Privilege Walk Lesson Plan

Privilege Walk Lesson Plan


Many educators and activists use privilege walks as an experiential activity to highlight how people benefit or are marginalized by systems in our society. There are many iterations of such walks with several focusing on a single issue, such as race, gender, or sexuality. This particular walk is designed with questions spanning many different areas of marginalization, because the goal of this walk is to understand intersectionality. People of one shared demographic might move together for one question but end up separating due to other questions as some move forward and others move back. This iteration of the privilege walk is especially recommended for a high school classroom in which the students have had time to bond with each other, but have never taken the time in a slightly more formal setting, i.e., led by a facilitator, to explore this theme. It is a good tool for classes learning about privilege or social justice and could also be used to discuss intersectionality in classes that have the danger of singling out a single aspect of social injustice. It is important that the students or group members are already acquainted and are not doing this activity as strangers, since an immense amount of trust in the people and the environment are needed to help people feel comfortable with acknowledging that certain statements apply to them.

Many people with certain privileges never notice them, because they are so woven into the mainstream that those who have them cannot see them. For youth, understanding and acknowledging privileges is key to understanding why and how they react and perceive their surroundings. The capacity for youth to objectively reflect on their interactions with the world will be invaluable. The focus on intersectionality in this practice will allow practitioners and students alike to understand that having one privilege does not make up for another marginalization and that every privilege or marginalization exists on a different but intersecting plane from another. This focus will help to avoid having positive developments being derailed by debates over who is more oppressed. It also helps youth understand ideas of intersectionality and be aware of marginalized groups within the marginalized group. Privilege walks have previously been criticized for being most beneficial to straight, white, able-bodied men, since it is supposed that they learn the most and that more marginalized students are made to feel vulnerable. The particular walk posted on this page works to avoid falling into these issues and has given detailed reasoning for recommended debrief questions, since the nature of the debrief discussion can either exacerbate or alleviate some of these issues. Even though it is not a perfect exercise, the privilege walk is a less confrontational way to discuss privilege and promote reflection. It helps people to open up, literally, in steps instead of difficult to articulate words and relate to each other in a different way.


To discuss the complicated intersections of privileges and marginalizations in a less confrontational and more reflective way.


15~20 minutes for the Privilege Walk

45~60 minutes for the debrief


  • A wide open space, e.g., a classroom with all chairs and tables pushed back, an auditorium, or a gymnasium
  • Chairs to form a circle for the debrief
  • Painter’s tape to make an initial line for participants
  • Optional: tape or other materials to draw lines to indicate where to step back or forth


  • Have participants line up in a straight line across the middle of the room with plenty of space to move forward and backward as the exercise proceeds.
  • Have participants hold hands or place one hand on the shoulder of the person to their left or right depending on space constraints. Important: Make sure to ask participants if they are comfortable touching and being touched by others. If some are not, do not make them and do not make a big deal out of it.
  • You may give an explanation about the activity, how it is intended to educate about privilege, and what exactly is privilege, or you can send students into the activity with no such background.
  • Read the following to participants:
  • I will read statements aloud. Please move if a statement applies to you. If you do not feel comfortable acknowledging a statement that applies to you, simply do not move when it is read. No one else will know whether it applies to you.
  • Begin reading statements aloud in a clear voice, pausing slightly after each one. The pause can be as long or as short as desired as appropriate.
  • When you have finished the statements, ask participants to take note of where they are in the room in relation to others.
  • Have everyone gather into a circle for debriefing and discussion.

