social and emotional learning

Creative ways to keep our children safe and happy in their learning environments

eLearning Trends Teaching Online


TOPIC: bullying

MEDIA: video, comic, drama, literature, art, music

LANGUAGE: Questions, answers, speaking, grammar, asking for and giving advice, storytelling, collocations



This is part one of my new series about social and emotional learning.

I recently presented at a webinar for the British Council on the subject of ‘Social and Emotional Learning approaches’ to teaching with technology. The planning of this webinar made me realize how deeply invested in this topic I really am, and it was only during the actual presentation that I realized that each slide or even each point on each slide could even become the chapter of a book. I’ ve decided to explore the issue further through my articles on a regular basis so as to share more focused ideas and lesson plans, and to respond to some requests or comments made during the webinar.

I approached the issue of social and emotional learning from three perspectives.



The brain-friendly level is my integrative teaching approach. Whenever I plan a lesson I focus on the kinds of creative activities that will maximize learning through fun experiences. I also focus on confidence-building, critical thinking and developing an appetite for learning in my students. I like to help them see the beauty in language and self-expression, above and beyond testing. This approach increases test scores in the long run.

The personal and social levels of learning are also extremely important because if students are not feeling happy and safe, their learning will be jeopardized.

As I was working on this I discovered that Nick Michelioudakis had just published something very interesting about bullying on his ‘psychology and ELT’  You Tube channel which will exemplify what I mean.

To quote Nick:

“Professor Lieberman makes a brilliant observation at the end; if a kid has cut themselves badly, we don’t expect them to sit in class and calmly go about their lesson – we try to deal with the emergency first. Yet if a child feels socially excluded or has been bullied, we expect them to carry on regardless! Unfortunately, as Lieberman’s studies have shown, social pain activates exactly the same brain region as physical pain – and it does have a detrimental effect on learning, just as physical pain has.

What is more, social pain is much, much harder to detect. So what is the moral for us teachers? Rather than focusing on being the best ‘purveyors of knowledge’ around, it might make more sense to ensure that we have created the right conditions in the classroom for our students to flourish. An awareness of group dynamics and good classroom management skills may be far more important than knowledge of content or expertise in teaching techniques”

As I said above, there is  the personal responsibility one feels. Knowing that you can be a mentor in their lives, and knowing that if there’s any way you can help alleviate social problems, then there is no question that you should just do it.

Here is the recording of my live online session for the British council.

The purpose of my presentation was to show how technology can be integrated into learning  so as to encourage self-expression and confidence building through the visual, musical and literary arts. I painted a very big picture of possibilities, so it was really a roadmap into multi-dimensional planning.

The main request I got was to give more examples of teaching with comics. I will give some new ideas for teaching with comics and the arts here under the theme of ‘bullying’. I will show one example from this list of comic ideas from my talk. This is just a short list. The actual possibilities for teaching through comics are unlimited. Other ideas here were inspired by colleagues and mentors in ELT and I’m sharing their work also.


Lessons on bullying : Part one

I’ll begin with a video shared on facebook by Jeffrey Doonan to set the stage for today’s comic lesson series on bullying. This video is perfect for all levels as it’s very emotive and inspiring with powerful lyrics. My suggestion below would fit intermediate level and I will write up three more lesson plans on my personal blog for beginners, elementary and advanced levels. For advanced levels, students can provide all of the context and language so it’s their blank  canvas to create their own stories with sophisticated vocabulary. They can even make up their own movies from this movie clip.

1) Show students the video.

2) Have an open class discussion.

(Ask questions with what, where, when, how, why)

If you are practising tenses you can frame the questions accordingly – example what happened instead of what’s happening)


What is the bully saying?

What is the bully doing?

Where are they?

When does bullying usually happen in school?

When do bullies feel safe to bully without being caught by teachers?

Why do victims never tell anyone about the bullying?

Why do the other children stay out of it and ignore the victim?

Why do some teachers think that ‘kids are kids’ and not take bullying seriously?

Why is it so hard to control bullying issues in school?

Do you think that the video shows a realistic solution?

Can you think of any other ways to prevent bullying?

Part two: pair work.

Depending on time you can go straight into part two or do it in the next lesson. You can use the printed worksheets from makebelief comix or online through virtual classrooms, asynchronous discussions, forums, wikis or learning management systems. There are five lesson plans about bullying on this website for you to choose from. Here are two examples.

For the first image below, notice that you can use it to practice structures and key phrases for giving advice; very important language aspects that are tested in the Cambridge exams. There is,  of course, some deeper psychology regarding the use of a comic strip for discussing ‘taboo’ or sensitive issues.  For more about psychology, watch my webinar and follow my subsequent articles about the psychology of teaching through comics.

The image below is perfect for pair work and roleplay. It’s also very interesting to see what ideas students come up with. Students can ask for and give advice in pairs. Then half of the class can form a panel of experts and  share their ‘findings’ with the rest of the class which forms  the audience in a ‘chat show’. The audience can ask questions and the teacher is the chat show host. They can, of course, switch roles so that everyone gets to take turns being on the panel of experts and a member of the audience.

In fact, this could subsequently turn into a drama sketch for parents. The teacher could play the video for parents and the whole school and then perform the chat show. The real audience ‘parents and other teachers’ could then ask questions which the students would answer.

bully_adviceI mage credit: bill Zimmerman @ makebelief comix

For the next  image I would be sure to do some research before opening up a pandora’s box. Here’s a link called kidpower, to help adults understand bullying issues. We’ve got to remember that there are probably bullies and victims in the class we are teaching. However, that’s why comics are wonderful for dealing with sensitive issues. When the comic characters are very simply drawn they become neutral and the students can identify with the theme less self-consciously.

