Grades 6–12: Grief Maps Activity

Teachers are in a unique position to witness children struggling with grief. Whether a student has lost a parent, sibling, grandparent, or another relative, or if the student is struggling with loss on a larger scale, he or she needs opportunities to express his or her feelings and learn about how to cope with grief.

This classroom activity—provided by New York Life Foundation in partnership with Scholastic—is designed to help educators support grieving students by helping them learn how to discuss grief and discover avenues to manage grief. This activity is intended as a resource that teachers can draw on when they encounter grief in the classroom.

This activity may be used:

  • In a small support group of teens who may have experienced grief
  • As part of a health and/or life skills curriculum
  • As a creative activity to gain a deeper understanding of literature that touches on death or loss

Before using this activity, you may choose to review expert advice regarding grief by clicking the following links:

Review the book list at the bottom of the activity for more grief resources.

Preview the videos in the Children & Grief library that profile people involved in grief support organizations at Select the clips that best communicate the emotions and behaviors associated with grief. Although these short videos focus on grief support organizations, the children and families interviewed describe some of the different ways that people grieve.

Tell students they will be watching a few video clips about grief. Instruct students to listen for the following information:

  • What are some emotions and behaviors grieving children feel?
  • What are some tips that help children deal with grief?
  • How do children's relationships with their friends and families change when they experience grief?
  • What is the impact of grief in some children's lives?

Explain that the people interviewed in the videos will share information about grief from multiple perspectives: from the perspective of young children, teens, and parents, as well as adults who work with grieving children. The videos provide an overview of the emotional impact grief has on children, tips for dealing with grief, and relationship and behavioral changes caused by grief.

Can students make any connections between what they have seen in the videos and personal experiences with grief or examples of grief from film and literature? Tell them to record anything they thought was unique, interesting, or memorable.

Spark a discussion of the topics that the videos touched on by asking students to share what they thought was noteworthy. You may choose to discuss as a class or break off into small groups. The points to be covered in the discussions are:

  • What do students know about grief and what are some of the behaviors and feelings related to grief? Make sure they consider both physical and emotional responses to grief (e.g., denial; emotional numbness; anger, irritability, and episodic rage; fear and anxiety; confusion; difficulty sleeping; physical complaints such as "stomachaches" or headaches; changes in appetite)
  • Differences between grieving for an individual person or after a major event such as a natural disaster or school violence.
  • What are some of the avenues for dealing with grief?
  • Why is it important to explore emotions related to grief? What happens when people don't have the opportunity to express grief?

Print out resource articles from the "Death and Grief" page on the TeensHealthTM site:

Instruct students to highlight any facts or information that they feel are important to understanding grief. Make sure they have collected information on the following topics:

  • What is grief?
  • What are some of the physical and emotional reactions people have to grief?
  • What do people do about grief? What can they do to heal?

Pass out large sheets of paper and direct students to separate into groups of three or four. Tell them that they will use their notes to plan out a grief map. This map should show the "terrain" or "landscape" of grief. Explain that geographic maps detail geographic features, landmarks, and places of interest. Their grief maps will use the design of a geographic map to illustrate some of the challenges that a grieving person may encounter. Ask students to include the following elements on their maps:

  • Caption: Create a profile of a person who is experiencing grief, including such details as age, relationship to the person who died, and surviving family members. Keep this person in mind as you are developing the various locations on the map.
  • Grief Challenges: Draw three to five locations on the map that represent different emotional and behavioral changes a grieving person may experience.
  • Trigger Points: Draw three to five locations on the map that represent items, experiences, or moments (times of day, holidays, events) that trigger a grieving person to remember the person they are missing.
  • Grief Support: Draw three to five locations on the map that represent experiences that help the grieving person learn to deal with his or her feelings and help heal.

As students are planning their maps, guide students to consider:

  • What colors they are using in reference to different behaviors and emotions.
  • What icons they can develop to signal that a location is an emotional challenge or behavioral change, a trigger, or an example of support.
  • How they can include weather—rain, snow, hurricanes, earthquakes—at different points on the map to represent emotions and behavior.
  • How can they use geographic features—mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys, deserts—to represent emotions and behavior.

When the maps have been planned out, provide students with large pieces of paper, pencils, and markers, oil pastels, or color pencils to make their final maps.

Have students write a few paragraphs based on what they learned about grief from this unit. Possible topics and writing approaches are:

  • Fictional stories about someone who is grieving, with plot points that correspond to the elements of grief they learned about
  • Essays that discuss important facts about grief, persuade adults about the importance of grief education, or suggest activities and attitudes they think can support grieving students


For Educators

For Students

For a list of novels about grief for teens and reference books for parents, click here.

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