Privilege Walk Statements:

  1. If you are right-handed, take one step forward.
  2. If English is your first language, take one step forward.
  3. If one or both of your parents have a college degree, take one step forward.
  4. If you can find Band-Aids at mainstream stores designed to blend in with or match your skin tone, take one step forward.
  5. If you rely, or have relied, primarily on public transportation, take one step back.
  6. If you have attended previous schools with people you felt were like yourself, take one step forward
  7. If you constantly feel unsafe walking alone at night, take one step back.
  8. If your household employs help as servants, gardeners, etc., take one step forward.
  9. If you are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault, take one step forward.
  10. If you studied the culture of your ancestors in elementary school, take one step forward.
  11. If you often feel that your parents are too busy to spend time with you, take one step back.
  12. If you were ever made fun of or bullied for something you could not change or was beyond your control, take one step back.
  13. If your family has ever left your homeland or entered another country not of your own free will, take one step back.
  14. If you would never think twice about calling the police when trouble occurs, take one step forward.
  15. If your family owns a computer, take one step forward.
  16. If you have ever been able to play a significant role in a project or activity because of a talent you gained previously, take one step forward.
  17. If you can show affection for your romantic partner in public without fear of ridicule or violence, take one step forward.
  18. If you ever had to skip a meal or were hungry because there was not enough money to buy food, take one step back.
  19. If you feel respected for your academic performance, take one step forward.
  20. If you have a physically visible disability, take one step back.
  21. If you have an invisible illness or disability, take one step back.
  22. If you were ever discouraged from an activity because of race, class, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation, take one step back.
  23. If you ever tried to change your appearance, mannerisms, or behavior to fit in more, take one step back.
  24. If you have ever been profiled by someone else using stereotypes, take one step back.
  25. If you feel good about how your identities are portrayed by the media, take one step forward.
  26. If you were ever accepted for something you applied to because of your association with a friend or family member, take one step forward.
  27. If your family has health insurance take one step forward.
  28. If you have ever been spoken over because you could not articulate your thoughts fast enough, take one step back.
  29. If someone has ever spoken for you when you did not want them to do so, take one step back.
  30. If there was ever substance abuse in your household, take one step back.
  31. If you come from a single-parent household, take one step back.
  32. If you live in an area with crime and drug activity, take one step back.
  33. If someone in your household suffered or suffers from mental illness, take one step back.
  34. If you have been a victim of sexual harassment, take one step back.
  35. If you were ever uncomfortable about a joke related to your race, religion, ethnicity, gender, disability, or sexual orientation but felt unsafe to confront the situation, take one step back.
  36. If you are never asked to speak on behalf of a group of people who share an identity with you, take one step forward.
  37. If you can make mistakes and not have people attribute your behavior to flaws in your racial or gender group, take one step forward.
  38. If you have always assumed you’ll go to college, take one step forward.
  39. If you have more than fifty books in your household, take one step forward.
  40. If your parents have told you that you can be anything you want to be, take one step forward.

Debrief Questions:

During and after the Privilege Walk, participants might experience an array of intense feelings no matter their position in the front or the back. While the point of the Privilege Walk is indeed to promote understanding and acknowledgment of privileges and marginalization, it would be detrimental to end the activity with potentially traumatic or destructive emotions. The point of the debrief session is twofold. First, through the reflection provoking questions, help participants realize what exactly they were feeling and muster the courage to articulate it to each participant’s acceptable level. This process will relieve possible negative emotions, preventing possible damage. Second, as negative emotions are relieved, the debrief will help participants realize that either privileges or marginalizations are integral to the person’s being. Instead of casting off either privilege or marginalization, participants can learn how to reconcile with themselves, and through the utilization of newfound knowledge of the self, have a better relationship with themselves and others around them.

  1. What did you feel like being in the front of the group? In the back? In the middle?

At the end of the exercise, students were asked to observe where they were in the room. This is a common question to use to lead into the discussion and allows people to reflect on what happened before starting to work with those idea in possibly more abstract ways. It keeps the activity very experience-near and in the moment.

  1. What were some factors that you have never thought of before?

This asks students to reflect in a broader sense about the experiences they might not think about in the way they were presented in this activity. It opens up a space to begin to discuss their perceptions of aspects of themselves and others that they might have never discussed before.

  1. If you broke contact with the person beside you, how did you feel in that moment?

This question focuses on the concrete experience of separation that can happen during the activity. For some students, a physical aspect like this can be quite powerful. There are many iterations of the privilege walk that do not involve physical contact, but this extra piece can add another layer of experience and be an opening for very rich student responses.

