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Words Matter

Goal: To explore descriptive versus judgmental language, in order to help students respond effectively to targets of bullying seeking help.

Materials:
  • Notecards

Activity

In responding to targets of bullying who come to you for support or help, it’s important to use non-judgmental language. In addition, training students to use descriptive rather than judgmental language will help students support others.

  1. Inform students that one of the presenters is going to leave the room and when he or she comes back, the students should observe his or her behavior as closely as possible.
  2. When the presenter returns, he or she will do some obviously bizarre or inappropriate things, such as swiping someone’s book off their desk, interrupting another presenter loudly, eating something obnoxiously, etc.
  3. Ask the students to write on a note card what behavior they observe. Collect the cards and read them aloud.
  4. Explain the difference between descriptive and judgmental language.
    1. Judgmental language conveys a decision about whether something is negative or positive, bad or good.
    2. Descriptive language conveys just the facts of what happened or what something/someone looked like.
    3. Example: after witnessing someone raising their voice to a friend in the hallway…
      1. Descriptive – “He yelled at her.”
      2. Judgmental – “He was a jerk to her.”
  5. Have students stand up when they hear descriptive language and sit down when they hear judgmental language.
  6. Remind students that empathetic language, or the language they should use when talking to someone who’s been bullied, is always descriptive, not judgmental. You may want to use these discussion questions:
    1. How would you feel if you heard judgmental language directed at you?
    2. What are some situations in which you can practice using descriptive rather than judgmental language?
    3. Why do you think judgmental language is harmful?

Adapted from: http://www.originsonline.org/newsletters/winter-2008-dd/teaching-empathy-young-adolescents