13-18 years

Understanding conflicts

Themes: Nobel Peace Prize, Conflict

Duration: 90 minutes
Photo: Mads Nissen / Politiken for the Nobel Peace Center Foto: Mads Nissen / Politiken for Nobels Fredssenter

Conflict and conflict resolution

In the history of the Nobel Peace Prize many laureates have been awarded this prestigious prize for the way they resolved a conflict with non-violent methods. In this lesson, the students will learn about how a conflict develops and how to reduce it. Conflicts are parts of our everyday life and if we try to learn from them, we can experience a more peaceful life.


Task duration: 5 min

1. Ask the students: What is conflict? What kind of conflicts exist? Have you heard about a conflict between two countries? Have you experienced a conflict yourself? (Yes, everybody has – it is a natural part of being a human being). 

2. Tell the students: Conflicts are part of being a human being. When handled right we can learn from conflicts and grow as people and communities. Everybody has experience with both conflict and resolving conflicts - let´s keep that in mind going forward. Even though all conflicts are different, they tend to follow the same model – that is conflicts between two people or a conflict between two countries, you will see that they follow the same pattern. How we handle these conflicts can make a big difference. If we take action at an early stage, we can solve conflicts before they get any worse. And if both sides are part of the solution, there’s a bigger chance for lasting peace. But there isn’t a simple recipe for conflict resolution or reconciliation. Each conflict requires a solution adapted to its specific context.

Task duration: 20 min


- Lesson slides

1. Show the conflict staircase and tell the students: The conflict staircase is a model used to understand how conflicts escalate. Since it is a model, and not a concrete example, one can use it to understand all conflicts, whether it is the war between two countries or a family quarrel over candy or bedtime. 

The model shows how conflicts go from a potential win-win situation (one settles the disagreement together) to win-lose (one party wins, the other loses), to lose-lose (both sides lose the conflict).

2. Ask the students: to discuss in small groups:

  • Decide on a conflict you have heard about - it could be a conflict between two countries or a conflict within a society. Look at the model: how does the conflict fit with the model?
  • Look at the model: What do you think happens at level two (the problem becomes personal)? Can you come up with an example? Have you experienced how a conflict became personal?
Task duration: 35 min

1. Tell the students:

It is easiest to handle a conflict on the bottom step of the stairs. Then the parties are willing to listen to each other.

2. Ask the students to discuss in small groups:

How can we prevent a conflict situation from escalating? Write down your ideas and share them with the rest of the class.

3. Show this list, inspired by the work of Nobel Peace Prize laureates, to the students.

How to resolve a conflict:

  • The parties define what they disagree on.
  • The parties discuss their disagreement, leaving aside negative feelings they have for each other.
  • Each side listen actively to each other’s needs and goals.
  • When discussing, focus on the future, not the past.
  • Each party tries to see the situation from the other’s point of view.
  • Parties seek help from a third party who functions as a mediator.
  • Parties negotiate to find a solution.
  • Both sides decide to lower their demands.
  • Be creative in order to find a solution that suits everyone’s interests.

4. Ask the students to write down an answer to the question:

Which one of these conflict resolution “tips” do you find the most difficult? Explain why.

5. Ask the students to write down an answer to the question: 

Tip nr. 2 says: “The parties discuss their disagreement, leaving aside negative feelings they have for each other.” Why is this important? What happens when we don´t focus on the cause but talk about negative feelings towards each other?”

6. Tell the students:

How we talk to each other can decide whether a conflict escalates or gets resolved. The American negotiation expert William Ury was one of the negotiators who helped to establish a peace agreement in Colombia. He says: 

"Do not place the blame on the other party even if it is justified. The opponent will just go on the defensive and not listen to anything you have to say and then attack back»

7. Ask the students:

What does he mean by this? Why is it important? Have you yourself experienced that placing blame on the other party does not work well? What else have you experienced that works poorly and well in a difficult conversation?

8. Ask the students to gather in small groups and tell them:

Write down group tips and recommendations and share them with the rest of the class.

Task duration: 45 min

1. Tell the students to find this timeline on the Nobel Peace Center website: https://peaceprizelaureates.nobelpeacecenter.org/en/timeline

This timeline shows all the peace prize laureates, and you can read short texts about them. When they have explored and learned how the timeline works, proceed to the next step.

Tell them:

Many Nobel Peace Prize laureates received the prize for their work to solve a conflict. The conflicts have different causes, such as religion and ideology, culture and ethnicity, segregation between groups, fight over resources and borders.

One thing these peace prize laureates have in common is that they have other methods than weapons to resolve the conflicts.

2. Ask the students to choose one of the following Nobel Peace Prize laureates you want to learn more about and write one page about how this person or organization worked to resolve a conflict. (The list is on the slide deck)

  • Martin Luther King Jr. (USA) – Nobel Peace Prize 1964
  • Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams (Northern Ireland) – Nobel Peace Prize 1976
  • Desmond Tutu (South Africa) – Nobel Peace Prize 1984
  • Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk (South Africa) - Nobel Peace Prize in 1993
  • John Hume and David Trimble (Northern Ireland) – Nobel Peace Prize in 1998
  • Martti Athisaari (Finland) - Nobel Peace Prize 2008
  • Juan Manuel Santos (Colombia) - Nobel Peace Prize 2016