  1. What question made you think most? If you could add a question, what would it be?

The first part of this question asks students to reflect more on the activity and the thoughts behind it. The second part of this question is very important for creating knowledge. Students might suggest a question about which instructors had not thought. Asking students how they would change the activity and then working to incorporate those changes is an important part of collaborative learning.

  1. What do you wish people knew about one of the identities, situations, or disadvantages that caused you to take a step back?

This question invites people who would like to share about the ways they experience marginalization. It is a good question to ensure that this part of the conversation is had. That being said, it is also important to not expect or push certain students to speak, since that would be further marginalizing them and could cause them to feel unsafe. It is not a marginalized person’s job to educate others on their marginality. If they would like to do so, listen. If they would not like to do so, respect their wishes.

  1. How can your understanding of your privileges or marginalizations improve your existing relationships with yourself and others?

This question is based on the idea that people can always use knowledge and awareness of the self to improve how one lives with oneself and those existing within one’s life. It also invites students to think about ways that this understanding can create positive change. This is not only for the most privileged students but also for marginalized students to understand those in their group who may experience other marginalizations. This can bring the discussion form the first question, which asks about how they are standing apart to this last question, which can ask how can they work to stand together.

This activity was developed by Rebecca Layne and Ryan Chiu for Dr. Arthur Romano’s Conflict Resolution Pedagogy class at George Mason’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Some walk activity questions are commonly seen on other privilege walks while others were written by these students for this specific walk. Procedures were written from experiences participating in other walks. Debrief questions, excepting question one, were written by these students with the goal of this walk in mind. Question one is fairly universal for this activity.

An Example of the Critiques that Influenced Us

Another Privilege Walk Example from Buzzfeed

Delicious, Nutritious Peace: Building Peace through Food


I don’t know about you, but I love food. Most people relish the opportunity to satiate hunger, to dine with friends, to share a holiday meal with family. A resource I believe can be incredibly effective in building peace is commonplace. In the United States of America, most of us are fortunate to have this resource waiting in our cabinet at home or in the cafeteria at school. Food, in abundance for the majority of this nation’s citizens, can be a driving force in building peace within communities.

“Food is our common ground, a universal experience” – James Beard

Food can be very informative about a region and a culture. In my online research into building peace through discussing food, I happened upon a lesson plan titled “What Do People Around the World Eat?” created by Learning to Give. This 45 minute lesson plan is designed for high school students and can be easily employed in history, nutrition, or economics classes. If I was facilitating this lesson in a history or nutrition class, I would add several components.

This lesson plan first involves an activity in which students stand by a poster with a continent’s name written on it, guessing which one has the healthiest food and eating habits. Next, a slide show “What the World Eats” created by Time will be presented. Pairs will discuss why people from around the world eat such diverse food in different quantities. A volunteer will take notes on the poster about students’ observations. Discussion will then shift to the differences in observations across continents.

If this was my own lesson plan, I’d add my component after the section described above. I would add discussion about the cultures of the students. Split into 5 small groups, students would discuss traditional foods and eating norms in their culture. They can also speak more about their family and their eating style. Do they eat out all the time? Do they share family meals often? Experiences with foods from other cultures can also be brought up. As they discussed, each group would prepare a simple dish from one continent being presented. Students will grow in community with each other and understanding of the culture, as well as get several snacks to enjoy while they enter into the next round of discussion. This would add approximately 45 minutes. The dishes will be chosen based on ease, short cooking time, and appeal. Food preparation is not be feasible in all situations, but a discussion of the students’ cultural experiences with food should be included.

According to the lesson plan, after this portion, discussion will shift again to comparison of attributes of the foods (cost per week per person, nutritional value, quantity per person, variety of food groups). The class will split into groups to discuss these attributes, soon presenting a class with a summary of their observation. If computers are available, a summary with research should be expected.

This lesson plan ends with two excellent questions: “How do these differences show that there is an injustice in food availability?  Whose responsibility is it to take action to address the injustice of food availability?” After a brief discussion of this, I’d expect students to write an essay or reflection about their thoughts on the matter.

