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Decision-Making and Alcohol

Context for this Lesson


TOPIC: Choices around alcohol

GRADE: 9th-10th


  • How do we think critically about making choices?
  • How do we synthesize information and apply critical thinking and problem-solving skills to make healthy choices?



§115.32 Health 1, Grades 9-10

  • (16) Personal/interpersonal skills. The student synthesizes information and applies critical-thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving skills for making health-promoting decisions throughout the life span.

§117.64. Theatre, Level I

(c) Knowledge and skills.

  • (1) Perception. The student develops concepts about self, human relationships, and the environment, using elements of drama and conventions of theatre. The student is expected to:
    • (A) improvise, using emotional and sensory recall;
    • (B) develop and practice theatre preparation and warm-up techniques;


  • Space on a board or a large piece of paper
  • Markers or chalk to write on board or paper
  • Post-it notes (one for each participant)


"Today we’re going to be looking at how we make decisions, specifically around alcohol. I have some statements to read that I would like you to respond to. There are no wrong answers. These statements require yes, no or maybe responses. When you are seated, like you are now, this is our “no” position." Have the students stand up next to their desks. "When you are standing, this is our “yes” position." Have everyone bend their knees and shape their bodies in a position, almost like they are surfing. And this is our “maybe” or “sometimes” response.

  • Teens drink alcohol.
  • Teens drink alcohol because they believe it will help them make friends.
  • Teens think it’s okay to drink alcohol as long as you don’t drive a car.
  • Teens drink alcohol because it’s safer than other drugs.
  • Teens think alcohol is safe because it is legal.
  • Advertisements for alcohol are based in truth and grounded in reality.
  • This country’s drinking age is too high.

Processing the activity:

  • What did you notice about yourself during this activity?
  • What did you notice about the whole group during this activity?
  • Besides the ideas we just discussed, what other reasons might explain why teenagers drink alcohol?
  • Where do teens get their information? Which factors influence teens the most in making decisions around alcohol use?


"Now that we’ve thought about some of the possible reasons behind teenage alcohol use in general, let’s get more specific. We are going to look at a particular character and the specific factors that might be influencing their decision-making process."



Draw a simple outline of a person on the board. "This is the typical teenager in America named Jo. We’re going to put this teen in a specific situation. Jo is at a party at a friend’s house after the high school football team just won a big game. Jo walks into the house, and there’s a lot of music, lots of people and no parents around, but there is alcohol. Jo walks through the party and finally finds her best friend, who is sitting with a large group of people who are all drinking. The friend starts dragging Jo to the kitchen to get a drink because the friend is sure it will make Jo more relaxed, more cool and have more fun at the party." After setting up this story, ask the class if this scenario is realistic or not. If not, take suggestions from the class on how to make it more realistic.

"Let’s make a list of the people in Jo’s life that might have an opinion about their drinking choices." Make a list on a separate section of the board or another piece of large paper. Then hand out a post-it to each student. "On your post-it I would like you to write down something that one of these individuals might say to Jo about the choice they should make at this party. Put your message in quotes and label your paper with the name of the person (friend, coach, teacher, parent, etc.) so we know who is saying it." Give students a moment to do this. When everyone is done, go back to the outline of Jo. Establish one side of the outline for the pro-drinking messages and the other for the anti-drinking messages. Invite students to choose the appropriate place for the message on their post-its.

  • What do you notice about the messages and where they’re placed?
  • Where do you see similarities on either side of the person outline? Which influential people appear on both sides?
  • Is there anything missing from this that you would like to add?

"Looking at all of these messages, what might Jo be thinking?" Write down the character’s thoughts on the inside of the outline.


"Looking at the thoughts we’ve identified inside this character, it seems like Jo is experiencing a lot of inner conflict. (This response could be different depending on what your class comes up with in the previous activity.) Let’s explore this tension further by looking at the different opinions that friends might have about Jo’s decision-making." 


Moving to an open space in the room, establish one end of the room as the friend who thinks Jo should drink at this party and the other end of the room as the point of view of the friend who thinks Jo shouldn’t drink. In the middle of these two is Jo’s space. Have the class number off to divide them into three groups. Send the number ones to one end, the twos to the other end and the threes to the middle. "Let’s go back to that party where Jo is trying to make a decision about drinking. These two friends at either end of the room are competing for Jo’s attention. In a moment, the two groups at either end of the room will get a chance to confer with each other about how to convince Jo to do what they think they should. And the friends in the middle who are in Jo’s shoes: your job is to listen to each side’s argument and decide if it is convincing. If you are convinced, you can move closer to that group. Each person in the middle gets to decide individually (in character as Jo) about where to move based on the most convincing statements." Impress upon the students who are at either end of the continuum that they must find REALISTIC ways to convince this character. (Give an example of an unrealistic tactic: “I’ll give you a million dollars if you don’t drink that beer” to demonstrate this.) Give the groups at the ends of the continuum a minute or so to strategize together. Then have each side take turns attempting to convince the people in the middle to come over to their side. If something is very convincing, the people in the middle should feel free to move more than one step. Let this play out for a little while, or until the players in the middle end up at one side or the other. If desired, give the groups the opportunity to rotate so that each person gets to play all three characters.

Processing the activity:

  • Based on the movement of the people in the middle, what were some of the most convincing statements?
  • Think about your experience as Jo. How did you feel during this activity? What about the statements made you change your position on the continuum?
  • What advice would you give to Jo about this decision?



  • What are the different sources of information and influence that Jo is receiving in this situation that are in conflict with one another?


  • How could Jo reconcile these conflicting messages?


  • Today we’ve explored the process of making decisions and the different factors that influence those choices. What are other difficult decisions teenagers have to make? How do we find ways to take power over our own choices?


Form a standing circle and invite the class to think back over today’s activities and discussions and choose one word or phrase that they will take away from the class. Go around the circle and have each person share that word or phrase from the day, followed by the phrase “It made me think.”