Bullying: Creative Approaches for Teachers

Fri, Oct 24, 2014

Distance Learning, Uncategorized

By Kathleen J. Tate, Ph.D.
Professor and Program Director of Teaching, School of Education, American Public University

Unfortunately, schools are prime places for bullying. School classrooms, halls, playgrounds, buses, and athletic fields, as well as virtual spaces like chat rooms and email, are all places where bullying can occur.

What is Bullying?

The federal government defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d., para. 1). The government states that in order for behavior to be considered bullying, it must be aggressive and include:

  • An imbalance of power where kids use power such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity to control or harm others; and
  • Repetition where the bullying behaviors either happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once (para. 2).

The U.S. Department of Health points out that bullying can be verbal (i.e. teasing, name calling, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments, threatening to cause harm), social or relational (i.e. spreading rumors about someone, leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone), or physical (i.e. hitting, spitting, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s things, making rude hand gestures); it can happen during or after school hours. Bullying Statistics (n.d.) adds that school bullying can also include homophobic bullying, bullying of students with disabilities, racial or cultural bullying, and religious bullying.

Bullying Prevalence

In addition to school-based and face-to-face bullying, online and virtual bullying is increasing. Bullying Statistics reports that bullying is on the rise among children, teens, and young adults and is probably due in part to cyber bullying. Recent reports show that “about 77 percent of students have admitted to being the victim of one type of bullying or another” (para. 3) and “according to the i-Safe American survey of students bullying statistics, about 58 percent of kids admit to never telling an adult when they’ve been the victim of a bullying attack” (para. 4).

Bullying Impact

Not only is bullying a widespread problem, but it can have long term effects on victims. Bullying Statistics cites several sources, including the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report about bullying and reveals that long term issues include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty in trusting others
  • Lack of assertiveness
  • Aggression;
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • Isolation

Bullying can impact and hurt students in both the short term and long term. Many resources are available to empower teachers and school systems to take measures to protect students from bullying.

Traditional Approaches

Bullying Statistics points out various approaches to bullying including clear school policies about bullying, consequences, possible prosecution where state laws are in place for bullying, and community, family and staff training about bullying. Similarly, the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends that teachers be knowledgeable and observant, establish clear expectations and reminders about behaviors, teach students to set boundaries with technology (i.e. ignore threatening emails, set safeguards on social media sites), and report bullying.

Creative Approaches

Teachers can take more explicit, meaningful approaches to educating and preventing bullying through instruction and curriculum. Art, drama, comics, music, poetry, and literature are avenues through which teachers can help students learn to avoid bullying and treat others with dignity. These avenues can be connected to any curricular area, such as language arts or social studies.

Goldberg (2011), who advocates teaching about, with, and through the arts, explains that “the arts reveal many aspects of human nature and give students multiple outlets to express their innermost thoughts” (p. 6). Playing with words and language, forms of verbal and non-verbal expression, and movement more deeply engages learners into studies and exploring ideas.

So, how can teachers use the arts to address bullying? The chart below offers integrated ideas across the curriculum and grade levels.

Content Areas Standards Activities
Language Arts/Theatre Common Core Language Arts Grade 2

Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.


National Core Arts Standards


Grade 2

TH: Pr6.1.2 a. Contribute to group guided drama experiences (e.g., process drama, story drama, creative drama) and informally share with peers.

  • Make sentences on sentence strips about bullying. Make large punctuation marks on sentence strips and cut out. Hand out sentence strip sentences and punctuation and have students in groups practice proper punctuation with sentences. They can do this at their seats or on the rug.
  • Ask students what they know about bullying. Discuss why bullying awareness and prevention are important.
  • Read an age appropriate book about bullying. See the Institute for Humane Education for children’s book ideas at http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/10/09/13-childrens-picture-books-bullying/
  • Discuss the story and favorite sentences from the story. Have students write the sentences with correct punctuation in groups and then a round individually. Read sentences aloud with correct punctuation and share.
  • Discuss what was learned about bullying.
  • Lead students in a creative drama experience: (1) Ask students if they are ready to pretend. Get their agreement. (2) Stand in a circle facing outward. Ask students to make a face to show what it feels like to be bullied (pantomime). Ask students to show with their bodies what it feels like to be bullied (pantomime). (3) Remaining in a circle, facing outward, ask students to make a face showing what it feels like to help someone and stop bullying. (pantomime). Ask students to show with their bodies what it feels like to teach others about not bullying. (4) Have students turn and face a partner. Decide who is A and who is B. Have A improvise and speak to B about a peer who they helped in a bullying situation. Prompt B ahead of time to ask questions for more details. (improvisation) Face into the large circle and share.

Return to seats and have students write a few sentences or short paragraph, with correct punctuation, about bullying.

Language Arts/Visual Arts/


Common Core Language Arts Grade 4

Paraphrase portions of a text read aloud or information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


National Core Arts Standards

Visual Arts

Grade 4


Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers.