This lesson plan reflects many of the pillars of peace education, particularly community building, engaging multiple intelligences, and skill building. Students build community with each other, gain understanding of one another’s cultures, and are introduced to the outside world’s experiences with food. They have the opportunity to discuss, to view a presentation, to walk around the class, to create food—engaging verbal, visual, and kinesthetic learners. Finally, this helps develop skills in analysis, comparison, and cooking.

This lesson plan would be great for high school teachers, particularly those that lead history or nutrition classes. This can be adapted for economics classes, for younger students, or for college-level courses. Informally, I could see this project fitting very well in Saturday community projects, with Girl and Boy Scout troops, in youth groups at churches, and in community enrichment classes.

For more information about building peace through making food, The PeaceMeal Project is a good place to start.

Louder than a Bomb


Over the summer I interned at Teach For America. In the corner of the office was a resource shelf with all kinds of books and videos for Teachers and Staff to check out. After walking by the shelf dozens of times I noticed one title in particular – “Louder Than A Bomb.”  I asked to borrow the film and didn’t know I’d picked up the best documentary I’ve seen in a while. Louder Than A Bomb is the world’s largest youth slam poetry contest held every year in Chicago. The “Louder Than A Bomb” documentary follows the stories of four Chicago-area school’s High School poetry teams as they figure out how to work together and ultimately share their stories during the competition. Poetry serves as an outlet for these students to capture their emotions and work through some very complex issues they face every day.

This documentary is an excellent resource for teachers to use in a high school English classroom. By introducing the concept of slam poetry and demonstrating how emotional and “real” these poems can be, the film sets an excellent example for a poetry / journaling piece of the curriculum. One could follow up a showing of the film by challenging students to write their own slam poetry and the class could host its own Louder Than A Bomb competition. For most students, the idea of sharing their own poetry with the rest of the class sounds terrifying. By giving students a chance to try and capture their emotions and develop their voice pushes students outside their comfort zone. For students that are struggling with stressful or traumatic events in their lives, a simple opportunity to share their story is the start to handling the difficulties they face.

Another facet of the poetry lesson can require students to craft a poem together. By sharing their stories and working as a group, students have the opportunity to work on cooperation and teamwork skills. For students that struggle to get started, teachers could provide a general topic or key words to get the creative process started. These starter concepts could focus around the core values of peace education, or one of the 7 pillars of peace building education

Of the core pillars of peace education, this documentary best relates to community building and reframing history non-violently. While I would not start the semester off by asking students to share personal poetry with the class, the exercise mentioned above is a great way for students to take that next step with their classmates and use this platform as a way to share a part of them that they may have never felt comfortable sharing before. The simple act of asking students to share their story may be just the kind of opportunity students have been waiting for. Also asking students to work as a team helps build cohesion as a group and develop ties amongst students in the class.

The more challenging pillar that Louder Than A Bomb integrates into the classroom is the ability to reframe personal history. By giving students an opportunity to share a chosen trauma or part of their up bringing, poetry can help students cope with their past and harness the lessons they’ve learned. By writing your own poetry students gain control over their story, which may be the first time they’ve felt control over an issue.

Lessons like this may go beyond the scope of a typical classroom session and the kind of support teachers can provide students. For students who don’t feel comfortable sharing their own stories, the teacher could provide instances in history that students could write a poem about that defines the event from a peaceful perspective. The stories and poems within this documentary are inspiring and challenging. Poetry is an underutilized medium for students today, and this type of lesson introduces the power of poetry in a modern way. But don’t take my word for it, just listen to their stories:

Tourettes and Public Speaking



The content of this lesson is centered on a spoken word performance performed  by a young man on HBO’s Brave New Voices (a series focused on illuminating the power of youth poetry) .  This video was found on youtube and can be easily accessed on the internet.


