Magazine Feature

Toolkit for Restoring Justice

Practice restorative justice with these role-playing scenarios.

Explore how real-life discipline scenarios could be handled in alternate ways and consider the benefits of different approaches.

Educators for Social Responsibility worked hard along with the Bronx Design and Construction Academy to build a justice-oriented framework for handling behavioral issues in school. Some of the key ideas involved in their restorative justice campaign include taking a three-tiered approach that begins with preventative measures, active student input and open dialogue.

Every school is different, but, in any setting, students benefit from the opportunity to actively think through realistic disciplinary situations and consider different ways of handling them. The role-playing activities in this toolkit will allow your students to do just that and to engage in open, sophisticated reflection about the benefits of different ways of dealing with school discipline.

Essential Questions 

  1. What is discipline?
  2. What is justice?
  3. What is restoration?
  4. What are the most just or fair ways to handle disciplinary issues in school?


  1. View one or more of the following videos to familiarize yourself further with restorative justice:
  2. Explain to your students that you will be talking about restorative justice, a method of handling behavioral issues that might arise in schools or communities. Ask your class what “justice” means to them, and explain that for the purposes of this lesson, you will be talking about justice both in terms of fairness and in terms of righting wrongs. Discuss how your students see these issues as relevant in their school and community. If necessary, provide them with the Joey story from “Restoring Justice” to help them begin brainstorming.
  3. After you have come up with a working definition of “justice,” follow the same procedure for the word “restorative.” Get students to the point of understanding what restorative justice is: a system of righting wrongs that aims at solving problems and moving forward rather than punishing or simply preventing future repetition.
  4. Solicit some student examples of disciplinary issues in school that they feel have been handled with and without student input. Explain that a key element of restorative justice is that consequences happen with adults and students in active dialogue. Explain that restorative justice aims to repair, or restore, the student’s sense of self (self-restoration) as well as their relationship to peers and the community (social restoration). Break students into pairs to discuss times they might have had to do such restoration, at home or school, even if they didn’t have a name for it. 
  5. Allow students to watch one or more of the following videos to help them get a sense of what restorative justice can look like. Give them time to discuss what they have seen. (Note: Be sure to preview videos in advance to ensure they are appropriate for your students.)
  6. Break students into small groups and give each group one of the role-playing scenarios and the Get Started Using Restorative Inquiry handout (taken from “Restoring Justice”). Instruct groups to plan two different ways to role-play their scenario: once illustrating a punitive approach, once with a restorative justice approach.
  7. Allow students plenty of time to act out their scenarios with their classmates as the audience.
  8. Bring your class back together, and have them share thoughts and ideas that came up during the role-playing. Ask students to write independently in journals about the following questions:
  9. How do you think restorative justice is beneficial to students, schools and communities?
  10. What elements of restorative justice seem particularly challenging, especially in your school context?
  11. Describe a situation from your home or school when you think a restorative justice approach might have been beneficial.
  12. If there is additional time, have students come up with their own, realistic scenarios to role-play. These can be fictional or draw upon real recent situations.