Charlie’s Angels or Sympathy for the Devils? A full RE lesson plan on the Paris attacks

The following is a scalable, instantly applicable RE lesson plan related to the Paris murders, replete with differentiated sample materials for secondary. It uses Cooperative Learning to foster tightly controlled discussions of controversial materials in a safe environment and includes strategies for assessment, evidence of learning and SMSC integration in compliance with DfE requirements.

Elements of the lesson may be used with equal effect with primary-level materials.

At the end of this lesson, students will be able to describe, correlate, criticise, synthesise some of the viewpoints and arguments about freedom of expression, religious tolerance, the role of media, Islamic vs. secular (British) values, and consequences of terrorism, specifically related to the attacks on Charlie Hebdo.




Sample materials provided here may be changed to suit individual needs in relation to topics, subjects and phases.



A way to approach complex and toxic subjects such as the Paris massacre safely in the RE classroom is for students to “assume roles” and start by arguing not from their own (often superficial) opinions, but from a specific viewpoint; anthropologist, Islamic scholar, Muslim layman, ”Islamophobe,” red top editor, right-wing intellectual, etc. to the point where they could potentially win a debate from the standpoint of a person they would normally disagree with.

However, the debating itself presents and integrates the opponent’s points of view, allowing students to later synthesise and balance opinions and reflect on these in relation to SMSC objectives, thus balancing “safeguarding against extremism” against room for independent, critical engagement with controversial opinions to contextualise “…promotion of fundamental British values” in compliance with DfE requirements.


“I like the open questions we think about and get asked.

When I listen to others they help me change my views on things.

I like acting it’s much easier to learn.”

Student quote from the RE Quality Mark homepage


lille pdf

Full Charlie’s Angels… lesson plan in safe PDF format.



The materials below should be seen as inspiration only. Have a quick  look at lesson plan before making you pick.  Basically two or more original written pieces by antagonists will do for this lesson. Depending on time available and levels, feel free to pick your own and cut, mix and match as you please;  all Cooperative Learning lesson plans should function with any materials.

The key is that materials be differentiated to suit your particular class. The content void nature of Cooperative Learning also means that the lesson plan as such might be deployed in primary – or in History or English – by swapping materials.

However, in relation to Charlie Hebdo, I have picked out some sample materials for secondary, representing a variety of viewpoints. Materials are picked based on a number of variables to combine media types, levels of (in)fame, and world views.

I have grouped a couple according to obvious topics, but this is by no means the only combination possible.

Blame & responsibility (recommended starter set!)

Charlie Hebdo: Paris attack brothers’ campaign of terror can be traced back to Algeria in 1954 (The Independent, 1,300 words)

Why it’s wrong to blame western policies for the Paris attacks (Blog, 940 words)

Freedom of Expression (recommended starter set!)

Charlie Hebdo and the freedom to offend (The Jewish Journal, 730 words)

Je ne suis pas Charlie – I am not Charlie (Blog, 735)

Charlie Hebdo and the rights and wrongs of our freedom of expression  (Blog, 1000 words)

Opposing Muslim viewpoints

We Are All Responsible: Charlie Hebdo and the Defamation of Islam (Web, intended for USA Today, very rich).

People know the consequences (USA Today)

PDF lesson plan below.

…more to be added, suggestions welcome.

In theory, these materials may be printed and presented raw. The social constructivist aspect of the exercise will ensure students “get what they get,” but since several students will have the same material and assist each other, there will be a natural support for weaker students.

“Cooperative Learning has been a valuable learning experience (…). It enables everyone to contribute, encourages participants to actively listen to each other (…) provided a way to engage in controversy within a safe social environment. The tools are very easy to use and I have particularly liked the assessment element.”

– Kevin Blogg, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk SACRE

Islam in RE, University of East Anglia, June 26, 2014


Lesson Plan Outline

The PDF lesson plan comprises 6 stages, each including stage timing, aims, teacher’s instructions and step-by-step execution of the three Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns (CLIPs) used, see below.