This lesson plan is tailored to high school students in their junior or senior year and students predominantly in lower level classes, alternative schools and special education. Moreover,  this lesson plan would be most beneficial to students working with a speech pathologist.  The entire lesson is focused on speech and learning differences and empowerment through ownership, creativity and self acceptance. As a result, the classroom atmosphere would need to be formal, and a “safe space.” Overall, the presentation of a young person being proud of their disability will be both empowering and unique for most students in these classrooms. Hopefully, each student would leave with a divergent perspective on disability and would reclaim their own power and skillset to succeed not in spite of their disability, but because of their disability.

Goals and Objectives

Schedule of the Lesson (50 minute class):

(1) Watch video as a class (5 minutes)

(2) Write poem about yourself in relation to the poem (15 minutes)

(3) Perform poems in front of class (if students do not want to perform in front of the class they can perform to the  teacher by themselves on a separate date) (30 minutes)

Overall, this lesson plan will incorporate peace education by focusing on multiple intelligences and community building.  Public speaking is a skill that is beneficial and useful for most individuals; however, rarely are students given the opportunity to present or sharpen their speaking skills. As a result, this lesson plan will have each student write a poem about themselves and an asset that many have labeled as negative, but they feel is positive. From there, each student will have the opportunity to share in front of the class or present separately to the student. The teacher can tailor the length of this activity depending on the number of students. As a general note, each student should expect their poem to be about 1 to 2 minutes. Each student will have emot, as well as an activity that boost their public speaking skills.

Furthermore, this lesson plan will incorporate community building by facilitating an activity that promotes active listening, shared experiences and empathy.  Students may hear other stories that relate to their own and will respect the courage of their peers to share potentially vulnerable experiences in their own lives.

Where Is Iraq on the Map?


Where is Iraq on the map?  This question haunted me as a middle and high school student.  Post September 11, Iraq and Afghanistan were all over the media, yet most Americans could not point them out on a map.  Seventh grade US History was spent memorizing the countries of the world and their capitals so that we would at least be able to point out the general vicinity of where US soldiers were stationed.  I did a good job on these tests, but without any context for my knowledge I quickly forgot the capital of Hungary and the location of Taiwan. works to solve America’s geographical incompetence.  It is a nonprofit organization developed by Jenny M. Buccos in 2003 that produces free, online global travel series. Designed for family and classroom, provides students with access to peoples and places they may never have seen or knew existed.

The website include suggested materials for Upper Elementary, Middle School and High School students, as well as ideas for family use.  Students can explore the website at their own pace and select different spots on the map to watch videos and learn about a specific country’s culture.  I loved the segment on India, it captured the culture of a vast country in a short video clip that was engaging and informative.  Other sections require students to read blogs written by visitors to the country.  Hyperlinks allow students to expand their learning with more information on historical or geographical concepts.

This activity would be good for addressing different learning styles.  Learning about a country through a visual/audio interactive experience would help students with certain learning styles to more fully grasp the nuances of foreign cultures.

Could Lincoln Be Elected Today?


This website was brought to my attention through a publication for members of the National Council for the Social Studies.  In an attempt to promote responsible rhetoric, fights hyperbole in political advertisements by analyzing the criticism candidates give one another – often through mischaracterization.

During any election season we are constantly bombarded with political advertisements.  Students come often enter the classroom with little understanding of the actual candidates and issues.  Instead, they remember the inflammatory rhetoric in these advertisements or some overly simplistic version of the truth.

In an effort to reframe history to better understand today, has produced a series of attack ads that help answer the question, “Could Lincoln be Elected Today?”  I have used similar resources in U.S. History classes from fifth to twelfth grade.

Each of these advertisements treats the volatile election of 1864 as a modern election, complete with Super PAC funded advertisements for the two main candidates.  The Civil War raged as Lincoln ran against a former general who promised a swift end to the war, even if it meant losing the Southern states.  Politics in the era were not gentlemanly or more civilized than today.  The methods of delivering the message – and the language employed – were of a different era, but the desire to win at any cost has been a part of American politics from as early as 1824 with the “Corrupt Bargain.”

