Peace Education and ELT

<![CDATA[This is a post which has been brewing for some time now and I have taken the opportunity to publish it on this day of September to celebrate the International Day of Peace.

Image source: no attribution required

In my local ELT scene, Greece, many of the ‘givens’ we used to take for granted are no longer true. We used to assume that our learners have the same mother tongue, educational background and religion, similar knowledge bases, social and cultural background, and similar learning habits and difficulties.

These givens have changed drastically in the last 10-15 years. Most mainstream schools and foreign language classrooms are now multicultural, in some areas more so than others. In most cases, educators report that their pupils or students work well together and there are no issues of racism or persecution towards other ethnic groups, but there have been recent instances which have shocked our nation and reports of many more cases of violence that never made the headlines.

So, to the question ‘Is educating for peace really a concern of the foreign language instructor?’  I would reply with a very emphatic ‘Yes!’.

I. Peace Education goals

According to UNESCO, a peace oriented education…

“…..should attempt to reduce the willingness to use violence in individuals and to reveal and remove the infrastructures which cause violence in human relations at all levels of society and amongst nations.”

“ Human rights and an education which has peace as its goal are not a luxury but are at the roots of the mission of an educational institution..”

‘Peace Linguistics’ is a term which appeared in the 90’s for the promotion of peace and human rights at international level and stressed the value of linguistic multilingualism at national and international level.

Within this framework, there is a need to create language attitudes which respect the dignity of individual speakers and speech communities (D.Crystal, 1999).

II.    What does educating for peace involve?

A multitude of interesting articles on the subject can be found easily by searching the world wide web and interested teachers will even find ready made lesson plans on topic areas promoting peace education – more material, it must be said, is available for school teachers rather than for foreign language teachers, but some of the material available for mainstream education can be easily adapted for use in the EFL class.

Educating for Peace requires improvement or development of the following:

  • Becoming a good communicator – improving communication skills
  • Developing the ability to resolve conflicts
  • Improving understanding and developing empathy for others
  • Developing the ability to view issues from a multiple perspective
  • Developing critical thinking

There is also a need for knowing things. Learners who know very little about the world and others will need help with:

  • Improvement of general knowledge
  • Knowledge of the target language community
  • Knowledge of their own country and their own culture
  • Knowledge of cultures other than their own

Finally, educating for peace requires more self-confidence and improvement of self-image in our learners.

The points mentioned above do not go against the principles of any good language programme which, in fact, they themselves include:

  • The development of good communication skills through linguistic means (Grammar, Vocabulary, Pronunciation)
  • Learning about successful interpersonal communication codes   (Discourse Analysis – Pragmatics – Sociolinguistics)

This can be done through many of the well-known and tested in the EFL Classroom communicative activities BUT with a special emphasis on

  • Including more problem solving tasks requiring the development of negotiation skills
  • Better/more careful structuring of the communication process

III. Characteristics of Activities

Activities promoting peace education will have some or all of the following characteristics

A.  Include conflict resolution

Conflict Resolution (in problem solving and negotiation activities) is a skill taught in many disciplines – to business people, to peacemakers, to politicians, to diplomats – and the teaching of it usually follows the steps outlined below:

  1. Definition of the problem to be resolved
  2. Information gathering phase
  3. Processing and understanding information
  4. Discussion and examination of a variety of solutions
  5. Conciliation and negotiation
  6. Negotiations and compromises
  7. Application of solution finally selected
  8. Further work on smoothing out differences to apply solution in a successful way

To those of you who are well-versed in teaching communication skills, especially to business classes, the procedure above may sound almost like your standard lesson plan for case study work and problem solving tasks. It reads very much like a lesson based on Task Based Learning, hence, you would probably have no problem adopting this outlook in your general English lessons as well.

B.  Involve team building/group bonding

Activities fulfilling this criterion will be very similar to activities we use to promote group cohesion, team building and bonding in our classrooms. Such activities will:

  • have subjective rather than objective angles and perspectives
  • stress the common ground rather than the differences
  • avoid stereotypes

Classroom Dynamics by Jill Hadfield, is an excellent source of such activities and contains a wealth of ready made activities most of which can be adapted and used for many different types of lessons.

C.    Promote empathy & a multiple perspective

It is usually true that the less we know about other people the more unlikely it will be that we will feel empathy for them, that we will be able to see things with their eyes, that we will be able to develop some kind of sympathy for their problems and difficulties. For activities to promote peace and collaboration, we should try to find activities which encourage our learners to:

  • Understand ‘others’ and ‘otherness’
  • Understand ourselves through understanding others
  • Acquire an ability to be critical towards ourselves
  • Acquire the ability to view issues and problems from many different angles

Including texts and stories which promote this kind of understanding is a great idea.

Follow up discussions in which the learners are asked to take on different roles and discuss topics from inside a different identity are useful in developing of seeing issues from perspectives other than their own.

