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Build resilience

When is the best time to think about what to do in a crisis? Hint: it's not while it's happening.

That's the driving principle behind these practical approaches to building resilience. Students and teachers together reflect, explore and experiment with responses to some form of crisis.

Use them in tutor time, set them for homework. Repeat them at intervals and note how resilience and confidence build. Don't forget to log them as evidence of SMSC development.

Age range: 11–16
Curriculum links: PSHE

Read the teacher’s notes.



It is bitterly cold after a fall of snow. You need to get somewhere, but the buses aren’t running. Your friend suggests cycling.

Is it safe to cycle? Will you be able to control a slide? Snow is hard work to cycle through, and may hide ice, potholes or kerbs from view.

Would you risk it? What changes would you make to the route, riding style or anything else to increase control and reduce the risk of a fall and broken bones?

No common language

You’re in a foreign country. There’s urgent paperwork to be done. But the officials don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs.

You are keen to avoid delay. How can you complete the forms without a common language? Be creative.

Migrants in Calais found a technological solution. They used a translation app on their phones.

Think of a situation where that might be useful to you. Practise using a translation app to get familiar with how it works.


Evacuation and disability

Following reports of a “suspect device” the police have asked everyone in a 100 metre radius to leave their homes. That includes you.

The trouble is, your sister has the developmental disability Asperger syndrome and is very alarmed – frantic with worry. And your dad has an injury and needs crutches to move about.

Staying where you are isn’t an option. But you can’t leave without help. What do you do?

Passenger abuse

You’re on a train. Someone starts directing racially-motivated abuse at another passenger. Everyone looks away.

You’re sitting next to the person being abused. You think that if you talk to her, show friendliness, she may feel a bit better.

But what do you say? How do you make conversation with a stranger in a tense situation? Get together with others and role-play some ideas. Practise chatting; share conversation starters, topics and techniques.

Challenging inaction

You go into a café and find a commotion. A chef’s knife got knocked off the counter. The trainee who instinctively grabbed to catch it now wishes he hadn’t.

There’s a spectacular amount of blood. Various adults are standing around, but doing nothing to stem the flow. They’re debating whether he should go to A&E. But no one is pressing hard on the wound with a tea towel or similar item.

You want to say stop the flow; use pressure with a cloth. What’s your best approach? What words do you use to convince the adults? What tone of voice? If you get rebuffed, what do you do then?

Get over it

Part-way through an important exam, there’s an emergency evacuation. It’s not a drill. Your unfinished exam paper is collected, and you’re told you will be given special consideration – assessed on this, and other exams and relevant coursework.

The exam board advises students affected “not to worry” and concentrate on up-coming exams.

Good advice. But how do you do it? Describe three techniques you might use to take your mind off the incident and focus on the future. How difficult might it be? How could learning from the situation help you in future?

Accidental half-marathon

You’ve signed up for a 5 km family fun race. You’re late, but when you get there the start officials direct you to join up with other runners. After a while, you notice that there’s no one your age around. Someone tells you that the race is a half-marathon—over 13 miles, not the three miles you were expecting.

How do you feel? What do you do?

This happened to 12-year-old LeeAdianez Rodriguez from New York. She finished the race. Exchange other real-life stories of getting into the wrong place - the wrong class, group or meeting. What do you do at the point of realisation? How big a factor is potential embarrassment in what you decide to do?

Smashing windows

You’re working at a fast food restaurant. One evening the manager tells you he’s just had a call from the fire department. “We need to break the windows,” he says. “There’s been a gas leak and this building is now pressurised. It is in danger of exploding any minute”. He instructs you and other staff to go outside and start breaking windows to release the pressure.

How do you respond?

In discussion, point out that this isn’t fanciful. Several restaurants in the US have been caught by a prankster who is being sought by police. Fire departments say they never call people to tell them to damage their property.

Sliding doors

You're in London meeting a visitor from abroad. She's never been to the UK before and her English is hesitant. You meet but there's a mix-up on the tube. She gets on a train and you don't. The doors close. The train moves

What do you do? Wait, in case she comes back? But she'll have to cross platforms, and so will you. You could jump on the next tube and hope she got off at the next station. You could inform London Underground staff. Perhaps they can help. The next move is up to you.

Blown over

Storms have brought high winds. But now it's gusting like you've never seen it before. It's impossible to walk against the wind. It just carries you along. You are sheltering in a shop doorway. Across the road, a young woman is blown onto her back, all her shopping scattered.

What do you do? Do you go to help her? You might yourself be blown over, or into the path of a car.

Would you react differently if she were a young child? Frail and elderly? A friend?

Overcoming overwhelm

"It's all too much. I can't cope." Most people feel overwhelmed by life's challenges at some time. The cause might be pressure of exams, school work, anxiety about the future, family or friendship stresses – or a combination.

What helps you recharge your batteries when you feel exhausted and hopeless? Identify positive steps that can be part of your personal emotional survival plan. List negatives too – things you might stop doing or have a break from. Share with others and ask to hear their techniques.

Get off the bus?

You got on the wrong bus. It takes a while before you realise. You go to the front and tell the driver, who confirms you're miles from where you want to be.

She stops at the next stop to let you get off. But it's deep in the countryside, dark, rainy and you don't know where you are. You could stay on the bus until it gets to a town where there will be more people and better light. Your choice. But be quick, the driver's waiting.

It's in the bag

In a first aid emergency, it’s unlikely you’ll be carrying a kit filled with first aid supplies. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help.

