Role Play “How to Say No” Lesson Plan

By Victoria Mills and Kathy Leichter

The Role Play “How to Say No” lesson plan is based on footage that was not included in the documentary Like Any Other Kid but provides an up-close look at a role playing group activity with youth and staff in a secure detention facility. We offer several activities that could be paired with the video, which provides an opportunity to reflect on how role-playing can help incarcerated youth navigate returning to their communities. Upon return, youth are constantly encountering their old challenges, so being able to say no and stand firm is a skill that they need in order to succeed in this environment. Setting basic boundaries is something staff can model, so that youth can practice facing what awaits them after release.

Welcome and Check-In (10-15 minutes)
A check-in can help to make people in a classroom feel more cohesive as a group and set the stage for a more comfortable, relaxed atmosphere. For this activity, the facilitator poses a question to which everyone, including the facilitator, responds. Some examples of questions are “How are you feeling?” “What is your favorite song?” “What is your favorite color?” “Cartoon character?” “Movie star?” A check-in allows students to open up and speak from a more personal perspective while they also learn something about others in the group. By taking the "temperature" of a group, a check-in can build a sense of community and has the potential to help the group feel more connected while providing insight and humor. This activity is also a form of experiential learning: students engage in an activity done by youth in facilities that use the Missouri Approach, which underscores that, in fact, there are similarities between the students in the classroom and the students in the facility, who are “like any other kid.”

Watch the video (7:49 minutes)
This video takes place in an all-male facility in Bridge City, Louisiana, and shows a group exercise in which the staff help the boys role-play situations they might face after returning to their communities. This playful interaction between youth and staff can help the boys see what realities they may face when they go home and the difficulties they may encounter with their peers.

To access this clip, use the following information:
Password: mysi

At the end of the video there are five discussion questions. While these prompts may be useful, if educators are pressed for time, we recommend working on the activities below instead.

Small Group Discussion Activity (at least 20 minutes)
This activity places students in small groups, so everyone has a chance to contribute and reflect on what they saw in the video based on these discussion questions:

Short Writing Activity and Discussion (about 60 minutes)
In many states, when a young person is released from a facility they have a record of being incarcerated, which can be an obstacle when trying to get a job. In the video, Ms. Atkins refers to this as a problem she does not want the youth to have: a negative long-term consequence for their future.

Whole Group Discussion Activity 
Ask students to read “The Police, Black and Hispanic Boys: A Dangerous Inability to Mentalize” (Vaughans and Harris 2016).

Hold a discussion about society’s, and in particular law enforcement’s, inability to mentalize Black and Hispanic youth, which is the ability to imagine what others may be feeling, thinking, or experiencing. Educators can explore how the information in the article offers context for the role play shown in the short video as well as how this applies to other marginalized communities.

Works Cited

Tiegan, Anna. 2016. “Automatically Sealing or Expunging Juvenile Records.” National Council of State Legislatures, July 1

Vaughans, Kirkland C., and Lisa Harris. 2016. “The Police, Black and Hispanic Boys: A Dangerous Inability to Mentalize.” Journal of Infant, Child, and Adolescent Psychotherapy 15, no. 3 (September): 171-78.

Victoria Mills, director/producer, is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and full-time, practicing psychoanalyst in New York City. Her previous film directing credits include Mothers and Daughters: Mirrors That Bind and Hidden Battles, both of which traveled the national and international festival circuits and had successful impact initiatives with women and girls, and veterans and peace organizations respectively. As an analyst with over 30 years of experience, Victoria has worked extensively with adolescents and adults, including those who have experienced trauma. She is a training analyst, former faculty member, lecturer, and member of the International Psychoanalytic Association, the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis. In conjunction with her films, she leads workshops with universities, national organizations, and grassroots community groups. She is currently working on her fourth film.

Kathy Leichter is an award-winning documentary producer, director, engagement strategist, and impact producer with over thirty years working in film and television. She has extensive experience designing and implementing successful outreach and engagement campaigns for documentaries and has produced over 1,000 impact events (in-person and virtual) across the country on issues including racial and economic justice, climate change, mental health, women, civil discourse, juvenile justice, and Jewish identity. Leichter directed and produced A Day’s Work, A Day’s Pay, in association with the Independent Television Service, which follows three welfare recipients in New York City, and designed and directed the film’s 5-year audience engagement campaign. Her most recent film, Here One Day, about mental illness and suicide in Leichter’s family, premiered at IDFA, won Best Documentary and the Jury Prize at the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, and is now the centerpiece of a national screening initiative that Leichter designed and currently directs.