D.  Stimulate critical thinking and discussion

No one would deny that critical thinking enhances learning. In addition to this, teachers ought to also encourage and promote the critical cultural awareness which is absolutely essential in a multicultural world from the earliest stages of language learning

  • By including topics of cultural interest in our materials
  • By promoting a critical but constructive attitude

Activities which promote critical thinking would have evaluation as a built in element.  Six useful activities can be found here.

IV. How much can we persist?

It is not only multiculturalism, xenophobia, refugees or immigrants that cause conflict. Tolerance and peace cannot simply be taught through school textbooks but require the creation  of specific attitudes.

Peace does not simply involve the absence of war but includes the concept of peaceful collaboration amongst individuals and groups of different ethnic backgrounds as well as from the same ethnic background.

So it seems that peace education does not just involve the teacher who teaches in multicultural classes. There are micro-cultures even within the same ethnic group who would benefit by learning to collaborate more effectively and by avoiding conflict and violence.

Can English Language Teachers rise to these challenges? I believe they can, and I know many who already have done something about it. Our job, after all, is to teach effective communication skills, and defining our educational objectives in conjunction with peace education objectives is not as difficult as for teachers of other disciplines.

Please Remember

~ Peace does not just mean the absence of war~

~ Teach peace by teaching good collaboration ~

~ Celebrate today every day! ~

What do you think? Do you agree that ELT teachers should be involved in this goal?

What activities have you tried already? Please share in the comments.

Related Articles & Books


  • Peace Education Ning by Classroom 2.0
  • The Dream Mosaic a project in which children from all over the world draw their dreams and upload them to a website. The images uploaded by the children of different nationalities might serve as a great springboard for activities which would fulfill some or all the criteria outline above


28 replies

  1. What a great post! I think we do need to promote empathy, which can be quite tricky because it involves an emotional experience. It involves personalizing what the student goes through. This emotional ground is uncomfortable with many adolescents. I have seen some react strongly by either laughter or flat out refusal to participate. Any suggestions?

    • Shelly,

      My own answer regarding introducing peace ed activities to adolescents is based on common sense rather than a deep analysis of research findings.

      Remember that helping them learn more things about their own culture, other cultures, etc. is perhaps the easiest part and can be stimulated by cultural exchange programmes and classrooms across the world communicating in wikis and nings or similar.

      Teenagers who appear to be unruly and disgruntled tend to do this in order hide many of their own fears, insecurities and emotional turmoil.

      I would begin with team building activities and raising self esteem

      Team building/group cohesion works best if you start on day one! Work especially on trust building but go gently with teens, one step at a time.

      At the same time, I would work on raising self-esteem by whatever means you have as teacher, including praise, avoiding judmental and tactless correction, but also allowing responsibility: peer-teaching each other or small groups (on topics of choice or topics you set) is one great way of doing this.

      All this is preparing the ground for activities which may stimulate more of an emotiomal response and create empathy.

      I recognise the difficulties of doing all this – different areas and different groups will have different issues.

      For example, how can you include peace ed topics into a business English course? Probably not in an overt way, but by training your students be better negotiators and by raising awareness of(and respect towars) the cultures of the co-negotiators you will be doing just that.

      Thanks for commenting and continuing this discussion, Shelly – a short but important question which I hope I have managed to answer in some ways.


  2. Hi Marisa,

    This is an excellent and very worthy post for today and it was a pleasure following from your links across the ‘net (which almost made me forget to come back and say how much I’d enjoyed it!)

    Take care and happy peace-day,


    • Isn’t it just a fascinating topic?

      And isn’t social medial just the right thing which could potentially generate more opportunities for peace ed quests and projects?

      Thank you for reading and commenting, dear Karenne.


  3. Dear Marisa

    What an amazing, thoughtful and well-researched post, which I think should be read by as many people as possible.

    The practical activities promoting peace education you have outlined above provide a very useful checklist for all of us who wish to focus on this particular area, which really is vitally important.

    Wishing you an evening full of peace.


  4. Wow! You must have been reading my mind today! I was overjoyed to meet Indian, Albanian and Ukrainian students in my classes at my new school…this is Greece after all, but as you say..things are changing!

    As i am aware there can be certain stigmas attached to particular nationalities here in the Greek classroom,so today I decided to empathize and ‘boost’ the moral of my ‘foreign’ students by demonstrating to the class the benefit of speaking other languages when it comes English pronunciation. For example, the ‘sh’ sound of my name is easier for an Albanian student than a Greek.
    However, after the class I thought to myself that maybe I had “highlighted the differences in backgrounds” in my attempt to make the non Greeks feel good.
    Peace can only be reached if we understand each other and accept each others differences. This is a difficult one in the classroom as we are aware of racist feelings but maybe we try too hard to overcome them??

    Thanks Marissa for some great links and insights but deep down ,I’M not sure I have the right approach!

    • Well, dear Shaz,

      I know your heart is in the right place but not sure whether what you did might not have generated some antagonistic feelings.

      Have a read of my response to Shelly who is talking about a similar age group – the ideas can also be used with younger students.

