Jamie Nabozny: Bullying: Language, Literature and Life

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Additional Resources

Photo by Steve Jacobs


  • 7–12

Human Rights Issue:

  • Standard of Living, Education, Freedom from Persecution, Freedom from Discrimination

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Article 2: Freedom from Discrimination
  • Article 3: Right To Life, Liberty, Personal Freedom
  • Article 5: Freedom From Torture And Degrading Treatment
  • Article 25: Right to an Adequate Standard of Living•
  • Article 26: Right to an Education

Guiding Questions:

  • What is bullying?
  • How does language usage contribute to our understanding of bullying, our tolerance of bullying, our comfort at stepping in to stop bullying or being a by-stander?
  • How has the depiction of bullying changed throughout the years?
  • What can we learn from historical portrayals of bullying?

Time Requirement:

  • 210 Minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Interpret language as a factor in perpetuating or preventing bullying.
  • Identify attitude and behaviors that are consistent with bullying.
  • understand the impact of one person standing up to and speaking out against bullying.
  • examine, through a literary lens, factors that contribute to bullying behavior.
  • Develop an understanding of personal language use as a tool to stand up to bullying.

Student Skills:

Students will be able to:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Critical analysis of written text
  • Writing and application of the writing process
  • Reading comprehension of a variety of genres
  • Dramatic interpretation of written text

New York State Learning Standards:

  • English Language Arts Standard 1 Language for Information and Understanding
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2, 4, 5 ; Writing PI 2, 3, 4
    • Commencement Reading PI 2, 3, 4, 5; Writing PI 2, 3, 4, 5
  • English Language Arts Standard 2 Language for Literary Response and Expression
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2, 4; Writing PI 2, 3
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3, 4; Writing PI 1, 2, 3
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 3; Writing PI 1, 2
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 3; Writing 1, 2
  • English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Intermediate Reading PI 1, 2; Writing PI 1, 2, 3
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3; Writing PI 1, 2, 3

Social And Emotional Development And Learning:

  • Self-awareness: recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and limitations;
  • Responsible decision-making: Making ethical constructive choices about personal and social behavior;
  • Relationship skills: Forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict;
  • Social awareness: Showing understanding and empathy for others;
  • Self-management: Managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals

New York State Common Core Learning Standards for ELA and Literacy

English Language Arts and Literacy

Grades k-5:

  • RL 1.1, 2, 3, 7; 2. 1, 3, 7; 3. 1, 3, 6, 7; 4. 1; 5. 3, 6
  • RIT 1. 1, 5; 2. 1, 3, 7; 3. 1, 3, 6, 7; 4. 1, 3, 7; 5. 1, 3
  • W 1. 2, 6, 7; 2. 2, 6, 7; 3.2, 4, 5, 8; 4. 2, 5, 6; 5. 2, 6, 8

Grades 6-12

  • RL 6.1, 6; 7. 1, 6; 8. 1, 3; 9-10. 1; 11-12.1
  • RIT 6. 1, 2, 9; 7. 1, 3, 9; 8.1, 3; 9-10. 1, 6; 11-12 1, 6
  • W 6. 2, 4, 5, 6; 7. 2, 4, 5, 6; 8. 2, 4, 5, 6; 9-10. 2, 4, 5, 6; 11-12. 2, 4, 5, 6
  • SL 6. 1, 5, 6; 7. 1, 5, 6; 8. 1, 5, 6; 9-10. 2, 5, 6; 11-12.1, 5, 6
  • L 6. 1, 2, 3, 6; 7. 1, 2, 3, 6; 8. 1, 2, 3, 6; 9-10. 1, 2, 3, 6; 11-12. 1, 2, 3, 6
  • RL h/SS 6-8.2; 9-10.2; 11-12.2
  • WL h/SS 6-8.2, 4, 5, 6; 9-10. 2, 4, 5, 6; 11-12. 2, 4, 5, 6


  • Passive
  • Aggression
  • Bystander
  • Brave
  • Harass
  • Harassment
  • Insecurity
  • Coward
  • Panic
  • Respect
  • Scared
  • Shun
  • Rumors
  • Target
  • Tease
  • Trust
  • Victim
  • Wronged
  • Intimidate
  • Survival Mechanisms
  • Advocacy
  • Accountability
  • Discrimination
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Empathy
  • Prevention


  • Empathy
  • Fairness
  • Justice
  • Values
  • Cultural Norms
  • Systemic Change

Technology Required

  • Internet

Student Activities

Anticipatory Set:

1. Write the word Bullying on the board. Ask the students to come up and write the first thing that comes to their minds when they read that term.

2. After the board is filled with the students’ responses, ask the students to explain their responses.

3. Then ask the students the following questions:

  • what is bullying?
  • who does bullying impact?
  • what does bullying look like?

4. Identify commonalities and differences among the responses and group emerging themes.

5. Present to the students the vocabulary associated with bullying.

6. Ask the students to identify commonalities and differences among the vocabulary and the class discussion on bullying.

7. Based on both discussions, have the class formulate a definition of bullying. Keep this definition posted in the classroom.