1. Lead-in & set context
2. Individually investigate materials & uncover issues
3. Collaboratively check understanding & prepare arguments
4. Debating with a live opponent
5. Debriefing
6. Follow-up: next steps/homework
The three CLIPs used here are tried and tested, are simple to apply in the classroom, and will be familiar to many teachers; as the Subject Leader for Religious Education at the IoE noted after observing a CPD course‘‘…a reinforcement of known strategies and a recognition that they work.’’
“In a school where GCSE provision was highly effective, the teaching focused strongly on developing the skills of argument, embedding these skills into pupils’ thinking rather than simply asking them to practise examination techniques.”
– Realising the Potential, October 2013, p. 27
The three CLIPs (Cooperative Learning Interaction Patterns) used are:

More resources are found across the blog.


lille pdf

Full Charlie’s Angels… lesson plan in safe PDF format.



Note that  SMSC development is  included on two levels. Being aware of this will help maximise the impact on these obligatory areas of learning.

One set of SMSC development is obviously facilitated by the specific topic, in this case “explore beliefs, recognise right and wrong; respect the law; understand consequences; investigate moral and ethical issues; engage with the fundamental values of British democracy; appreciate cultural influences.”

However, another set of SMSC development is facilitated by Cooperative Learning across any subject, even Maths and Science, including requirements “to participate, volunteer and cooperate; offer reasoned views, resolve conflict; appreciate diverse viewpoints”. In practice negotiating the solution to a mathematical problem or discussing different outcomes of the same chemical experiment, while certainly facilitating subject knowledge, integrates sound, respectful argumentation and social skills needed for civilised debating across the curriculum.

“The school’s thoughtful and wide-ranging promotion of pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development and their physical well-being enables them to thrive in a supportive, highly cohesive learning community.” 

– Grade descriptors, School inspection handbook p. 38.

Depending on the composition of your class and the emotional stakes,  it’s always good to ensure that students have basic gambits to handle heated debates (“Thanks for sharing your opinion, but I have to disagree with you there…”) or know what constitutes good listening skills (look at the person, nod once in a while…). See On the Subject of Social Skills for more on this.

If you are unsure of how much support your students will need in relation to social skills before this lesson, Cooperative Learning will make clear any weak areas. During such lessons, I have personally benefited from having a TA dedicated to noting down all situations where students failed to manage conflicts, which were then practically integrated under “next steps.” It is time and resources well invested.

PSHE education is defined by the PSHE association as “a planned programme of learning through which children and young people acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills they need to manage their lives, now and in the future”. Not having debates because “the children just can’t handle it” or some such is not an option. However, while Cooperative Learning squeezes the boil of lacking social skills, it also provides the cure.

Also, the tools afforded by Cooperative Learning to guide socially constructed learning processes balance “safeguarding against extremism” with the need for independent, critical engagement with highly controversial topics.



The strategies outlined are extracted from Module B in Islam in RE; Religious Literacy and Controversy through Enquiry which has been designed to facilitate the best practice outlined in Ofsted’s RE report Realising the Potential.

Apart from the fact that Cooperative Learning is ideal for effective, managable enquiry, there are two main rationales for choosing this particular strategy:

First of all, when dealing with highly controversial material, using the high level of student-centredness of Cooperative Learning to stage enquiry potentially shields the teacher from accusations of bigotry, opinionatedness, etc. from various quarters.

Secondly, the mixture of tight control and freedom to maneuver balances “safeguarding against extremism” against room for independent, critical engagement with controversial opinions to contextualise “…promotion of fundamental British values” in compliance with DfE requirements.

Using the LP presented here, arguments should balance each other out and students will be able to negotiate difficult intellectual and emotional terrain in the safety of the classroom, and hopefully emerge better armed when encountering similar arguments in future.


“…too often the tendency was to allow any opinion or viewpoint to stand unopposed, reinforcing a view among pupils that, in matters related to religion or morality, one opinion was as valid as any other. There was insufficient focus on exploring weaker or stronger lines of argument.”

– Realising the Potential, October 2013, p. 12


Disclaimer regarding externally linked materials:

The views and opinions expressed in external materials are the views of the individual author(s) and do not reflect the views of myself, Werdelin Education or any of its clients or associates. We do not guarantee the availability, source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented.

The linked materials are optional to use, and choosing to use these materials in classrooms are strictly at your own risk.

In no event will I, Werdelin Education or any of its clients or associates. or myself, be liable for any loss or damage including without limitation, indirect or consequential loss or damage, or any loss or damage whatsoever in connection with, the use of these materials.

So there!

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