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This lesson plan on death and dying will provide students with an opportunity to openly discuss the variety of feelings and emotions they may experience when someone or something dies. Students will identify emotions they have experienced and discover that experiencing a wide range of feelings is normal after the loss of someone or something. The teaching methods incorporated in this lesson include lecture, music performance, and small and large group discussions.

Learning objectives

Students will:

  • after listening to the song “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” participate in a class discussion in which they verbally compare their opinions of death with those expressed by Rev. Gary Davis.
  • verbally share emotions felt after their first experience with the death of someone or something.
  • identify and express emotions they have experienced while personally dealing with the death of someone or something, or have observed another experiencing.
  • list and explain factors affecting the length and intensity of grief.
  • define death and share ways of coping with the emotional reaction experienced in facing death.

Teacher planning

Time required

One class period (one hour)

Materials needed

  • overhead and transparencies
  • recording of Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” (Available on many Rev. Gary Davis recordings, including Harlem Street Singer.) Alternatively, recordings of “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” can be found on various Hot Tuna albums.
  • optional: recording of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.” (Available on Eric Clapton Unplugged.)
  • CD player or other means of playing recording for students
  • blank paper — one piece for each student

Pre-activities

  1. Before beginning this lesson, discuss Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of adjustment to death: (1) denial and isolation, (2) anger, (3) bargaining, (4) depression, and (5) acceptance. (For more information, see Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ On Death and Dying.) Physician and pioneering death researcher Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was once asked what memories and concerns are most important to her patients during their final days of life. She explained that the dying often dwell on two aspects of life, their connection with nature and other people. They relive happy memories that involved significant people (frequently involving persons that they knew only briefly many years ago) and pleasant times spent communing with nature (such as summers spent at a lakeside cottage).
  2. Prior to playing the song “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” written by Rev. G. Davis, discuss the following historical information:

    In the early 1900s, black southern bluesmen such as Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt, Robert Johnson, Son House, Blind Blake, Skip James, and others introduced guitarists to what has now become the seminal style in country blues music. The musical style of Reverend Gary Davis (an African American blind bluesman) was a combination of guitar artistry with gospel, blues, and old popular tunes and his songs were recorded from the 1930s through the 1960s. Today, nearly 60 years later, Reverend Gary Davis has emerged as one of the major influences on modern acoustic guitarists such as Taj Mahal. A paucity of biographical information exists on Davis but the content and message of his tunes is a reflection of life during the Depression era and a social commentary on the health status of southern blacks both then and now.

    The song “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” is an expression of attitudes towards death and dying among some members of the African American community during the mid-twentieth century.

Activities

Activity one

  1. Play on a CD, or perform on acoustic guitar, the song “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” by Rev. Gary Davis. This song is an expression of attitudes towards death and dying among some members of the African American community during the mid-twentieth century. Presenting this song may increase the likelihood of students using music as a stress reducer during everyday life and in coping with death.
  2. Optional: Another example is Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven,” a song he wrote and played following the accidental death of his son. According to Clapton, he didn’t intend to publish or record the song until his manager suggested that it could help other grieving parents cope with their children’s deaths.
  3. After playing (or performing) “Death Don’t Have No Mercy,” ask students to respond to two questions:
    • Is there any social message in the song as a result of a particular political or musical period?
    • Does the song promote a better understanding of death?
  4. Assign and explain the following homework assignment, “Death-Related Lyricism in Popular Music”: Find and identify one bereavement-related song whose lyrics refer to the process of dying or death. Answer the following three questions for the chosen song:
    • List the song title/author/album/date recorded. Provide biographical information about the artist/author of the song.
    • Is there any social message in the song as a result of a particular political or musical period?
    • Does the song you’ve chosen promote a better understanding of death? Explain.

Activity two

  1. Tell students that they will be focusing on feelings people experience when someone or something dies. This can be a very sensitive subject for some children, especially if they have recently experienced a loss. It’s important to let students know that if at any point during the lesson they feel overwhelmed or do not wish to respond to a question, they can let the teacher know by saying the word “pass.”
  2. Arrange chairs into a tight circle making sure every person sits within the circle.
  3. Announce that each person in the circle will be asked to complete the following sentences relating to death. Ask students to respond in a thoughtful yet spontaneous fashion. If they prefer to pass on any sentence they may do so by simply saying “pass.”
  4. Read the first statement and ask each student in turn to complete the sentence, when everyone in the circle has responded read the second statement. repeat for each statement.
    1. When I think of death, I think of _____________________.
    2. I was ___ years old when I first experienced death.
    3. My first reaction to death was _______________________.
    4. I would prefer to die at the age of ______.
    5. I would prefer to die as a result of ____________________.
    6. Who will be there at the time of my death? __________________
    7. The greatest fear I have of dying is ______________________.