A key to resilience is improvisation. Invite the group to think about the contents of their bag or pockets. What items could they use, at a pinch, to help someone who was ill or injured?

Be inventive. A plastic bag can cover a burn, which could have been cooled by juice or bottled water. A sweet drink could treat a diabetic emergency. A jumper could be used to support a broken bone.What items might young people start to carry with them?

Use our first aid learning for young people online resource to take learning further

Preparing for a burning plane

You're on a plane, on a runway. The pilot brakes, you're thrown forward. You smell burning, you see smoke around the wing. The plane is evacuated.

Focus on how you could make life easier in such an emergency. What essentials would you ensure are in your pockets or handbag, and not stowed in lockers? Would you take better note of emergency procedures and exits? Draw up a list of ideas.

Legal highs

You're preparing to go to a festival with friends. One friend asks if you’ll look after some legal highs for them, because their parents inspect their bag looking for drugs.

How do you respond? Refuse or agree? Give your first reaction. Then think about it some more and work out what potential consequences might come from that decision.

Is the perception of risk different when something is legal, rather than illegal? Why? What are the different consequences with this situation? Encourage young people to think about their health and safety as well as the legality issue.

After a fire

Your younger sister is upset. There was a fire at her primary school where no one was hurt but the building was damaged.

She'll have to attend a temporary school for a while.

People have reassured her it won't be long before everything's back to normal. Some suggest that she thinks of it as a fun adventure. Others point out that it could have been a lot worse.

How would you help your sister cope with this event? What could you say or do?

Spiked drink

You're at a party and people are drinking alcohol. You notice a couple of lads glugging some spirits into the glass of one of the young women. She's already quite drunk.

What do you do? You like these people and want to be friends with them. You don't want them to think you're not cool. But you're seriously worried about what will happen to her if she drinks that amount of alcohol.

Do you keep quiet, tell everyone or say something quietly to warn her? What other options do you have?

Spiking someone’s drink is a criminal offence. Does that knowledge change how you would act?

Sticky fingers

A friend shows you a ring on her finger. It's stuck. The finger is quite swollen. "How can I get the ring off?", she asks.

What are your first thoughts? What methods would you recommend? What might reduce the swelling? What might be effective lubrication?

Your friend decides she wants the ring cut off. She has been thinking of going to A&E. Someone else suggests the fire service - they have cutting equipment. Or perhaps a local jeweller will do it.

Which option do you go with and why?

Heat or eat

It's icy outside. Temperatures are forecast to stay below zero. So you check on an elderly neighbour. Are they keeping warm and well fed? Do they need any errands running?

You find they are so worried about their heating bill that they won't ask you to buy anything from the shops. Yet they don't seem to have much food in the house.

What do you do? Explain how important it is to eat? Buy some soup with your own money? Report it to someone e.g. parents, neighbours? Think about the pros and cons of the suggested responses and come up with an action plan.

Infection choices

A great party is coming up. But you have developed a stinking cold, with streaming nose, sneezes and coughs. You still plan to go to the party.

A friend suggests that is not very considerate. What if your germs infect others?

How do you respond?

For a variation, imagine that your friend, not you, had the bad cold and decided not to go to the party. But they wanted you to call round the day before for a bit of company. Would you go, exposing yourself to the infection?

Locked in a shop

You're in a foreign city, using the internet in a bookshop. When you go to leave it is dark and empty downstairs and the doors are locked.

An alarm sounds when you try to open the doors. But no one comes. What do you do next? Who do you try to contact, and how?

When this happened to Texan David Willis in London, he was freed after two hours. How would you have spent the time? He spoke the local language and knew how to call the police. Would you know what to do if you got locked in a shop in a different country, for example, Madrid or Tokyo?

Halloween risks

As Halloween approaches, a fun evening of trick-or-treating might be on the agenda for many young people.

However, things can go wrong. One year, a group of trick-or-treaters were given Class A drugs by a man who mistakenly thought the drugs were sweets.

What risks can young people identify with trick-or-treating? How can they keep themselves safe whilst enjoying Halloween? 

If they were trick-or-treating with younger children, what could they do to look after them? Design a list of do’s and don’ts.

Lost in space

You're at school with some friends and come across a younger student, clearly distressed. You ask what's wrong.

They reply that they've lost their timetable and don't know what to do. They don't know what lesson is next. The bell has already gone, and so have the rest of the class.

One of your friends says they should have looked after their timetable better.

How would you help? What would you do?

Teacher’s notes

Only a few of the build resilience tasks are supplied with a "right answer". This is because the resilience-building they encourage is largely an active learning process. They stimulate reflection, creativity, abstract conceptualisation and trial and error.

Resilience education tries to instill habits that lead to a successful outcome in any situation – not a solution to any particular problem which is unlikely to occur in exactly that form.

Try this checklist of resilient behaviours and use them to evaluate students’ responses:

  • Not necessarily doing the first thing that comes into your head.
  • Not freezing or panicking.
  • Getting a good perspective on the situation – seeing it for what it is, neither exaggerating nor minimising its impact.
  • Assessing the available resources, including non-obvious ones, for their potential to minimise harm or discomfort.
  • Being creative with those resources.
  • Asking those most affected, such as a first aid casualty, for their ideas and preferences. It sounds obvious, but it's often neglected.
  • Calling on past experience, your own or other people's, of similar situations and using that as a guide or help.
  • Reassuring others around you who may be dispirited or doom-laden while calming those who are over-reacting.


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