The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

Email Newsletter icon
Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Teacher Lesson Return to "Secret of the System"
Secret of the System
horizontal rule

ELA Literacy & Social and Emotional Learning
From Bystander to Ally

Story Summary: Paige is continually bullied by classmates; teachers look the other way and her complaints to her principal and dean are ignored. Finally, she gets her mother involved and steps are taken to have her switch schools.

Lesson Objectives and Common Core Connections
• Students share their experiences and empathize with others.
• Students gain skills at negotiating conflict in order to build and maintain healthy relationships.
• Students will read and comprehend literary nonfiction proficiently (CCLS R.10).
• Students will write routinely for a range of tasks (CCLS W.10).
• Students will participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse partners (SL.1).

Before Reading the Story (10 min)
This opening activity will activate background knowledge to boost reading comprehension and set the emotional tone for the story.

1. Review Student Handout #1 -- Roles People Play in Bullying and Harassment Situations (see below) together as a group. Check for understanding.

2. Introduce Freewriting by explaining that students will have 4 minutes to respond to a prompt in writing. The goal is to express their thoughts freely without worrying about writing conventions. The expectation is that everyone writes, without stopping, for the full time. (Note: writing lists and/or drawing with labels are modifications that support diverse learners.)

3. Freewrite prompt: “Think of a time when you have been in, or observed a bullying, harassment, or conflict situation. Which role did you play? What was the situation? How did you feel?”

4. Partner Share directions: Students should select a partner and/or turn to the person next to them. Facing each other, and practicing active listening, partners each take a turn sharing their responses to the freewrite prompt. Each speaker will have two minutes to talk and is in charge of what they choose to share from their writing. The listener does not need to respond. After two minutes, direct partners to switch roles.

During Reading (20 min)
By practicing active reading strategies while reading aloud and discussing as a group, students build comprehension and support fluency.

1. Introduce the story (see the summary above).

2. Share the expectations for a group read aloud- volunteers take turns reading aloud as much or as little as they would like. As the teacher, you may stop periodically to discuss or check in on active reading by asking students to share their responses to the story.

3. Tell students they will be practicing an active reading strategy called text coding. This will help them read for a purpose and be prepared to use the text in later activities.

4. Text Coding directions: While reading aloud together, identify the different roles people play in Paige’s story. In the margins, write the following:
T (when someone is the Target)
AI (when someone is the Aggressor and /or Instigator)
ALY (when someone is an Ally)
B (when someone is a Bystander)

5. Read the story aloud together. Stop and discuss periodically, supporting peer-to-peer talk and non-judgmental listening. To do this ask for volunteers to share what they have text coded and why. Alternately, you can pose an open question like what stands out to you in this section and why? (Note: students should code many Bystanders in this story, both peers and adults. This is the role that will be focused on in the activity that follows.)

After Reading the Story (15 min)
During this post-reading activity students will make connections, build understanding, and rehearse positive behaviors.

1. Together, identify all of the bystanders in Paige’s story. Write this list up on the board/chart paper. (Note: this list should include teachers and administrators.)

2. Distribute, and review together, Student Handout #2 -- Being a Good Ally (See below). Tell the group that SOME of us have been, or will be, targets and aggressors. But odds are ALL of us will be bystanders at some point. The bystander is a pivotal role in bullying and harassment situations. When the bystander chooses to become an ally he/she is using non-violent action to shift the power dynamic away from the aggressor. This positive impact of this benefits the target, the ally, and the whole school/classroom community.

3. Table Talk directions: Direct students to form small groups of 3-4. Each group should work together to complete the following, with one person writing down notes from the discussion:

• Look at the list of bystanders and select one person who you agree could have been an ally to Paige.
• Decide what that person should have done and said differently. Be specific.
• Discuss what the positive impact of the ally’s actions on Paige would have been. Be specific.
• Discuss what the positive impact on the classroom/school community would have been. Be specific.

4. Have each group share out the notes from their discussion. Reinforce specific behaviors of good allies and the positive impact they have.

5. Close the lesson by informing students of your school’s policies about harassment and bullying. Specifically, share the rights they have under New York’s Dignity for All Students Act. Find out the name and office location of the staff person in your building who is the Dignity Act Coordinator and make sure your students know how they can file a complaint if they are the target of, or witness to, harassment. (You can download a brochure about New York’s Dignity in Schools Act at at

Student Handout #1 — Roles People Play in Bullying and Harassment Situations

A person or group being harassed or bullied.

A person who taunts, threatens, humiliates, victimizes, or physically harms the target. Also known as a bully.

A person who spreads rumors, gossip, or makes up things to encourage others to harass the target. Instigating can be done verbally, on the Internet, through instant messages or text messages, or through graffiti in public places.

A person who either witnesses or knows that the target is being harassed, and does or says nothing. Bystanders may be adults or even a friend of the target.

A person who stands up for the target by defending her or him nonviolently and by challenging the attacks from the aggressor and instigator.

Freewrite Prompt...
Think of a time when you have been in, or observed a bullying, harassment, or conflict situation. Which role did you play? What was the situation? How did you feel?

Student Handout #2 — Being a Good Ally

Without allies, the cycle of harassment continues unchecked. Here are a few things to consider when you confront or witness teasing, harassment, and bullying.

Ignoring isolated incidents may work, but a consistent problem of harassment will probably continue unless you act to stop it.

Many targets of harassment laugh in the beginning because they are nervous or embarrassed. They may believe or hope they can just “laugh it off.” Often aggressors and bystanders misinterpret the laughter, thinking it means the target doesn’t mind.

When you feel uncomfortable or threatened, speak up in a strong, confident, and assertive voice. You have the right not to be harassed! Tell the aggressor firmly, “Don’t talk to/touch me like that, I don’t like it,” “Don’t go there. I am not starting with you—so don’t start with me,” “That’s harassment. If you don’t stop, I will report it.”

Often, the harasser is angry about something (though being angry does not justify harassment) that has nothing to do with the target. It may help to ask calmly, “What’s up?” or “Why are you doing that?” Using insult or threats can escalate the problem rather than helps solve it, and can get you in trouble instead of the person who started it.

If you choose to confront someone who is bullying or harassing you, find allies who will speak up without using threats to support you. This does not mean finding someone bigger to intimidate the harasser, because this has the potential to escalate the problem. Act as an ally for allies.

Being an ally for others...
If you witness people being harassed, help them by being a good ally. Speak up without putting anyone down. Try saying something like, “That’s just mean, there’s no reason to go there,” “ I think that went too far,” or “We don’t say that here.”

You can make similar comments to people who are instigating, saying, “I don’t think that’s funny,” or “That’s just a rumor. Drop it.”

It is especially effective if two or more allies speak up, because it helps prevent the harasser from turning on a single ally.

horizontal rule
[Other Teacher Resources]

Visit Our Online Store