and also to offer support—in whatever way is comfortable—to a student who has been mistreated.

We want to be clear that we do not want students to confront (“get in the face of”) a student who is mistreating them or a peer. This is for two reasons. First, our school rules do not allow physical or verbal violence against students for any reason (state this rule in whatever way students are accustomed to hearing it), even if you feel retaliation (“getting back at the person”) is justified. If we respond to violence with violence, it just continues a vicious cycle of negative behavior. Second, sometimes aggressively confronting a student who is bullying can be embarrassing for the person being mistreated, and it may even make things worse for that person in the long run. Some alternatives to aggressive confrontation might be to say something like “Not cool” or to stand silently with the target as a show of support. Another option would be to support the mistreated student after the incident, perhaps helping that person report what happened.

So YES, report the incident and support the student who was mistreated. But NO, do not get in a verbal or physical fight with a student who is displaying bullying behavior. (Refer to key school rules as applicable, e.g., “Use kind words” or “Keep your hands to yourself.”)

Now we’re going to talk about some things we can all work on so that together, we feel safer as a community. Before we start, I want to make sure that everyone knows how to report a bullying incident (go over your school’s protocol). Also, if anyone wants to talk with me after class about something that has happened to them or another person, or about any other concerns, I am more than happy to listen.

Options for student discussion questions

  1. How can bullying harm the school community, even for students who are not directly mistreated? What beliefs or assumptions will students have if they see that neither adults nor peers do anything to prevent or stop bullying?
  2. (Refer to the three statistics from Do these statistics seem true to you? Do you think they are true at our school? What are some reasons why students might not want to report bullying? If someone is a target, might he or she be embarrassed? If a student is reporting an incident that involves another person, would the reporter fear becoming a target him or herself? Might the mistreated student believe that “adults won’t do anything about it, so it’s not worth reporting”?
  3. (If using celebrity angle to open discussion) When celebrities admit to being victims of bullying, do you think that helps students come forward to tell their own stories? If not, what would encourage mistreated students and witnesses to report incidents of bullying? How well is our school doing in terms of encouraging reporting of incidents?
  4. (If referring to bullying case in the news) In this case, are you satisfied with the response of adults and students in the school following the incident? Are there things they could have done, or done better, to help the mistreated student?
  5. In our school, if someone reports bullying, will he or she usually get the help s/he needs? If not, what could we be doing better as a community to support that process?
  6. Do students in this school generally support fellow students who are bullied? If not, what could we be doing better as a community to increase our support? Without naming names, have you ever provided support to a mistreated peer, or witnessed a classmate providing support? What kind of support was provided? Was the support helpful?
  7. What are some things we can do to safely support a peer who is being bullied? What do you think a mistreated student would want his/her classmates to do? (Remind students not to name names.) Research tells us that targets of bullying most often want simply to feel that they are not alone, and that the bullying was not their fault. Or, they want to feel that an adult helped them when the incident was reported. (For more detail, see the Youth Voice Project.)

Related resources:

Stan Davis: Ask Bullied Kids What Helps Them
Bullying Lesson Plans and Strategies
Bullying "Reality Quiz" for Students
One NY District's Anti-Bullying Efforts


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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