      Thanks for sharing this story


  5. Wonderful post with lots of inspiration. We sometimes forget the definition of peace and even how to appreciate it when we have it or not… I am trying my best to help them gain a broader horizon while commenting on various topics.. When they do not respect each other in the class or directly shout their ideas, everything gets complicated like a war scenery. It is just difficult but i think we can handle it after using some tips regularly.

    Thank you for the post. It is my first time here. 🙂

  6. Marisa,

    Great to see someone talking about this – it is a big black hole in education, be it TESOL or just the regular curriculum.

    I really think Peace should be a regular part of the curriculum – like math, science or history. I won’t go into all the “whys” but if we really think about it, education should be transformative or even IS transformative and leaving this out, leaves out a chance to help the world get to a better place. Peace, shouldn’t be an add on and fuzzy thing IMHO.

    Especially so in ELT – where English can bring together different people’s , faiths, cultures. I think we should promote more , the cultural component of language, much like MFL teachers do.

    Thanks for mentioning Project Peace. I’ll be moving it soon from Ning. In their change, they destroyed my Peace Pack page (the materials teachers used to make the videos). I’ve started setting it up on and this gives me a good reminder to finish it and do more!

    I’d also urge all teachers to read Andrew Finch’s paper Promoting Peace in the Classroom. It is superb.


  7. Marisa, what a fantastic post, all of this is so much at the core of teaching, and probably especially language teaching, where understanding and unpacking cultural messages (all kinds of cultures, not just ethnic/national) is so important. And where we can really work on fostreing collaboration and respect.
    Thank you for expressing it so clearly.

  8. One of the most unique and unforgettable conference presentations I’ve ever seen was a presentation titled “Designing an EFL Peace Studies Course” by Charles Kowalski from Tokai University in Japan. It was given at a conference in Taipei, Taiwan in 2008. I’ve found a copy of the handout he presented here:

    It has a number of good suggestions for activities that could be used in a lesson on peace, including discussion topics, readings and films.

    Peace education brings up a lot of subjects (empathy, critical thinking, war, global issues) that can be very useful in promoting discussion in class. However, as Shelly mentioned in her post, some of these topics might not work with adolescent learners.

    • Thanks for this great addition, Hall.

      A typology of activities is very sorely needed. This may help teacher as well as materials writers include more materials in their coursebooks which would promote this goal.


  9. Hi and thank you for this timely post. I’m glad you mention so many different aspects of Peace education, and I’m completely with you on its importance!

    As for adolescents, I think it depends on the angle. It’s easy to get a bit eager and earnest about this, and I’ve often felt that achieving world peace would actually be easier than getting some of my past classes to talk about it. But we mustn’t give up hope! I wrote some activities about this for the Guardian which Onestop has but unfortunately is in the paid section!
    One simple one was to divide the class into two groups. One group gets the sentence Peace is… ; the other group gets Wars start because… Within groups students have to brainstorm as many ways as possible of finishing the sentences. This becomes the starting point for a longer class discussion if you want.

    If anyone wants the others I’d be happy to send on. Thanks Marisa again!

    • Lindsay,

      Thanks for comment and idea for activity. It would be lovely to have a look at the other activities and, if possible, upload them here and link them to this post.

      Adolescents, as I wrote to Shelly above, need a concerted and very systematic approach to peace ed goals, a kind of parallel syllabus which can have linguistic realizations and be in harmony with language goals at each level.

      What about this idea?

      Maybe we should write a coursebook together! 🙂


  10. What a wonderful post Marisa! In times like these we have to take action and do whatever we can. Education is the greatest/most effective way to promote change. The president of my BNC’s board, Professor Francisco Gomes de Matoos, was one of the first people to really believe and fight for “Peace Linguists”. Tomorrow I’m going to dig in and find articles you might enjoy to send your way.

    Thank you for bringing such an important issue up.


    • Thanks for commenting here, Cecilia and welcome to blogging yourself!

      It occurs to me that blogging and the ensuing discussions seem to tie in so nicely to all I have said in my post and thank you for bringing my post to Professor Gmes de Matoos’s attention.


  11. Dear Marisa,
    Applaud your text on Peace Education.
    Wonder if you´re familiar with my work.Please
    google Learning to communicate peacefully.
    In Morton Deutsch et al(2nd ed.,2006),see my chapter
    on Language,Peace,and Conflict Resolution.
    My poems can be downloaded,for free,pdf on Book title:Nurturing Nonkilling:
    a Poetic plantation
    Sunniest regards,Francisco A peace linguist from Recife,Brazil.

    • Dear Professor,

      Thank you so much for your kind feedback to this fledgling text on this important topic.

      Thank you also for the link to Learning to Communicate Peacefully! I am amazed at how much of what I have been thinking and learning I found in your contribution. I have added it to the relater links at the end of my post.

      Thrilled to meet a peace linguist! This is a first!

      Warmest regards from Athens, Greece


  12. Hi Marisa!
    What an amazing post that fosters reflection. As ESL/EFL teachers we help students develop communication skills and values such as respect and politeness should be encouraged. Unfortunately, I don’t have multicultural classes as multiculturalism broadens the mind. Anyway, opinions vary and a moderators we should help our students respect what is different.

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