Bully – a window and a door to citizenship education

We are so pleased to share our first PEPELT blog post with you all. It has been sent in by Paula Carvalho from Portugal. She has used Bully by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, which was one of the first picturebooks the PEPELT team shared with the world in 2018! The PEPELT resources for Bully can be found here

Paula works in a state school in Portugal, and she used Bully with her grade 4 children (8- and 9- year olds). Children have 2 hours of English per week in Portuguese primary education, and most of the children in Paula’s class had already had three years of school English.

Why Bully?

I chose Bully to work with because I loved it. It might seem an odd reason to give, but I truly believe that liking the picturebook makes all the difference in the way you are able to use it and communicate with your students through it. I also chose it because I was looking for a picturebook that could help me address citizenship education, specifically the power of communication (constructive interaction vs destructive interaction). 

How it linked with the curriculum?

Bully allowed me to introduce a citizenship topic as well as farm animals, which is a part of the 4th grade English curriculum in Portugal. While being exposed to some new vocabulary (farm animals and kind and nasty words), students could also reflect on consequences of destructive interaction, like verbal bullying, and choices that can transform destructive into constructive interaction (e.g. saying sorry). So, it was important to make the picturebook a part of the lessons and not one-time event.

How was the picturebook shared?

The picturebook was shared in different moments over five lessons. I began by focusing on pre-reading activities taking into consideration the peritext (front and back covers, dust jacket, endpapers, title page…). These activities allowed students to collect information about what the story and the characters might be like. This way they were able to reflect on what they were about to experience and embrace it by making the connections between the story and what they had found out.

After the pre-reading activities I shared and enjoyed the story with the students. While-reading activities focused on checking the students’ understanding, involving them in the story telling through a role-play activity and discussing the citizenship topic.  

Once the students were familiar with the picturebook, its story and issues addressed, I planned some post-reading activities that enabled me to observe what they had learnt. One post-reading activity I chose was the apple experiment suggested by Anneta Sadowska.

During the apple experiment students said kind words to one apple and nasty words to another apple. Then I cut the apples in half and showed the students their interior. The apple that had heard the kind words was healthy inside, but the one that heard the nasty words was bruised. This result surprised the students and led some of them to say sorry to the bruised apple. The activity took about 10 minutes.

In another lesson, my students made anti-bullying mini-posters in pairs or small groups, which allowed them to use what they had learnt as well as their creativity. They had to think of a slogan to prevent bullying and they came up with sentences like: “Say no to bullying! Say yes to friends!”; “Be nice to others!”. This took about 20 minutes. 


As a result of using Bully, the students were able to learn new vocabulary associated with farm animals but also language that they otherwise would not be exposed to like: fence, skunk, stink. The students also experienced a citizenship topic in a way that was meaningful to them, which I believe makes it easier to learn both language and values together.

A reflection on the experience

This experience with Bully was very rich as I could see students’ enthusiasm when discovering a new aspect of the story and relate it with the discussed topics. I could also observe their use of the story language as they were exposed to it more than once. Using a picturebook as part of your lessons requires a lot of preparation, but the outcome makes it worthwhile. 


Use the picturebook as a curriculum-integrated resource, planning several whole lessons or parts of several lessons around it, rather than a single event. There are so many valuable facets that your students can absorb by having more contact with the picturebook and the opportunity to really experience it.

Bio data:

Paula has taught English to young children since 2008. She’s just finished her MA in Teaching English in Primary Education at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. She loves to teach, and she loves picturebooks. Fortunately, she can combine both.

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