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Practice Saying No

Drug Prevention Activities That Work

Found in: teaching strategies

This article is the second of a four-part series in which Marya Tyler discusses original drug prevention activities that connect with students, are research based, and can be adapted for use at any grade level.

Practice Saying No

ACTIVITY: Role Playing Drug Refusal
(Grades 3-12)

One principle of effective drug prevention education agreed upon by most drug prevention experts, and put forward by The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is the importance of practicing drug refusal. Not every kid finds it easy to say no, in other words, and the ability to refuse a drink, a pill, a toke, has been found to improve with practice. Research also shows that we can achieve some credible success in the classroom through role playing.

1. Set the Stage. Before class, type up a list of at least 30 drug-related scenarios for your students to role play. They should be situations that your students could actually find themselves facing. You only need to type the opening statements, like:

Hey, Tyler, look what I've got. A whole pack of cigarettes and my mom's lighter.

I love the smell of gasoline. Don't you?

Hey, girl, I want you to try these pills. They'll help you relax. You seem nervous.

Get some fellow teachers to help you create these. The more minds, from more diverse backgrounds, the better. Run the list by some young people to make sure the wording will jibe with your students. Cut your typewritten sheet into individual slips and place them in a can.

2. You’re the Bad Guy. Select a student to pick a slip of paper and hand it to you. You start off the conversation by reading this sentence on the paper, in a "bad guy" tone of voice. Be sure that you're not teaching the kids how to be bad. I always make the "bad guy" sound a little bit stupid, not the kind of person they would want to emulate.

The student then -- in his or her own words -- refuses the offer. If students find it relatively easy to say no, try pressuring them. Make it difficult for them to find a way out. Counter their arguments with counter-arguments to make it just as tough as any situation they might encounter in real life. Before they feel overwhelmed, however, it is important for you as bad guy to back off. Even acknowledge that their refusals worked.

3. "Just Say No" and Mean It. There are several keys to teach students about effective refusal. Most important is to say no and mean it. The next most important step is to say no and mean it again and again and again. Teach the children that they can, but they don't have to, give a reason.

That stuff burns out your brain cells.

Cigarettes make your breath smell.

Alcohol is full of empty calories and has been shown to make you fat.

The important thing is for them to realize that they can say no, and still be absolutely cool.

4. Then What? If the student is with a friend, he or she should suggest something fun to do.

Hey, I'm going to ride my bike to the mall. Want to come?

Some drug refusal professionals encourage students to lie, if they need to. I would not advise my students to lie. They might find themselves in an even more difficult spot when the truth comes out.

5. When No Is Not Enough. Teach students what to do if the person continues to heckle them. Have them look the person in the eye, say the name of the person, and say "no" one more time loud and clear. Then leave. Teach them, whenever possible, in every case, to get out of there and alert a trusted adult right away. Most drugs are illegal, and being caught with someone who possesses them can carry severe consequences.

6. Let Students Take Over. After practicing several of these scenes, students may ask to take over the role of bad guy. No problem. Let students play both sides in the temptation/refusal struggle. If a student is having trouble, let him or her call on another student to help. With each practice, you'll see students' refusal skills develop and their confidence build.

7. Finale. Students will want to play the drug refusal role-playing game again and again, and if you have time, let them. Sometimes, when the class feels very confident in their ability to refuse drugs, I like to let the whole class join in at once. I pretend to be a drug user, and start off with a statement like,

Why shouldn't I take drugs? My life sucks anyway.

(At this point, explain that "sucks" is not considered good English, but it is the way that this person talks.) Then let the class talk you out of taking drugs. Give them your hardest arguments. Let them struggle. Gradually, let them see that their arguments are beginning to reach you, and at some point, make the decision to give up drugs. Students will feel the exhilaration of having won an important battle.

You can extend the activity to include other ethical decision-making scenarios, such as those involving cheating, lying, or stealing. I like to tell students that if they get in the habit of making the right choice in small matters, they will also make the right choice when faced with big issues like drugs.

Marya Washington Tyler is a gifted child consultant in Ketchikan, Alaska. She has taught in a one-room school (one year), elementary gifted students K-6 (10 years), and sixth grade (2 years). She is the author of Real Life Math Mysteries, It's Alive!, It's Alive and Kicking, Alien Math, and Extreme Math, all published by Prufrock Press.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Other Articles in This Series

» Dealing with Boredom As an Excuse -- Opening the discussion about drugs and helping students focus on activities other than taking drugs.

» Call In the Reinforcements -- Using older students who do not use drugs as role models.

» Turn Them Loose - Let Them Teach -- Setting up a debate about the hazards of taking drugs.