A lesson plan to go with: “My brother’s death changed our family forever by Sophia Mostella, published Jan.-Feb. 2000

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Health
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview of Lesson Plan: In this lesson, students will explore ways of coping with loss and grief.

Students will:
• Discuss how personal experiences of loss and grief can affect survivors.
• Discuss various ways to cope with loss and grief.
• Discuss ways to help others ways to cope with loss and grief, and specifically, with the aftermath of violence.
• Use writing, or other creative methods, as a vehicle for coping and remembrance.

• copies of “My brother’s death changed our family forever” (one per student)
• pens/pencils
• paper
• classroom chalkboard

1. Warm-up: In journals or on separate pieces of paper, students respond to the following prompts written on the board: “The time I felt the saddest was…” “The way I overcame my sadness was…”

2. As a class, read “My brother’s death changed our family forever.” Then discuss the article, addressing these questions:
    a. How did Hash’im’s death affect Sophia?

    b. How did Hash’im’s death affect the rest of Sophia’s family?

    c. How did Hash’im’s death affect the relationships between the surviving members of his family?

    d. Do you think that the fact that Hash’im’s death came unexpectedly, violently, and at a young age affected the impact of his death on his family? If yes, why and how?

    e. Sophia says at the end of the article that, four years after her brother’s death, she has learned to forgive his killer. How do you think she, or anyone who has lost a loved one to violence, could come to this position? Do you think you we should try to forgive those who perpetrate wrongs or violence on us? Why or why not?

    f. Do you think that writing this article has been part of Sophia’s healing process? How could this help someone who is grieving?

    g. Read the “Dealing with Grief” advice list out loud. Do you think these items would help someone suffering a loss? Why or why not?

3. In a whole-class discussion, talk about the following questions:
    a. Do you think it’s harder for young people to deal with grief and loss than others?

    b. Do you think that young people have to deal with more grief and loss today? Has that hardened young people to feeling when they suffer the death of a loved one or other losses?
    c. What other kinds of losses can cause you to grieve? Can a divorce, or the end of a friendship, or moving away from a familiar home make you feel a loss as deeply as a death? How, if at all, would you change your coping strategies for these different kinds of losses?

    d. What kind of losses can cause not just individuals, but groups and communities to grieve? How can we help communities heal from wounds? How do these strategies differ from those for individuals?

    e. Besides strategies already discussed, how can we help ourselves and others overcome grief? How can we employ art and creativity to help us heal?

4. Wrap-up/homework: This two-part assignment will allow you to explore the topics we have discussed in class from both an analytic/academic and a creative perspective:
    a. Write an essay describing methods you would use to help yourself, family members, or others cope with a loss and subsequent grief. Draw on your own experience or on what we have discussed in class.

    b. Creative expression is one way a survivor can help him- or herself cope with grief. An individual’s creative expression can even help a larger community deal with grief—witness the numerous sculptural memorials to the victims of the Holocaust, or the Vietnam Memorial, or the AIDS Quilt. Drawing on your own experience, or, if you like, a communal experience like those mentioned above, create a piece of art—creative prose, poetry, drawing, collage, etc.—that expresses your experience of loss and remembrance.

Further Questions for Discussion:
• When a death is caused by violence, how does violence intensify the effects of the loss on the survivors?

• Is it possible to combat violence in our communities? Why or why not? And if yes, how can we do it?

Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and their individual written work.

Extension Activities:
• Design a peer-mediated grief counseling program for your school and/or community. Bring in outside facilitators or use outside materials to train students in peer counseling methods.

• As a class or in smaller groups, design an art or multimedia project to memorialize a loss that is important to your school or community. For example, this could take the form of a mural in memory of neighborhood victims of violence. Students then organize and carry out a plan to gather community support (financial and otherwise) for the actual completion of the project. Local artists and businesses can be enlisted for support.