“Restorative Justice” Student Writing Lesson

Do teachers and administrators at your school discipline students with dignity? Or with disrespect?

The YES! Magazine article, “Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment,” by Fania Davis, is a story about using restorative justice in school in lieu of zero-tolerance punishment. Fania Davis shows how giving a student the chance to tell his or her story can help teachers and administrators get to the root of a behavioral problem, and ultimately keep kids in school and out of jail.

Students will use Fania Davis’ story to write about how restorative justice can help resolve conflicts and heal those who have been harmed.

Download lesson as a PDF.

YES! Magazine Article and Writing Prompt

Read the article: “Discipline With Dignity: Oakland Classrooms Try Healing Instead of Punishment” by Fania Davis.

Writing Prompt: Describe a memorable example of when you or someone you know was disciplined at school. Was everyone given the chance to tell his or her story? Imagine you have the talking piece. What would you say to the teachers or school administrators involved about how the situation was handled? What would you say to teachers and school administrators in general to encourage them to treat all students with genuine dignity and respect?

Writing Guidelines

The writing guidelines below are intended to be just that—a guide. Please adapt to fit your curriculum.

    • Provide an original essay title
    • Reference the article
    • Limit the essay to no more than 700 words
    • Pay attention to grammar and organization
    • Be original. provide personal examples and insights
    • Demonstrate clarity of content and ideas

This writing exercise meets several Common Core State Standards for grades 6-12, including W. 9-10.3 and W. 9-10.14 for Writing, and RI. 9-10 and RI. 9-10.2 for Reading: Informational Text.*

*This standard applies to other grade levels. “9-10” is used as an examples.

Evaluation Rubric

Sample Essays 

The essays below were selected as winners for the Spring 2014 Student Writing Competition. Please use them as sample essays or mentor text. The ideas, structure, and writing style of these essays may provide inspiration for your own students’ writing—and an excellent platform for analysis and discussion.

Understanding Punishment by Reagan Elliff, Grade 7

Read Reagan’s essay about how her defensive karate skills helped her classmate get the help he needed.

Voiceless Youth on a Dead End Path by Simone Phillips, Grade 12

Read Simone’s essay that illustrates how listening to all points of view could have given her brother the help he needed much sooner—and saved her family months of worry

The Punitive Blanket by Matt Flagg, Cascadia Community College

Read Matt’s essay about the injustices a childhood friend endured and why he felt students didn’t stand up for him.

Restorative Justice Gone Wrong by Kayla Rice, Grade 11

Read Kayla’s essay that illuminates what can happen when a school fails to fully commit to using restorative justice practices.

Restorative Justice: Taking Matters into Other’s Hands By Sohee Lee, Grade 8

Read Sohee’s essay about how her ethnically divided community could come together if it used restorative justice circles.

Read response from author Fania Davis to student essay winners.

We Want to Hear From You!

How do you see this lesson fitting in your curriculum? Already tried it? Tell us—and other teachers—how the lesson worked for you and your students.

Please leave your comments below, including what grade you teach.

Inspiration in Your Inbox

Get the free daily newsletter from YES! Magazine:
Stories of people creating a better world to inspire you and your students.

Sign Up