Lesson Plan Guide: On The Brink - Managing Stress

By Matt Andrews

GRADES: 9-12
CONTENT AREAS: Advisory, Careers, Homeroom, English, Social Studies, Health


  • Students will reflect upon their own experiences of stress
  • Students will discuss strategies to cope with stress
  • Students will identify habits of productive work and effective stress release


PS: A1.10 Balance between work and leisure time

PS: B1.2 Understand consequences of decisions and choices

PS: C1.5 Differentiate between situations requiring peer support and situations requiring adult professional help

PS: C1.6 Identify resource people in the school and community and know how to seek their help

C: C1.5 Describe the effect of work on lifestyle


No special prior knowledge is necessary to complete the lesson.


Paper and pencils for writing


This lesson integrates personal reflection with group discussion to focus on key points about dealing with stress as a teen. By the end of the lesson, students should be able to identify when they experience stress as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger, and also be able to identify effective coping strategies to release their stress.


Students write a personal action plan that explains how they will balance productive work with effective stress release. The content of these plans does not need to be read by the instructor, only that the students are engaging in the planning process and have something written by the end of the period.

The best assessment is for students to re-read this plan in a few months. Have students save the plans in a safe place until a specified date, and then have students self-evaluate their behavior against their plan.


1. Read the article “On the Brink” (5 minutes)

Instruct students to independently read the article, and inform them that understanding the article is necessary for further discussion and activities. Encourage students to use a pencil to mark important information in the reading and make any notes in the margins.

2. Reflect on personal experiences of stress (5 minutes)

Instruct students to write their own definition of stress on a piece of paper, and then to list 5-10 stressful experiences in their life. Remind students that all written information does not need to be shared with the class, but identifying personal experiences of stress in one’s life will make the lesson’s learning more useful.

Students may write down stress experienced in current daily life or major stressful moments. The overall goal of these reflections is for students to have strategies to manage stress in their own lives.

3. Discuss as a group: What is stress? (15 minutes)

Use examples of stress from the article students read to create common reference points throughout this discussion. The discussion will be enriched by students’ own definitions and experiences.

These students’ definitions will vary, but be sure to highlight two definitional matters of stress:

The emotional experience of stress as fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger. As each common emotional experience is identified in the discussion, the instructor may instruct students to personally reflect on their list of 5-10 stressful experiences.

The difference between chronic stress and acute stress. The sentence in the article that says, “Persistent and ongoing stressors are often harder on adolescence than major life events are,” is important for students to understand.

4. Reflect on personal experiences of chronic and acute stress (5 minutes)

Instruct students to privately read their lists of 5-10 stressful experiences, and then to re-describe the stressful experiences using insight gleaned from the discussion. Students should identify specific emotions experienced, and also instances of chronic and acute stress.

The goal of this reflection is for each student to privately identify stress in their lives, nothing written needs to be shared, but instructors should monitor student reactions and engagement.

5. Identify strategies to cope with both chronic and acute stress (5 minutes)

To continue reflection about personal stressors, instruct students to write the coping mechanisms they use to address the stress in their lives. Students may need a brief explanation of a coping mechanism; encourage them to think about:

  • How do you react in stressful situations?
  • How do you deal with stress?
  • The most important question is: What strategies do you use to effectively manage stress in your life?

6. Discuss coping mechanisms for chronic stress (20 minutes)

As a group, identify or create two examples that are associated with two different attitudes in life. In the article, “On the Brink,” a student says she switched from an attitude of “don’t be stupid” to one of “please everyone.” These two attitudes are associated with different kinds of stress, fears, etc.

Spend a few minutes making this example real for students, and encourage the group to further develop the stories to explain attitudes of “don’t be stupid,” “please everyone,” and other goals in life.

Eventually, the group should create two examples of students with certain attitudes in life, and a list of stressful experiences associated with this attitude. The main idea of this brainstorm is to create two simple stories of students who are working to accomplish something in life; the stories should become complex where “finishing high school” is part of a specific goal of the attitude of “don’t be stupid.”

Ask for volunteers to write brief descriptive notes about the two students on the board. Embellish these examples with humor or style or something that is not as related to the stressful situation; this will lighten the atmosphere for discussion.


Make sure to incorporate complex desires of avoiding failure on a hard test by spending time talking to your date about the upcoming dance. The tension each fictitious student faces is key to the story; the whole group should agree that the two examples are exaggerated, dramatized versions with a few real examples of stress in teenagers’ lives.

Once the major stressors are identified within the two examples, the group should brainstorm strategies for each student to deal with these complex stressors. Instructors, be mindful of including strategies that address emotions of fear, anxiety, sadness, and anger, as well as labeling chronic and acute stress throughout the discussion.

This discussion could elaborate on two specific strategies mentioned in the article:

  • Problem solving to change the situation or eliminate it rationally
  • Learning to manage emotions

These are two strategies mentioned to help cope with stress, and these abstract strategies often require some discussion for the group to reach a common understanding. Highlight different situations that are best addressed by peer support, family support, and professional adult support.

The purpose of this discussion is to identify effective strategies for the two fictitious students to use to cope with stress in their lives.

7. Write a brief plan of action that balances work with healthy habits of stress release (10 minutes)

Conclude the lesson on stress management, by instructing students to write down a weekly plan on how they will manage and cope with stress they face in life. Of course, individual plans will vary, but encourage every student to privately identify their most stressful times during the week, and to write down a few strategies they will use to cope with these stressors.

Focus the creation of this plan on identifying time to work hard, do your best, be a team player, fulfill responsibilities, etc., and at the same time to find time to relax, rest, and release stress. Some stressful situations can be avoided more easily than others while a few stressful situations, such as graduating high school, require more sophisticated planning and coping strategies.

At the end of the period, instructors could check to see that students have written on pages, but there is no need to read personal content.


On the Brink

About the Author

Matt Andrews