Defining Violence: Your Community

9, 10, 11, 12

Students will form a collaborative definition of violence and its causes through discussion and research. They will evaluate the state of social capital of their own community, taking into consideration a variety of factors that contribute to violence or peace.

PrintOne Class Period

The learner will:

  • write about a time when they witnessed violence
  • work as a group to create a collaborative definition of violence and its causes
  • read facts about violence, in particular about children’s right to be free of violence, as stated in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the UNICEF website
  • read and interpret graphs and data regarding youth violence
  • Student copies of Youth Violence: Facts at a Glance printed from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website:
  • Inflatable plastic ball (8” to 12”)
  • Internet-capable computers
  • Chart paper, markers
  • Art supplies for making posters (poster board, markers, scissors, colored pencils, glue, construction paper, etc.)
Teacher Preparation 

Print student copies of Youth Violence: Facts at a Glance from the CDC website in advance of the lesson.

Other CDC background: Center for Disease Control: Data and Statistics about School Violence: 



violence: an act of physical or verbal force used to cause harm

right: something that is due to a person by law, tradition, or nature

homicide: murder statistics: data that can be represented in numbers

social capital: personal investment of time through social interactions that builds trust and enables participants to act together more effectively to pursue shared objectives

Home Connection


On an large inflatable plastic ball (such as a beach ball), write the following words in marker: definition, cause, example, non-example, fact, result, and possibility.

Have youth stand in a circle and toss the ball to one another. As someone  the ball, he or she reads the word closest to his or her right index finger. The student reflection thoughts or feelings about violence related to that word.
For example, for possibility, the student may reflect on what he or she could do to reduce violence against children. Continue to toss the ball and reflect on the issue of violence until everyone has had at least one chance to speak. Assure students they always have the right to "pass" without sharing.


Based on their understanding of social capital and their new knowledge about indicators of violence and peace have the students reflect on what they might to promote peace and grow social capital in their school, neighborhood, or community. As a class brainstorm ideas. Through consensus narrow the ideas to one or two that are feasible for the class to do. Challenge the students to plan and implement one of the strategies to promote peace.


Youth Violence: Facts at a Glance

School Violence: Data and Statistics from the CDC




  1. Anticipatory Set

    Ask youth to think and then write about a time when they witnessed or experienced violence – it could be a violent incident in which they were a direct part, or something they witnessed as an observer. Give them 5-10 minutes to write. Assure them that what they write will not be seen by anyone unless they choose to share.

  2. Ask the students, “What is violence? Think back to the event you wrote about.” Begin a brainstorm mind-map with the word “Violence” in the middle, and rays extending off from the middle as youth share different aspects of their collective definition of violence.

  3. Continue by asking, “What are the causes of violence?” Add these thoughts in new bubbles on the same chart, creating a web of ideas.

  4. If it has not already come up, ask students to consider the different types of violence that exist (domestic violence, sexual violence, violence against children, gang violence, war).

  5. Distribute copies of Youth Violence: Facts at a Glance.

  6. Share the statistics about School violence from the CDC:

  7. Hold a group discussion about what they learned. Ask: What surprised you in these articles about youth violence? What did you already know? What did you read about that you have witnessed in our own school or community? How does violence effect you? How does violence effect our community?

  8. Introduce the term social capital as trust that is build in a community by the positive interactions that happen between its members. When the community experiences a crisis, such as a disaster or violence that "banked" trust can be called on to help the community recover.

    An example of social capital is when a family experiences a fire that destroys their home and contents, and community members, often time total strangers help the family in need. Acts of violence in the community "drain" the supply of social capitalthat is available to meet other community stresses. Violence not only effects those directly involved, but weakens communities (families, schools, clubs, neighborhoods, nations and the global community).

  9. Conclude this session using the Reflection activity.

  10. Ask the students to name words that mean the absence or opposite of violence. If the word peace is not names, suggest it to the students. Ask students to describe what peace might feel like, look like and sound like in their community or neighborhood. Now ask them to think about their new understanding of social capital and discuss what indicators peace and growing social capital have in common.

  11. Ask students to consider their own neighborhood. How do they feel? What is the level of social capital in their neighborhood? What do they observe? Do neighbors help each other when in need? 

Cross Curriculum 

Students reflect on how they might be able to promote peace in their school, neighborhood or community. They are challenged to plan a peace strategy of their choice. Some ideas the students may consider include: inquireat a local women’s shelter about what needs they have for helping women and children.Students can help inform the community about the services provided at the shelter and/or the need for volunteers or donated resources; students cancontact a local radio station about discussing the topic of violence in the local community during a broadcast; the indicators for peace they developed may be shared with others at school or in the community. This may be part of an informational brochure around violence.

Read about the service-learning project called Buckeye Valley MS & Turning Point Domestic Shelter Art Project by middle school students from Ohio who were taught using this Be the Change: Violence unit of lessons to guide student learning and action.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define the phrase <i>community/social capital</i> and discuss how it relates to all communities and the problem of factions.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.13 Define and offer examples of community/social capital.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.8 Explain the concept of community/social capital and how it contributes to building a democratic society.