Lesson Plan: This Is Not A Drill

After Matthew Olzmann

CW: Gun violence, school shooting

Lesson Plan: This is Not a Drill
Essential Questions What is it that alerts us to death in the air?
Why is the shooter almost always a white male?
Why does it only happen in America?
When will it stop?
What should we do?
What should we do?
Objectives Students Will Be Able To: (SWBAT)
Identify “Mr. Red.”
Find shelter and hide.
Remain silent and calm during “the incident.”
Move to the farthest corner of the classroom out of view.
Remain in the supervision of an adult.
Teachers Will Be Able To: (TWBAT)
Remain calm.
Protect students.
Find shelter and hide.
Call for help if needed.
Vocabulary  Active Shooter
All clear
Are you hurt
Assault Rifle
Disturbed Young Man
Isolated Incident
Mass shooting
Mr. Red
Stay Down
Ssssh ssshhh
Materials Desks/Tables
Locked door
Cell phone
Estimated Time 37 seconds – 180 min 
Lesson Overview  Open your classroom door and greet students.

Take attendance by counting the students or saying their names.

Ask students to take out their homework and materials.

Review homework or collect it. Listen for their groans. 

Have students get into their work groups to discuss the books they’ve been assigned.

Laugh when Patricia asks something off key about the assignment like “Miss, what’s the gender of this book?”

Reply with a chuckle and say “You mean genre?”

Allow the class to laugh with you. 

When Patricia cocks her head to the side, turns red, and says: “Miss, you know what I meant,” reassure her by patting her shoulder and telling her we all get confused sometimes.

Walk up and down the rows conferencing with groups. 

Ask open-ended higher order thinking questions about the text like “What do you think this moment foreshadows?” or “Using context clues, what do you think his motivation was for what he did?” 

Take the time to conference with newcomers like Javier who will smile, nod and look at you for forty-five minutes straight but write nothing because he doesn’t know how to say “I don’t understand” yet but is desperate to please you. 

Or Estephanie, who understands English but will write epic love poems in Spanish and say nothing in either language for days at a time because she’s been told to stay down and stay quiet and not make a scene for fear she or her family will be found out and “sent back.”  

Redirect Noah when he tries to distract you and the class by asking you personal questions about your marriage, your “side hustle,” or your salary as a teacher.

Barter with that one student (Joan, or Rafael, or Malcolm, or Lisa) who you know is capable of so much but does nothing. 

Say “Please. Do something. Even just one sentence will do. Contribute something. Please. I know you can.” 

Exhale for a moment when it seems like the entire class is finally on task. 

Hear the ding from the intercom:

Listen to the announcement: “Mr. Red is in the building.” 

Say “Ok class, we are on lockdown.” 

Feel the phone in your pocket vibrate.

Check your messages: “Teachers, this is not a drill.”

Begin to panic. 

Remember to stay calm.

Turn off the lights.

Say: “Students, this is not a drill.”

Quickly move everyone to the designated “safe area” of the classroom in order to shelter in place. OR direct students to hide under their desks and away from windows. OR push and stack all the desks, chairs, tables and heavy books against the classroom door and barricade yourselves inside. 

(Modifications: If there are students with disabilities, or special needs try to tend to their needs first. Find a supply closet or quiet space so they are not frightened by the sounds. Restrain them if necessary.)

Remember this is not a drill.

Wait and listen silently for the gun shots. 

Hear gunshots.

Reach out your arms and touch all the children you can.

Touch Joan, and Lisa, and Estephanie, and Malcolm, and…and…and…

Hold the children close.

Hear more gunshots.

Remember this is not a drill. 

Tell the children to “ssshhh ssshhh.” 



Hold the children closer. 

Reach for Javier, or Noah, or Patricia or whoever is near.

Listen to more gun shots. 

Startle when the gunshots get too close. 

Tremble when the running footsteps stop in front of your classroom door. 

Hold your breath. 

Hold the children closer. 

Say their names. Whisper: “Sssh, it’s ok Javier. Sssh, it’s ok Rafael. Sssh, ssh. It’s ok babies. It’s ok.”

Don’t stop the children from texting their parents, siblings, friends or each other.

Remember: This is not a drill.  




When the door bursts open—close your eyes. 

Hold the children closer. 

Open your eyes.

Follow the SWAT team out. 

Scurry in a single file line out the door, out of the building, into the parking lot. 

Listen to the sirens, and to the “suspect apprehended”––the “suspect down” –– the “all clear” –– the “are you hurts” that flurry all around you. 

Shake and cry. 

Blink at the morning or afternoon sunlight. 


Homework Cry. Rage. Cry some more.
Extension Activity  See Columbine High School
See Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School
See Sante Fe High School
See Red Lake Senior High School
See West Nickle Mines School
See Marysville Pilchuck High School
See Sandy Hook Elementary School


Take attendance.

Count the children. 

Say their names. 

Count them again.

The first line: “What is it that alerts us to death in the air,” is from a paragraph about gun violence on a piece of notebook paper I found on the wet ground while walking through Kenyon College this past summer in July. It had no name.

This piece is inspired by Matthew Olzmann’s poem “Letter Beginning with Two Lines by Czeslaw Milosz”

Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli (Unsplash).

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