This next image below opens up the gates to empathy. We must remember that many of these bullies are bullied by their parents at home, come from violent homes, or live in tough neighbourhoods. The bullies need some unconditional empathy and victims need to feel that it’s not their fault they are being picked on.

I would also arrange for this to be for pair work discussion. It’s much less stressful for students to speak with some ‘privacy’ – as opposed to open class and, as a teacher , you’ll know which pairs will  fit well together for these discussions. If your classes are online you can use break out rooms or forum, online whiteboard and wikis for pair work.


Image credit: Bill zimmerman @ makebelief comix

Part three: student create their own dialogues and comic strips.

During my webinar I was asked to give an example of how we can practise parts of speech through comics. I have a comic strip on this subject that I created with a student last year. The point is that parts of speech are usually represented on tables in coursebooks. It’s hard for students to remember and understand parts of speech so I like to contextualise them in comic strips.

Here’s an example.




Can you identify the parts of speech being practised?. This comic strip story is actually kind of similar to the video above ,as the ‘victims’ all club together against the bully and then go one step further, asking the bully to be one of them.  The ‘victims’ are providing protection for the ‘bully’.  However, here are some thoughts I shared with colleagues at last year’s EVO story telling course at digikids. It’s  based on my student’s feedback.

“Actually, later I realised that the topic opens up a can of worms, so if we discuss this in class we need to give good anti-bullying advice and have good social/emotional learning tricks up our sleeves..
For example my student said that in real life the bully would not be so vulnerable and would never join ‘the nerds’ and that the only thing to do is stay away from bullies – and she was right in many ways..
I really think that if students made their own bully comics lots of things would come to light – better than a therapy session – we teachers would learn so much about what they really think…”

Here are some links from Edutopia to do with bullying if we want to teach this topic – be armed :)”

If you’re wondering how to create comic strips you can try making very simple yet effective and fun comics on the makebelief website. There are also many other comic sites that you can discover on my powerpoint above. If you watch the webinar you’ll hear me discuss examples of other comic strips I have made or my students have made.

The following examples are from five other sources:

magic box

Part four: integrative ideas by Luke Prodromou to help with the above or other lessons.

In a related topic, Luke Prodromou discussed ‘self-esteem’ at his webinar for EVO, which I attended yesterday.
In this inspiring webinar, Luke shared self-esteem ‘moment’ issues through literature and movie clips, and then gave some beautiful ideas for the classroom. One of my favourites was his ‘magic box’ idea, which is for helping silent students to express themselves. For all of the above discussion scenarios, I recommend using Luke’s ‘magic box’ idea to aid any open class discussion on bullying. To find out more you’ve got to watch the recording of Luke’s session above. He also gave us links to more books and resources.

Part five: A fascinating lesson plan idea on bullying from Chrysa Papalazarou.

Chrysa has included work by her students and demonstrates the power of art in fluency development and social/emotional learning.  I’ll let you explore Chrysa’s blog to find the lesson plan and ideas.


Part six: Music, self-esteem, peer pressure and storytelling.

Jason R. Levine aka Fluency MC has two great songs to match any lessons about self-esteem, peer-pressure, growing up and social/emotional intelligence.

To end any lesson with the message that ‘You Have it in you’ is powerful indeed.

Of course, Jason’s songs are too educational to just use as  feel-good messages. I would end the first class with this song, get them to listen to it at home with some activities perhaps, or open the next lesson as a recap on the issue and then teach them the finer nuances of  the  song and get them all rapping.  Isn’t that perfect?

He has another song in the form of a story called ‘get a life‘ from our collaborative book, Natural English through storytelling, which is also very good for building self-esteem and resilience in young people.

Here’s one of the strangest thing about being connected. Every time I ‘finish’ this article another amazing resource on bullying comes my way. I had originally planned to include only three extra sources of inspiration. Then I discovered more from Nick Michelioudakis above,  Fabiana Casella, and the British Council Teens website.

Part seven:  digital citizenship and cyberbullying by Fabiana Cassella.

Fabiana uses digital multi-media and student-created word clouds for an inspiring collaborative project on bullying.

Part eight: a beautiful, haunting, touching, sad, and chillingly realistic video created by the British Council.

This video lesson goes with worksheets and downloads. A powerful lesson through music and story – a very appropriate ending to my article.

May we all as teachers do our bit to stop social violence with increased awareness. Thanks to so many caring educators out there who make a difference.


Finally I’ll leave you with some announcements. Firstly I’ll be interviewing Bill Zimmerman from Make Belief Comix  in celebration of MOODLE MOOC 3 with Dr. Nellie Deutsch. My presentation topic on February 15th will be “Creative Comic Collaboration For Fun Fluency development.”>Creative Comic Collaboration For Fun Fluency Development, and it will include my comic strip interview of Mr. Zimmerman.

This presentation will be different in the sense that it emphasises lesson ideas for collaboration and will also share more practical ideas for teaching with comics based on activity types that were not the focus of my  British Council webinar.

I will continue to explore social and emotional issues through creativity for language development on my personal website in 2014, so be prepared for more ideas, more fun, and more psychology.

My last thought on this page is that the more we teach kids to be creative, the more they’ll embrace their own uniqueness as individuals.

“I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.”

Frank Zappa

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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