June 2012


  • Artwork by Scott Albrecht
  • Editors:
    Tishon Woolcock
    Caits Meissner
    Nora Salem
  • Editor's Note:
    How To Read The Reader

June 2012

In the Classroom: Talking About Gun Violence

Age group: Middle/High School/University

Goal and Objectives: Students read Laurence Bass’s “Untitled: Number One” flash fiction piece and find entry points to understand, discuss and act on the topic of gun violence through storytelling.

Guiding Question: How can we use our own stories to expose our truths and act as creative interrupters of violence?

Preemptive Notes: This topic is weighty, and depending on the demographic of your class, you may consider making this a multi-session project, beginning with concepts of race, class and power. A great resource for this work is the free, online 381 page curriculum, Something Is Wrong: Exploring the Roots of Youth Violence, Edited by Mariame Kaba, J. Cyriac Mathew, and Nathan Haines:

We also strongly suggest taking care to make sure the safe is space before delving into this lesson. If you are passionate, but nervous, and need some extra pointers and/or help with scaffolding this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out to us at caits@wellandoftenpress.com

Talking About Gun Violence Lesson Plan


Ask students to create a word web on the board, putting “violence” in the center. As students share what kinds of violence exist, take notes. Words and phrases that may arrive include, “domestic violence, gangs, bullying, etc.” Ask students to identify what issues affect youth their age. Circle the words and phrases they share. Use this as an entry point to introduce the topic of gun violence.


Share the article Teens Exposed to Gun Violence Face Tough Road by Cheryl Corley (alternately, you can also listen to the story on the NRP website.)


Break students into groups to discuss the article, assigning each group a single point: “I was in Shock,” “Retaliation,” “Witnessing Violence,” and “People Don’t Care.” Students unpack the following questions and outline on chart paper, then present to the larger class.

– What do you feel reading this section? What are your initial reactions?
– Is this an issue that affects you or your friends?
– What are some of the factors that might lead to these condition?
– What can be done to stop these kind of violent encounters?


After sharing out and discussing, highlight the action steps that the students came up with, remembering some are likely to be large, broad and intricately involved. Remind students that this is a very broad overview of a very complex issue, dealing with race, class and institutional factors that contribute to a violent culture. Offer one way to make a change that anyone can do: through storytelling. Introduce Laurence Bass’s piece, “Untitled: Number One.”

As a group, aloud or silently, read the piece. Ask students to underline powerful imagery in the piece that moves them. Discuss the piece aloud. What is the author attempting to do? Why is the piece so short? What is the benefit of providing a short snapshot into a larger story? In what ways might this story help in stopping gun violence, on a micro level? How can storytelling be used to intervene on a macro level?


Ask students to write creatively based on one of the following journal prompts. Share out.

Journal Prompts:

– Respond to the guiding question: How can we use our own stories to expose our truths and act as creative interrupters of violence?
– Describe a violent episode you’ve personally witnessed in one scene: before, during or after.
– Using Laurence’s piece: What happened before Anthony was shot? Or after? Write the scene.
– Using Laurence’s piece: Write the piece from Anthony’s voice. How would he tell the story? Would he be praying? Cursing? Remembering the incident? Thinking about school or his crush?


How are other creative people using multi-platform storytelling to talk about gun violence? Continue the conversation through these resources:


– Watch the film THE INTERRUPTERS, streaming free on the Frontline website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/interrupters/

– Watch the trailer for TRIGGERING WOUNDS, a documentary on gun violence in Harlem by students at The Maysles Institute: http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/see-trailer-for-triggering-wounds-documentary-on-gun-violence-produced-by-harlem-teens#

Interactive Pieces:

– Visit the NYC Homicide Map: http://projects.nytimes.com/crime/homicides/map

Fine Art/Performance Art:

– Iranian artist Wafaa Bilal, who responds to violence in Iraq by having a map publicly tattooed on his back with dots for every Iraqui and American casualty during the war. He’s also created a website were visitors can shoot him, “the Iraqi.” When virtually shot at, a paint ball splatters him in real time in his studio. http://www.wafaabilal.com

– COLORS magazine “Notebooks” on violence: http://www.colorsmagazine.com/project/colors-notebook-violence


– Ross Gaye’s Poem: The Bullet and It’s Hunger: http://boylanblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/poem-of-week.html

– Gwendolyn Brook’s Poem: To The Young Who Want to Die: http://bukowski.net/forum/index.php?threads/gwendolyn-brooks.3376/

– Pharaoh Monche’s song:

Lyrics: http://www.metrolyrics.com/gun-draws-lyrics-pharoahe-monch.html
Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZ6-FYAngvc


– Boogie’s Photo Essay on Gangs: http://www.artcoup.com/

– The Inside Out Project x Tribeca Film Institute: Faces of gun violence victims posted in Harlem community:


1. See “A Moment in Time” creative writing exercise in this issue’s Reader

2. Ask students to translate their writing into another creative medium:

– Create a twitter campaign addressing gun violence in 140 characters of less
– Take a photo essay that supports your story visually
– Canvas your school/community with a survey featuring questions that expose what violence their personal community experiences
– Role playing: have students play out a problematic, potentially violent scenario that has multiple ways of intervening before turning deadly
– Design and create a mural dedicated to victims of gun violence

3. Poem Writing:

– Ross Gaye’s Poem: The Bullet and It’s Hunger http://boylanblog.blogspot.com/2011/09/poem-of-week.html

Ask students to write their own poem from the perspective of an inanimate object.

– Gwendolyn Brook’s Poem: To The Young Who Want to Die: http://bukowski.net/forum/index.php?threads/gwendolyn-brooks.3376/

Ask students to write their own encouraging advice to young people their age.

Related Article: Untitled: Number One by Laurence Bass

Written and Developed by Caits Meissner for Well&Often

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