Challenge Your Students with

by Charis Denison

This is #11 of an ongoing series of discussion starters from the case files of Charis Denison. The situations presented are very real and are changed monthly. Please try them out with your students and share your results with us. You can find the complete archive of dilemmas here.

(present this to your students)

Sam knew something was weird the second he got to class on Tuesday morning. He saw kids whispering and pointing at him. Some were looking at him funny. He sat down next to his best friend and picked up the graded report the teacher, Mr. Crosby, had graded over the weekend. Sam looked at the ” A-“ and forgot about the rest of the class for a minute. He had worked hard at that report and was thrilled it had paid off. He looked up and saw a bunch of kids staring at him. While the teacher cleaned up the white board, Sam whispered to Dylan, “ What’s going on?” Dylan, looked down and said quietly, “Conner told everyone you copied your report from the internet.” “ But, that’s a lie!” Sam said. “I never cheat and everyone knows it.” He was hurt and angry. He couldn’t focus the rest of the morning in class.

At recess he went up to Conner and asked him if he had really told everyone he had cheated. “ It’s no big deal,” Conner scoffed. “ I only told a few people. Lighten up. It was just a joke.” Sam turned and walked away. He wanted to yell at Conner, or hit him, or something. He just wanted to make Conner feel as bad as Conner had made him feel.

For the next two days, Sam avoided Conner but Sam and Dylan made up as many lies as they could think of about Conner to get back at him. They told kids that he was jealous of anyone who did well in school because he almost failed fourth grade last year. They told the girl Conner liked that he still wet his bed sometimes. But it wasn’t helping. Sam was still just as mad at Conner. In fact, all he thought about now was Conner and what he had done.

On Friday, Mr. Crosby had all three boys stay to talk with him during recess. He told them they had until the end of recess to work out whatever it was that was going on between them. If they had not all forgiven each other by the end of recess, they had to go to the principal’s office. Then Mr. Crosby left the classroom.

The three boys stared angrily at each other waiting for someone to say something. Sam didn’t know what to say. All he knew was that he was tired of being mad and hurt. What could he do to make it stop? And what did Mr. Crosby mean by all forgive each other?

For an archive of previous dilemmas, click here.

(this is for you)

The idea of forgiveness is a tricky one for all young people, but especially elementary age kids. They don’t have sufficient experience to understand how forgiving someone can actually make YOU feel better. The act of letting go of negative thoughts and actions is a challenge for young kids and teens because the drama and emotion truly suck them in and they lose perspective. Once that happens, pride locks them in. Often they see no real way out. They need help understanding and discussing the concept of forgiveness. They need help to see that they have the power within themselves to achieve peace again, not the person who hurt them.

Often, parents and teachers ask me if I think younger kids can really grasp this concept. As most of you know, they can. It is the lack of discussing this concept of forgiveness that is the obstacle. I think younger kids actually “get it” better than the teens (or adults). And if we bring this topic to the proverbial table more frequently, and make it more real for the younger kids, perhaps it will make the soap operas of the high school years more manageable.

(also, debate topics, writing assignments, etc.)

  • Do you think all three boys need to apologize? Why or why not?
  • Who do you think is the most guilty of doing wrong. Why?
  • Do you think it will improve their friendship if Sam forgives Conner?
  • Have you ever been in a position like this? What happened? Would you make the same choices if you were in the position again?
  • Is there someone in your life right now that you might need to forgive for something?
  • What does it feel like to forgive someone? Why do you think that is?


SHARE YOUR RESULTS WITH US. How did your students resolve this dilemma? Did anything surprising happen? Tell us about your discussion and we may publish your comments. Click here to send us an email.


For some very helpful articles about conducting productive, lively, meaningful classroom discussions (including Socratic method), click here.


For an archive of dilemmas, click here.


For some excellent character education videos and DVDs that will give your students a lot to think about, talk about, and write about, visit Live Wire Media.


haris (KAIR-iss) Denison, founder of Prajna Consulting, is an expert in Community Involvement, Human Development, and Ethics.  She has built her experience primarily by working with schools and non-profits for the past 15 years.

After initially teaching middle and high school English and Creative Writing, Charis began to develop curricula and publish articles related to social justice, ethics, human development, community involvement, and experiential education.  She has received national recognition for her work in those fields, as well as for her community-based work with American teens and Tibetan refugees in Central Asia.

Charis co-wrote Tolerance for Others, a middle school human development text, with Leni Wildflower.  She currently works as the national Service-Learning consultant for the Durango Institute for Co-Curricular Education.

Charis also teaches at Marin Academy in San Rafael, California, and runs Prajna Consulting.  Through Prajna she consults with schools, parents, students, and businesses both organizationally and individually.  Charis also facilitates workshops and speaks on a wide variety of topics.

Charis can be reached at:


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