Activity three

  1. Have each student fold a blank piece of paper into four equal sections, then unfold.
  2. Ask students to write the name, possession, goal, and favorite activity in each square of the four equal sections of the paper as follows:
    • name of best friend
    • most valued possession
    • most important goal, yet to be achieved
    • favorite pastime activity
  3. Instruct students to fold the paper together.
  4. Have the students drop the paper on the floor.
  5. Read the following quotation from Paramahansa Yogananda: “When death comes, all your engagements must be canceled.” Invite students to explain this statement.
  6. Ask students what memories, current endeavors, significant others, and future aspirations are most important to them. Discuss how the knowledge of impending death might change these relationships and goals.
  7. In small groups, have students list three positive ways of coping with death.

Guided practice

Reflect upon the two death-related activities in the lesson. Write down the answer to these questions and then discuss in a large group:

  • What are you thinking and feeling right now?
  • What are advantages and disadvantages in preparing for death and dying?
  • Do you believe death and dying activities can reduce stress? Why or why not?
  • Is it possible to intentionally incorporate preparing for death into your daily life?
  • What are benefits to listening to music with death and dying themes as a way of coping with death and stress reduction?

Independent practice

Media like books and TV shows can help us cope with death. Movies like The Lion King, in which the main character, Simba, loses his father can help children understand that death is an eventual and natural process.

Independent activity: Watch the comedy film Only the Lonely. The film is about Danny Muldoon (John Candy), a Chicago policeman, who falls in love with a mortician Theresa Luna (Ally Sheedy), who works in her family’s funeral home. Question: Can movies help us cope with death and dying? If so, how?

Closure

  1. Ask students: What one thing did you learn from this lesson that can help us cope with death and dying?
  2. Point out the variety of emotions that people have associated death and dying. Ask students if all of those emotions are natural or if there are certain feelings they should experience when someone or something dies. (Note: Make sure all students are aware that the variety of emotions is natural and that it is important for them to talk about these feelings and share them with someone they can trust. Answer any questions students may have.)
  3. End the lesson by reading a quotation from Carlos Two Bears Ashe, a Native American Elder. “When an elder’s life has been prepared for old age and the crossover to the spirit world, it is not their decline in life that it reveals, it is the gift of the first few days of immortality that we are given to see.” Carlos Two Bears Ashe, D.D. (Native American Elder). For further discussion, ask students the following questions:
    • Why is it so difficult for most people to contemplate their own death?
    • What steps need to be taken to prepare us for death?
    • What is the role of religion and spirituality in end-of-life care among the various religious traditions in America?
    • After the body has expired, how do the celebrations and rituals in Native American cultures compare with those of other religions and traditions with which you’re familiar?

Assessment

Students will have completed the activities when they are able to:

  • describe Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s five stages of adjustment to death
  • contribute to the response lists of questions

To assess the degree to which students comprehended the content of this lesson, consider using written assignments or written quizzes. In addition, students can be assessed by responding to critical thinking questions during the lesson. One or two responses to any of the questions may be a reasonable requirement.

References

  • Kubler-Ross, E. Death: The Final Stage of Growth. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1975.
  • Kubler-Ross, E., & D. Kessler, Life Lessons. New York: Scribner, 2001.
  • Mitka, M, “Suggestions for Help When the End is Near,” Journal of the American Medical Association, 284 (2000), 2441-2442.

For further reading

  • Allen, J. (Ed.), Using Literature to Help Troubled Teenagers Cope With End-of-Life Issues. Westport, Ct: Greenwood Press, 2002.
  • Hughes, L., You are Not Alone: Teens Talk about Life After the Loss of a Parent. New York: Scholastic Press, 2005.
  • Schaefer, D. & C. Lyons, How Do We Tell the Children? A Step-by-Step Guide for Helping Children Two to Teen Cope When Someone Dies (3rd ed). New York: New Market Press, 2001.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Healthful Living (2010)
      • Grades 9 - 12

        • 9.MEH.1Create positive stress management strategies. 9.MEH.1.1 Identify the body's physical and psychological responses to stressful situations and positive coping mechanisms. 9.MEH.1.2 Plan effective methods to deal with anxiety.

    • Music Education (2010)
      • Beginning Music

        • B.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. B.CR.1.1 Use music to explore concepts in world history and relate them to significant events, ideas, and movements from a global context. B.CR.1.2 Understand the relationships...
      • Intermediate Music

        • I.CR.1 Understand global, interdisciplinary, and 21st century connections with music. I.CR.1.1 Use music to explore concepts of civics and economics (such as systems, functions, structures, democracy, economies, and interdependence). I.CR.1.2 Understand the...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Healthful Living Education (2006)

Grade 9–12

  • Goal 1: The learner will develop knowledge and skills to enhance mental and emotional well-being.
    • Objective 1.03: Depict the body’s physical and psychological responses to stressful situations and identify positive coping methods.