The Lowdown on Discussing Drugs and Alcohol in the Classroom
Drug and alcohol use among teens is a huge issue surrounding junior high and high school students, parents, and teachers. The statistics in Joann’s post confirm the need for an ongoing classroom conversation about the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. Media portrays the glamour of using these substances, but in many schools there aren’t classroom activities or discussions on the topic. Joann highlighted three quality free resources on The Gateway that can help bring this important topic into your classroom. Whether you need a single activity or an entire unit, you will be able to find a good starting point in her column.
Although drug and alcohol education seems to fit best in the health classroom, a little creative thinking can fit it into other subjects as well. Since each teacher and school has different needs for lessons on the subject, this post is a compilation of links and a bunch of different ideas of how to present this tough material to your students. We would love your suggestions as well!
The themes, events, and characters in books can be a wonderful jumping-off point for introducing new subjects. Classic and modern literature can spark valuable discussions about drugs and alcohol in an English or language arts classroom. A few books on the topic were recommended by other educators:
Autobiography of My Dead Brother and The Beast by Walter Dean Myers
Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Korin Zailickas.
There are lots of good books out there; you just need to be sure you find one your students can relate to. Another interesting approach to bringing drug education into the language arts classroom is in The Magic Bullets, a resource catalogued on The Gateway. This activity is presented as a pure literature unit, and it uses an old German folk tale to help students think about themes of drug use without directly talking about the subject. T
Social Studies teachers can explore the social issues surrounding teenage drug and alcohol use. The Learning Network, a blog connected to the New York Times is a valuable tool for connecting current events to important social issues like this. Altered States: Reflecting on State Medical Marijuana Laws lets students debate the issues surrounding drug policies. Take Me Out of the Ballgame helps students realize the implications of both legal and illegal drug use.
Students can research drug and alcohol abuse that led to a well known person’s death. Maybe they can study the history of popular drugs among teenagers throughout the decades. Maybe they can choose their own topic from a list of ideas you generate. Whichever topic you choose, give them some options for presentations to make the project more meaningful to the presenters and the class. Some favorite tools of mine include Glogster, Animoto, ToonDoo, and Blabberize, although some of your students might prefer to do a skit in front of the class or make a traditional poster.
The Learning Network also has some resources that would work well in a health or science classroom. The Straight Dope explores the role of dopamine, helping students understand the physiological changes created by drug and alcohol use. Staying Healthy focuses on the dangers of binge drinking. Some students may not realize the statistics of students being sent to the hospital or even dying from “just one night of drinking.” It is important to remember the problems associated with legal drugs as well. For many students, these are easier to obtain than alcohol. A New York Times article about the “choking game” led to this interesting resource. We will continue to add these constantly updated lessons to the Gateway.
And finally, a couple of more great free resources on The Gateway for you to check out:
Assessing Media's Influence Project, where students study how the media portrayal of drugs and alcohol can affect their decisions, and In the Mix - The Drug Dope Show, a PBS talk-show format activity where students research and discuss different issues surrounding drug and alcohol use.
Once you design or choose an activity to use in your classroom, look at it carefully to be sure it doesn’t come across as confrontational to your students. If they think you are assuming you are “right” and they are “wrong” from the beginning, your lesson can get off on the wrong foot. Allowing your students to examine each side of the issues, rather than only presenting them the side of the issue you want them to learn gives them a sense of ownership. Many teenagers balk at the idea of just doing something because an adult says it’s the right thing to do. They need to figure out that it is right for themselves, which can take a lot of careful guidance from you, the teacher, to make sure the learning is their own. Many of the lessons and activities presented above allow students to research subjects and work through the answers on their own. Please browse through these links, and let us know what works for you in your classroom.