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Paris attacks

On 13 November 2015 Paris came under attack. Bomb blasts and gunfire were directed at defenceless people as they relaxed with friends. Many died, and more sustained terrible injuries.

It is hard to comprehend such appalling events or even to discuss them meaningfully with others. The following ideas and suggestions are designed to help. 

Educators can select from them and use them to move beyond the simple response of grief and horror. What else happened that night? How did people respond to help others? What do the responses say about the power of humanity in the face of sudden and extreme violence?

Age range: 11–19

Curriculum links: PSHE

What happened?

Details of what happened in the Paris attacks are available online. A BBC outline describes how the attacks were carried out in three areas:

  • Outside the Stade de France, during an international friendly football game, three men detonated explosive vests they were wearing.
  • In streets around central Paris, gunmen opened fire on bars and restaurants as people relaxed and socialised.
  • At the Bataclan hall, a 1,500 seater concert venue where a rock group were performing, attackers fired assault rifles into the crowd, killing scores of people. Three attackers also detonated explosive vests.

The attacks left 129 dead. More than 100 of the many injured are reported to be in a critical condition.

Responding with humanity

Go beyond the summary and invite young people to say what else happened. How did people respond to help others? Include examples:

  • The French Red Cross - the Croix-Rouge Francais - responded to the emergency immediately, sending out ambulances, staff and volunteers to the attack sites on Friday night. They supported members of the public on the scene with first aid and psychological and emotional support. They also set up an emergency hotline for those affected.
  • Amid the chaos of the jammed city, local residents offered shelter to anyone who was stuck on the streets - using the twitter hashtag #PorteOuverte (#OpenDoor).
  • Taxi drivers switched off their meters and helped transport people for free to safe locations.
  • People responded to calls for donations of blood and organs, many queuing for hours outside hospitals to donate blood in the hope of helping survivors.
  • Doctors and medical staff, including some who were on holiday or just visiting Paris, attended at hospitals to help treat the injured.

Young people might have other examples they could share, which could be added to the list. Or select one or more examples and explore them in greater depth.

Describe the human values that guided these responses

Humanity is one word. What others can young people suggest?

What qualities do you need?

A French Red Cross volunteer provides care for a person injured in the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015© InfoLook back across the list of responses. 

What qualities do young people think are needed to respond in a thoughtful, helpful, humanitarian way during a crisis? 

Are people who help others special in some way? Or just ordinary people who happened to be a position to be able to contribute?

Try to tease out whether young people think helping others is mainly a matter of skills or attitude. Or is it about knowledge or opportunity? Or a combination?

Clearly a doctor who assists in an emergency operating theatre is using skills and knowledge. A taxi driver has a resource –  the cab – that could make a difference to stranded people. But they also need a willingness to help others.

Talk about possible barriers to helping – other commitments or desires, or doubts and even fears about the consequences. Once barriers to helping have been identified, encourage young people to think about how they would overcome these. 

Some people help others with no special training, knowledge or resource. Giving blood, or offering tea and understanding to a stranger, are within the capacity of most people. 

Invite young people to do an audit of their own capacity to help others in a crisis. What personal strengths do they have that could help? 

What skills do they have? What skills would they like to acquire?

First aid is a simple set of skills which young people can learn. Give young people the skills and confidence to help others in a first aid emergency

Practical and emotional support

Offering practical help such as a taxi ride or shelter can solve practical problems. It can also help people cope with a difficult situation by showing a sense of solidarity and support.

Some ways of helping are not intended to be practical, but still provide support. For instance, when the Stade de France was being evacuated, people joined together to sing the French anthem, La Marseillaise. Discuss how this might have helped people cope with what was happening around them.

Invite examples from young people of things that they feel would help them cope with a crisis. Encourage thinking around practical actions and emotional support. Examples might include showing concern for - and acting to help - each other, perhaps joking or singing, remembering good times, or looking forward to when it is all over.

Individually, spend a few moments thinking of someone you know who is good at providing practical help. Then think of someone else who is good at making people feel calm, supported and in good spirits. What is it about these people that make them good at helping others?

Conclude by asking young people to reflect on their own abilities. Where do they think their own personal strengths lie?

Communicating safety

Facebook turned on its Safety Check feature for Paris on Friday night. It asks users in the area to mark themselves as "I'm safe". 

That message is sent to contacts through newsfeed and notifications. You can also mark friends as safe, and add comments.

Talk about the importance of letting friends and family know you are safe if they think you are in a disaster or emergency area.

What methods do young people have to let other people know they are OK? 

Can they devise ways to make them faster and more efficient - by setting up group contacts on their phones, for example. 

Do they have the contact details of those they would need to let know?  

Feeling scared

It is sometimes said that the best response to attacks is to carry on as normal. If you give in to fear, if you change your habits, then those who commit acts of terror have "won". Discuss this idea.

The following words are from a survivor, a local doctor, Louise Hefez. She told journalists:

“This morning I got woken up by the sound of the Métro and I got an anxiety attack because it sounded like the sound of a Kalashnikov firing. I want to resist terror. I don’t want to live in a world where I am scared.”

Explore the tension between wanting to live life as normal and feeling scared, for obvious and understandable reasons.

Imagine you were having a conversation with a friend who wanted to carry on as normal but was actually feeling panicky and scared.

What could you say that might help your friend at that moment? 

Support after an injury

French Red Cross volunteers provide care for a person injured in the Paris attacks of 13 November 2015© Info

Some of those who were injured in the attacks survived, but with life-changing injuries. 

Many will face a long road to recovery with many hospital appointments, operations, setbacks and frustrations.

What might family or friends of an injured person do to make that recovery easier? 

Would they visit more, keep in touch more often, change their habits so as to include the person in social activities?

What assistance and support from friends and family have young people appreciated when they have been ill or injured?

Listening to others

It is very hard to imagine the loss and grief felt by families of those who died in the Paris attacks. Spend a few moments thinking how they might be supported by those close to them. In what ways do people who grieve help each other?

Think about people not personally connected with the events but affected by them. For instance, ask how young people would respond to the following scenarios:

  • an elderly person who keeps talking about the news from Paris and how awful and upsetting it is.
  • an eight year old who asks, what is a suicide bomber?
  • a friend who is upset because the media reports remind them of their own recent loss or bereavement.

Hear young people's ideas then stimulate other thoughts with ideas from the emotional support briefing.

The key advice is to listen to people who are upset. Ask someone what they are feeling and encourage them to talk

Don't argue with or dismiss people's feelings. Don't offer false hope or hurry people out of their feelings. Listening can be of real comfort to people.



This resource was written by PJ White of Alt62 and published in November 2015.


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