Teaching some of the topics in the PSHE curriculum can be tricky, even awkward and, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain embarrassing. Some experienced teachers can handle it all without any problem. But what about those who find it more of a challenge? And more importantly, what about the pupils?
Of course, the clue is there in the name: the P stands for Personal! For them, almost any topic has the potential to be sensitive – relationships, health, family, financial matters, expressing an opinion, speaking out in front of their peers – the list is almost endless.
So what learning strategies can we use to encourage more open discussion whilst at the same time giving some protection to the feelings of both pupils and teachers?
Distancing techniques depersonalise the situations under discussion. Being in a role, empathising with a character or speaking in response to the actions of others (real or imaginary) allows pupils to explore their feelings about issues safely, because they are not speaking or acting as themselves.
Distancing also helps pupils learn and then reflect on how it applies to their own lives. Different learning styles are accommodated. Pupils who struggle with written work often come into their own when given the chance to take on roles or to respond to scenarios. Teachers can also be less anxious about the possibility of upsetting pupils, unexpected disclosures or inappropriate comments.
Magazine Reviews: this is one of the simplest techniques to get you started as it is easy to resource. Use a range of teenage magazines (pupils will help you with supplies!) to explore issues and opinions on topics such as body image, gender portrayal, sex and relationships and advertising. This can then lead into:
Agony Aunts and Uncles: in small groups of three or four. Each group takes on the role of an agony aunt or uncle and is asked to respond to an imaginary letter that has been sent to a magazine or radio show, explaining to the class how they came to their solution. Groups may then share further ideas and debate alternatives.
Buzz groups: the class is divided into several sub-groups to discuss a dilemma or situation for a short, specified period of time, during which they try to form an opinion on the subject. Then they come back together as a class to share their ideas. This can be used very successfully with topical news issues such as internet grooming, youth radicalisation, the increase in food banks, etc.
Ask-it Basket: or question boxes. Pupils write down questions, anonymously if preferred, and put them in the Ask-it Basket, ready to be answered next lesson. Whilst having obvious benefits of ‘distance’ for the pupils, it also gives the teacher the time to consider the best response, research up-to-date correct facts or consult a colleague or professional (e.g. nurse). It also eliminates the anxiety of being ‘caught on the hop’ by awkward questions.
Role play: although this takes a little more preparation, it is well worth persevering with role play techniques because of the excellent outcomes and learning that can be achieved. Pupils take on the roles of other people and act out a scenario. The ‘audience’ can ask them to re-wind, freeze-frame or move forward to explore different consequences and decisions. Certain characters can be put in the spotlight and their actions discussed or questioned in role. Ask your Drama teacher to help with tips on organisation.
TV Storylines: if role play seems too challenging for teachers who are new to your PSHE team, TV storylines may be used to similar effect. Pupils watch a short clip of a story from a TV programme or soap episode. Examples might include substance misuse, bullying behaviour, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, peer pressure or the effects of alcohol. This is followed by discussion, Q&A or group/pair work on the issue. Pupils can write a script to continue the story or, at a more complex level, can analyse how the characters could have made choices that might have avoided getting into the situation.
Conscience Alley: is used to explore a moral dilemma. The class lines up in two rows facing each other, creating a corridor. One person walks down the corridor and each pupil calls out, or whispers advice, suggestions or feelings to the individual. At the end, the individual can choose what to do, based on the advice that has been given. Follow up with discussion of the outcome.
Consequences: pairs or groups are given a situation to discuss and then consider the possible options and consequences. It is important when using this technique to get the pupils to think about realistic consequences, both positive and negative. This is especially useful for the understanding and assessment of risk.
Media Check: the class uses a variety of newspapers, web pages, TV news bulletins, music videos, film reviews, TV clips to consider how people or issues are portrayed differently by various media. An example could be to look at how different types of family groupings are represented in TV soaps or how ‘celebrities’ are reported in the media.
Syndicates: this is a type of role play where pupils are formed into groups, each of which has to represent the viewpoint of a particular organisation or section of society. The groups have to debate or enter into negotiations with each other to understand the different points of view.
Whichever approaches you use in your PSHE teaching, it is vital that pupils are able to learn and discern their own attitudes and opinions in a climate of trust, co-operation, support and openness. These distancing techniques help youngsters to share their feelings without attracting personal feedback and help teachers to become more confident about delivering sensitive topics.
Positive Guidance on Aspects of Personal, Social and Health Education – National Children’s Bureau.
Effective Teaching and Learning in PSHE education:
Written by Lynne Deacon
Lynne is a freelance trainer and education consultant. With over 30 years’ experience in teaching, she has been a Creative Education Associate since 2008 and delivers a wide range of courses including a selection from the PSHE portfolio.
Lynne has also been instrumental in developing and writing new training materials for a variety of subject areas such as Geography, Middle and Senior Leadership, Personal Organisation Skills, Coaching and Mentoring, Well-being and Resilience, Libraries/LRCs and courses for Support Staff.