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Big DecisionsBig-Decisions

  • Subject:
  • |
  • Grade(s): 6-8
  • |
  • Duration: Two class periods

Lesson Plan Sections


Students will
  • review influences on health, choice, and risk taking;
  • role-play making choices when faced with peer pressure; and
  • determine what personal goals are important despite what friends might think.


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Print and online resources about peer pressure and making good choices


  1. After watching the program "Big Decisions," ask these review questions:
    • According to the video, what are the four ingredients of overall health and well-being? (physical, mental, emotional and social health)
    • What must be considered when making choices? (consequences)
    • What are the leading causes of death among teens and young adults? (accidents, AIDS, murder, suicide, and cancer) How can a teen's choices factor into these tragedies? (Making poor choices or risky behavior may lead to deadly consequences.)
    • What is peer pressure and what are cliques? (See Vocabulary words below.) Can students give examples of both from their own experiences?
    • Why is it important for teens to feel as if they fit in? (All people need to belong and have friends.) How can fitting in be harmful? (Peers may influence someone to make a bad decision; doing something to fit in, such as losing too much weight, can be unhealthy.)
  2. Divide the class into groups of four or five. Explain that each group is going to role-play a scenario in which someone has to make a decision that is either healthy or risky. The scenarios are listed below. After each group has presented its scenario, allow the class to vote on whether they think the student's decision was healthy or risky. If the choice was risky, have the group revise the scenario to present a healthier alternative. In portraying the scenes, each group should select one member as the student making the choice; the rest of the group acts to pressure the student into making a risky choice.
    • Jamie's friends are going to a party in which there will be drinking. Jamie was going to spend the night at her friend's house anyway, so her parents would never know if she attended the party. Jamie decides to go. She probably won't have anything to drink anyway.
    • Josh just made the football team. He's happy, but struggling a bit, too. Other team members offer him some little red pills they say will help him play better. Although Josh doesn't really know what the pills are, he decides that taking just a couple won't hurt, and they might help. He'll never know if he doesn't try it.
    • Jose is new in school and wants to make some friends. He's always been a good student, but the guys he's met so far think it's geeky to get good grades. Jose doesn't say much, and he tries to avoid the subject. When the guys want him to cut class with them one day, Jose decides not to.
    • Jamal's friends seem to have changed lately. They aren't as interested in school and some of them have begun to smoke. Jamal is concerned about them. While trying to talk to them one day, they offer him a cigarette. He accepts. He doesn't want them to think he's a big nag. And if he joins them, he might have a better chance of talking to them about the changes he's noticed. It's just one cigarette.
    • Justine is trying to lose weight and has made some progress following a diet planned by her doctor. After school, her friends want her to go get pizza with them, and pizza is not on her diet. She asks her friends if they could go someplace else where she can get a dinner that won't ruin her diet.
  3. After completing the scenarios, ask students to look a bit deeper into the dynamics of peer pressure. They are to research the topic and find ways of dealing with the pressures of groups and cliques, then share their coping strategies with the class. Finally, ask students to write a brief essay about something that's so important to them that they wouldn't change or give it up no matter what their friends think. These Web sites will be helpful to the students as they conduct their research:
  • Get clued in to cliques with this activity from the New York Times Learning Network: When Students Don't Clique: Breaking Down Group Barriers in the Classroom ( Students read a newspaper article on the subject, then devise a survey aimed at assessing tolerance among different school groups.
  • Extend your study of peer pressure into literature with the classic novel Lord of the Flies. Discovery School offers a lesson plan at examines the literal and symbolic meanings of the novel. At its core, the novel is about what happens to civilized people when societal structures break down. It's also about the pressures applied by the group.
  • The video introduces the area of the brain responsible for judgment and self-control: the prefrontal cortex. Learn more about this part of the brain and the bodily and mental functions it controls at these Neuroscience for Kids pages:

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Use the following three-point rubric to evaluate students' work during this lesson.
  • Three points: Students were highly engaged in class discussions, performed their role-playing convincingly, conducted thorough research, and wrote strong essays.
  • Two points: Students participated in class discussions, performed their role-playing adequately, conducted a fair amount of research, and wrote acceptable essays.
  • One point: Students participated minimally in class discussions, presented unconvincing role-plays, conducted minimal research, and wrote perfunctory essays.

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Definition: Disease in which someone shuns eating and loses an unhealthy amount of weight
Context: In an effort to lose weight and be more accepted, some girls may develop anorexia.

Definition: Social group that often excludes others
Context: Because it seemed that everyone at Jon's new school was in a clique, he found it very hard to make new friends.

peer pressure
Definition: Influence of a group on someone's choices
Context: Peer pressure can cause students to make bad choices so they can "fit in."

prefrontal cortex
Definition: The area of the brain responsible for judgment and self-control
Context: Children sometimes have difficulty making responsible decisions because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until adulthood.

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The National Science Education Standards provide guidelines for teaching science as well as a coherent vision of what it means to be scientifically literate for students in grades K-12. To view the standards, visit
This lesson plan addresses the following national standards:

  • Science as Inquiry: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry; Understandings about scientific inquiry
  • Life Science: Structure and function in living systems
  • Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Personal health; Risks and benefits

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Rhonda Lucas Donald, curriculum writer, editor, and consultant

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