I plan to use these attack advertisements in the coming weeks as students study the Civil War at the same time as the 2012 Presidential election.  We have already analyzed political advertisements in the twentieth century via the website, and students are paying closer attention to this election’s advertisements.  My plan is to have students fact check the Lincoln advertisements in order to develop their research and critical thinking skills.

One goal of utilizing this resource is to reframe history in such a way that students understand the past is complicated.  Lincoln was not guaranteed a second term and the nation would be vastly different if he had been defeated by George McClellan.  The election was contentious, and many people looked to McClellan to bring peace.  The war certainly would have ended, but we know the absence of war does not necessarily mean peace.  These advertisements can help students understand the divided nature of the country, even among those on the side of the Union.  This can help students understand Lincoln as something more than a man carved in marble.

The other pillar of peace education implicit in this resource is community building.  By analyzing attack ads from another century, students are far enough removed from the era so they can look more closely at the political tactics in the advertisements.  In doing so, students learn the skills necessary to evaluate political advertisements for the 2012 election.  The use of this resource takes the contentiousness away from a political discussion, which can help build community among a heterogeneous group of students.

A Lesson for Reframing and Reflection through Melba Pattillo Beals’ “Warrior’s Don’t Cry”


As an English teacher, I want to teach books that reframe or challenge our conceptions of history. In high school, I remember reading Melba Pattillo Beals’ memoir, Warriors Don’t Cry, which accounts her experience as one of the Little Rock Nine. This is a powerful book because it gives an eyewitness account of the daily struggles she encountered as one of the first African American students to be integrated into a white school in the South. Much of the book focuses on violent conflict, but the book’s introspective narrative style puts the reader in the position to think about and evaluate this historical event in a different way. For this reason, I think this is a great book to teach. I found a teaching unit for the book on, which includes lesson plans that encourage several of the pillars of peace education. The unit plan can be found here: For a more in depth reading of the lesson plans, register and download the PDF.

While this unit includes a lot of activities, I just want to highlight two: the Writing for Justice Narrative, and the Warrior’s Dialogue Journal: Allies, Perpetrators, Targets and Bystanders. These two activities work very well for this book, but could also be adapted for other texts. The Writing for Justice Narrative takes place before reading the book. The class comes up with a definition of an ally, a perpetrator, a target, and a bystander. Then, students write a personal narrative about a time in which they acted in one of these roles. The point of this activity is to have students personally identify with these roles so that they can have a better understanding of the characters in the book. The Warrior’s Journal then asks them to record personal thoughts about who are the allies, perpetrators, etc. in the book. The lesson notes that students should pay close attention to when a characters’ role changes. The students use their observations from their journals to generate discussions in small groups. Each group comes up with a question based on their discussion that generates a larger class discussion.

I think these activities should be done in a high school English or history class. The book’s content is probably too mature for younger students. However, the activities themselves can be adapted to other more age-appropriate books if you wanted to teach them in a middle school class. The lesson’s goal of personal reflection would be best suited in an older, more mature class.

I think the two pillars of peace education this book/lessons promotes are Nurturing Emotional Intelligence and Reframing History. Through the narrative, students have to reflect on and describe the emotions they experienced in the situation. The objective of that assignment is to prepare students to foster compassion and empathy for the characters in the books (who are actually based on historical figures). The journal also forces students to validate their reading through emotional reflection. Through the process of identifying character roles, and subsequently understanding how character roles change, students reframe their view of history through a more introspective lens. Instead of learning that this event caused a lot of violence, they learn that the event involved a clashing of a lot of different societal roles, and through personal reflection and character identification, the students can think about the situation in a way that is validated by both emotional and analytic thinking.

Reframing History through Incorporating the Disability Rights Movement


Content and Context

This video entitled “The Power of 504” is a video of the 504 sit ins at the height of the disability rights movement. The video depicts hundreds of disabled individuals barricading themselves in federal office buildings in San Francisco to protest the lack of the implementation of the 1973 Federal Rehabilitation Act. The act was the first civil-rights statute for persons with disabilities in the United States. This video is widely available on youtube and similar web video sites.