Activity 1

1. Provide the students with a selection of readings from course-required textbooks. Choose from books that represent a range of genres and from books that were written in an earlier time period, the classics.

2. Have the students select 4 to 5 readings from the list provided.

3. Individually, have students explain how the text portrays bullying. This can be from the perspective of the bully, the bullied, or a by-stander. Ask the students to capture attitudes, behaviors, language use, means of communicating, and actions.

4. In small groups, have the students share their interpretations of the texts. Ask the students to look for similarities and differences in their reading and interpretations, ask the students to share the comparisons.

Activity 2

Follow the same steps as Activity 1, however this time, select readings from contemporary books.

Activity 3

1. In small groups, have the students select one scene that depicts bullying from the text they have studied and reviewed.

2. Ask the students to share how they would change the scene to an anti-bullying scene. Students can act out the scene, they can use spoken word, or any means they feel will best allow them to demonstrate how they would change the scene.

Culminating Activity

  • Compare the student’s responses to bullying as portrayed in the selected readings from both the earlier and more contemporary texts. Highlight the commonalities and differences.
  • Reflect back on the definition of bullying from the anticipatory set. Drawing on what the students have learned about language use, words and bullying from a literary perspective, and using the class definition of bullying, have the students create “the next chapter” on bullying.
  • How would they like to see bullying change, how would they portray bullying in their own language, in their school, through their means of communication – art, poetry, drama, spoken word, blog.
  • Present the final pieces as part of an anti-bullying program or day at the school.

Extension Activity

Have the students compare language use that portrays an aspect of bullying in novels with language used with cyber bullying.

Become a Defender

1. Read Jamie Nabozny’s bio and speech. As a group, discuss where the school, community and legal systems supported him and failed him.

2. On a piece of paper, note who failed him, how they failed him, why they failed him and where the support systems failed him.

3. Thinking about Jamie’s experience, map your schools efforts to stop bullying through the following efforts: programs, safe spaces, reporting and support.

  • Create a map that shows the impact of the anti-bullying programs, that highlights safe spaces for students, that provides an overview of how a student reports cases of bullying and support systems for both the bully and the bullied.
  • From what is learned from the mapping exercise, work with teachers, staff and parents to further the efforts to stop bullying in your school.
  • Share your work with the wider community.

4. Write “the next chapter” on bullying for your social media sites and to share with the Speak Truth To Power program. Include anti-bullying posts on your social media sites, take an active role in stopping bullying in your school, and share your work with the wider community.

Tell Us About It

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to inspire each student that one voice, one person, can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you became a defender!

The criteria for the contest are:

  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include a parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity changed the lives of one or many persons

The prizes include:

  • A week-long “virtual” internship at the RFK Center for Justice and Human Rights
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a Skype visit
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth To Power human rights defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of the book Speak Truth To Power for the school library

Additional Resources

Jamie Nabozny
This website serves as the center for Jamie’s work against bullying. Through this site, you can read testimonials, find out more about his current activities and even contact him for a possible visit to your school or town.

Anti-bullying activist encourages students to take a stand
An article recounting Jamie Nabozny’s visit with the students of Mckinley High School with great student reactions to his presentation.

Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness
Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness is a one-hour documentary about a town coming together to take action after anti-immigrant violence devastates the community. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York culminate with the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant who had lived in the Long Island village for 13 years.

Patchogue Plus Three: A Look Back at a Fatal Hate Crime
This article from Metro Focus examines the case of Marcelo Lucero, who was killed in 2008 after being attacked by a group of teens that made a game out of attacking Latinos in their neighborhood. After this brutal attack, Marcelo’s younger brother Joselo has dedicated his life to criticize the anti-immigrant violence in his hometown of Suffolk County.

It Gets Better Project
The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach – if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone – and it WILL get better.

The Megan Meier Foundation
The mission of the Megan Meier Foundation is to bring awareness, education and promote positive change to children, parents, and educators in response to the ongoing bullying and cyberbullying in our children’s daily environment.

The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network strives to assure that each member of every school community is valued and respected regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Alex Holmes – Taking a Stand: From Bullied to Anti-Bullying Leader
Alex Holmes, a teenager in England who got bullied himself, decided to take a stand. He invented a role at his school called a “Student Anti-Bullying Coordinator”. Then he started organizing events, creating videos, running campaigns and getting other students involved as ambassadors, event leaders and bully “patrollers”. This site features a video that tells Alex’s story as well as some ways to bring this message to a classroom or school.

Guidelines and Resources for Social and Emotional Development and Learning in New York State
This guidance document aims to give New York state school communities a rationale and the confidence to address child and adolescent affective development as well as cognitive development. By attending to the students’ social-emotional brain development and creating conditions where school environments are calmer and safer, teachers can teach more effectively, students learn better, and parents and community can feel pride in a shared enterprise.

NEA’s Bully Free: It Starts With Me
The NEA’s Bully Free program is a part of the NEA’s Issues and Actions program that is designed to help students and teachers to prevent and deal with bullying across the US.

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