National Core Arts Standards


Grade 4

TH: Cr2-4

  1. b. Make and discuss group decisions and identify responsibilities required to present a drama/theatre work to peers.


  • Provide a graphic organizer shaped like a person (head, body, legs, etc.). Cue students to listen for facts, etc.
  • Read online or other factual texts about bullying prevalence, prevention, what to do when bullied, etc. aloud.
  • Start to fill in the head with prevalence facts recalled; fill in the body with other facts; and the legs and feet with steps to take toward prevention, and so on.
  • Put students into groups and let them make a larger person organizer on poster paper and complete brainstorming. Reread the text aloud if needed and teach listening/note-taking strategies.
  • Have students paraphrase portions of the text and create skits. Formats can be a round table of kids, teacher, and parents; commercial; or talk show.
  • Have students decorate the person graphic organizer poster and cut out the shape. Ask them to decorate it according to how a person feels when bullied. Provide various materials and teach using mixed media.
  • Have students perform skits and use the decorated person shape in the background.
  • Discuss: (1) skits, accuracy of paraphrasing, and use of mixed media to convey thoughts.
  • Begin brainstorming as a whole class about what they learned about bullying. Let small groups finish brainstorming by writing what they learned on the opposite side of their people organizers. Then, let them use mixed media again to decorate the opposite side showing a person who helps to prevent bullying.
Math/Language Arts/



Common Core MathGrade 6

Display numerical data in plots on a number line, including dot plots, histograms, and box plots.


Common Core Language Arts

Grade 6

Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.


National Core Arts Standards


Grade 6

MU:Re8.1.6 Describe a personal interpretation of how creators’ and performers’ application of the elements of music and expressive qualities, within genres and cultural and historical context, convey expressive intent

  • Study online or printed statistics about bullying.
  • Teach plotting.
  • Have students plot bullying data and discuss.
  • Review research skills and have students research bullying information in pairs or small groups.
  • Teach writing arguments to support claims with reasons and evidence.
  • Have students in small groups create a bullying report that includes math plot data set about bullying with accompanying argument about why bullying is an increasing issue.
  • View music rap video The Don’t Bully Me Music Video Featuring Corey Thornton at http://coreythornton.com/tag/cyber/page/4/
  • Have students discuss their interpretations of how the musician/rapper applies elements of music to convey a message and provide specific examples/evidence from the video and song. Have students write one or more stanzas of a song or rap to convey what is important to remember about avoiding and preventing bullying, incorporating facts from the math plot and their written argument and create a group report. Select a software or online program for the report format e.g. PowerPoint, brochure in Word, video, etc. so they can include the written piece, plot, and song piece.
  • Share and discuss.




American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Bullying: How Parents, Teachers, and Kids can

Take Action to Prevent Bullying. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/bullying.aspx

Bullying Statistics. (n.d.). Bullying Statistics. Retrieved from


Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). Bullying Definition. Retrieved from


Goldberg. M. (2011). Arts integration: Teaching subject matter through the arts in multicultural

settings. (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sousa, D. A., & Pilecki, T. (2013). From STEM to STEAM: Using brain-compatible strategies

to incorporate the arts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.



Common Core Standards Initiative. (2014). Read the Standards. Retrieved from


Corey Thornton. (2012). The Don’t Bully Me Music Video Featuring Corey Thornton. Retrieved

from http://coreythornton.com/tag/cyber/page/4/

Rakeshaw, M. (2014). 13 Children’s Books Picture Books about Bullying. Retrieved from


State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE). (n.d.). National Core Arts

Standards. Retrieved from http://nationalartsstandards.org/



About the Author

Dr. Kathleen Tate has over 17 years of experience as a special education teacher, researcher, and professor. She is a Professor and the Program Director of Teaching in the School of Education at American Public University. She received both a B.A. in Soviet & East European Studies with a minor in Economics and M.Ed. in Special Education from the University of Texas. She received a Ph.D. in Elementary Education from Florida State University. Dr. Tate has lifetime Texas teaching certificates in Elementary 1st-8th, PreK-12th Special Education, and 1st-8th Theatre Arts; and completed graduate coursework for Visual Impairment Certification PreK-12th. Dr. Tate taught children with varying disabilities in 4th and 5th grades in both resource and inclusive classrooms and 3rd and 5th grades in summer school. She has been a tenure track professor at Auburn University and University of West Georgia and has consulted for numerous online universities over the years.

Dr. Tate has served as a reviewer and lead co-editor for varied scholarly, peer reviewed journals. She also has authored 10 articles, which have been published in Youth Theatre Journal, Science and Children, Social Studies Research and Practice, and Teacher Education and Practice to name a few. Dr. Tate’s research interests include humane education, mixed methods research, underserved/underrepresented populations, arts-based and multimodal teaching and learning, and integrated/thematic instruction.

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