This resource would be best utilized for 5th-12th grade students in a history, or english class. Specifically, this source could be incorporated in the common civil rights history unit that most students will discuss each year.

Not only is this resource applicable to the discussion of civil rights within history, but it is also expands the communities in which we discuss human rights and movements for equality. The disability community is a population that is still heavily marginalized and left out of a social justice conversation and context. As a result, focusing on the disability rights movement will both expand the understanding of marginalized communities, awareness of varying civil rights movements and will promote a social model of disability for future generations.

Objectives and Goals

The goal of this activity is two tiered: (1) to reframe history and (2) to discuss divergent approaches to peace. The framing of this activity would be to watch the video and then to discuss modern day civil rights movements by breaking into small groups and discussing the various ways in which our society has and does limit equity and how those communities are addressing those issues. In this discussion, students should discuss two major themes. First, the parallels of the disability rights movement to other recent movements (ie: LGBTQ, education, Native Americans, Latinos etc). Second, students should discuss how peaceful movements have been effective in bringing about reform. This question should begin to synthesize a students prior information on civil rights movements for Women, African Americans, Irish Americans etc and compare that information in a modern context. At the end of the discussion, students can report to the rest of the class on their group’s discussion and the teacher should write similar themes on the board. By the end each student will have gained a broader understanding of civil rights movements, as well as an awareness of peaceful protest as a means of promoting equality. In an academic sense, students will have engaged in critical thinking, and analyzing by comparing and contrasting the various movements.

No Impact Man


No Impact Man: The Documentary, a film by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, follows the experiment of author Colin Beavan and his family as they attempt to live with no environmental impact in New York City for one year.  It is a fairly well known documentary (and book) made in 2009 and is available streaming on Netflix and in the AU Library.

This film would be best suited to a high school and younger adult audience because of the open mindedness that often disappears in older age groups.  Also, since some of the themes are more mature (no, not in sexual ways…) I feel that the film might be lost on younger audiences.  Because of the way I envision using this piece, to launch into a larger project that would span 2-4 weeks, it would fit best in a more formal environment or at least an environment which offers repetitive meetings for a minimum of one month.  Because of the diverse themes the film presents, it could fit into many different subjects, but environmental science and psychology are the two that initially come to mind.

The idea for an activity around this film is pretty obvious but has many opportunities for discussion and introspection.  First the class will watch the film.  It is about 90 minutes so it may be split up over two class periods.  This will lead nicely into a discussion of the students’ impressions of Colin and his wife, as well what they thought were the most reasonable things to give up and the things they would not be willing to give up (I’m sure electricity will be top on the list of things no one would be willing to live without).  After this discussion the students will each be charged with a week-long project: choose something in their life to live without for one week straight.  Document this journey either with a written journal or video journal (depending on resources and/or student learning preference).  After their week of abstinence, the students must explore how this impacted their life, the environment and the world and present their findings in a creative class presentation.  The larger issues of personal peace and sustainability can be discussed after the students have a chance to ruminate on their experiences.

At first glance No Impact Man seems strictly like an environmental impact documentary, which does fit in with the peace concept of sustainability.  It could also qualify for a Pacifist theme.  While watching the film, though, another theme emerges: personal peace.  Sure you can take away all of the environmental positives from the film: waste less, use less energy, be less materialistic, eat locally, etc., and these are absolutely important.  But I think the more poignant take away was the improvement of the family and the personal peace they each achieved.  Better yet, this was a surprise to Colin and his wife as well.  They too went in with the environment in mind and came out with a much bigger picture experience.  Their health improved from eating locally and cutting out take away.  They state that they become better parents to their 3-year-old daughter by playing more family games and cutting out television.  They spend more time out of doors exploring the city and being social, especially when they give up electricity.  They are less invested in material possessions and more focused on the well being of their family.  Add to this the obvious environmental discoveries and you have a recipe for a great peace teaching film.

Check out the website and watch the trailer .  Enjoy!