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Refresher: The Nine Teaching Strategies of Project ALERT

by The Project ALERT Team

The methods used to teach Project ALERT are just as important as the material itself.  This article presents nine strategies important for successful program delivery that have been integrated into the curriculum. How are they being implemented in your teaching setting?

1.  Resistance Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy, defined as an individual’s belief that he or she has the capacity to accomplish a particular task, must be established before the adoption of new and difficult behavior. If we expect students to resist drugs, we must help them feel they can do so.

Project ALERT offers several ways to increase resistance self-efficacy, including modeling, practice, and feedback.  It is critical that the teacher believes the students are capable of resisting. This belief should be communicated clearly and honestly in the form of specific feedback after resistance practice. Here are some examples:


“You really know how to say ‘no.’"

“That’s a good way to resist.”

“That sounded very convincing.”

“You looked and sounded like you meant what you said!”

“You sounded in charge.”

“I think you’ve got it!”

“You handled that well.”

“I like the way you worded that; I would have stopped pressuring you.”

“That sounded powerful.”

“That was a mature way of responding.”


2.  Active Student Involvement and Practice

We’ve integrated activities for student participation into the Project ALERT curriculum whenever possible. Research demonstrates that people learn more, remember more, and feel more effective when they are actively involved in the learning process. Project ALERT activities encourage such participation by inviting students to:  make lists of reasons; discuss videos; roleplay; rewrite alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarette, and marijuana ads; draft “saying ‘no’” responses; and suggest alternative behaviors.


3.  Modeling

Modeling is an important tool for teaching and increasing self-efficacy. In the Project ALERT videos, older teens act out typical scenarios and model resistance skills. By presenting these situations where teens say “no” to substances, effective ways of resisting are illustrated.  Eliciting feedback after the videos with questions like, “What do you think of the way they interacted with each other?” and “What else could they have said to resist?” can build on the concept of students modeling resistance behaviors.


4.  Reinforcement

Several techniques can be used to reinforce what students learn in Project ALERT. You can use verbal reinforcement methods, such as repeating or summarizing correct responses and solutions, elaborating on a student’s response and connecting it with other material, and providing positive feedback on what the student said or did. Honest, direct praise can be motivating.  Some examples are:

“So, what I’m hearing you say is that you might do the following in this situation.” (summary)

“Excellent answer!  Several of you mentioned that you would respond in a similar way.” (connecting w/other material)

“You’re on the right track. Can you think of any other ways?”

“That’s a terrific way to say ‘no.’”

“That’s an interesting observation/point.”

“I like how you put that.”

“I never thought of that!”

“I’ve learned a lot from you.” (to the class)

“Good job!"

Nonverbal methods include classroom applause, smiling, nodding, or a “thumbs up” sign.

5.  Validation

Validation means acknowledging students’ feelings, sometimes even before the feelings are vocalized. Examples include acknowledging that (1) it is hard to identify and resist pressure, (2) advertising is powerful, and (3) students are not expected to know all the answers.

“Wow – those are some strong opinions, but very valuable for us to hear. Thanks.’”

“That must have been a really difficult experience/time for you. I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing it with us.”

“Great suggestion.  How easy or difficult would it be to do that?”

“Yes – good point.  There are so many influences around us.  Can you think of any others?”

“Consequences can have serious effects, can’t they?  But they can also be great teachers.  Can you think of a different response you might have next time?”

6.  Proximal Goals

Each lesson begins with a statement of proximal goals, or what students will accomplish that day. Beginning Project ALERT lessons in this way helps prepare the student for the session. Further, research shows stating proximal goals promotes learning and self-efficacy. These goals are listed first in each lesson and should guide each activity. At the end of each lesson, the teacher reinforces the students’ abilities to achieve them.

7.  Respect

Students who are treated with respect are more receptive and motivated to learning. Respectful treatment involves listening carefully and acknowledging what students say. It also includes responding gently to a wrong answer by acknowledging any truth in it, validating the students’ feelings (e.g., “Many people think that.”), and presenting the correct answer. Teachers increase their credibility and contribute to a climate of respect by avoiding judgmental statements, acknowledging that the students ultimately make the decision about using drugs, and clarifying that no one can make them use drugs if they don’t want to.

8.  Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is infectious – if you’re excited about the Project ALERT curriculum, chances are, your students will be too! Enthusiasm primes students for engagement and success.

9. Parent/Guardian Involvement

As research has shown, parents are important stakeholders in substance use prevention efforts. As such, nearly all the core lessons include a homework assignment designed to be completed with a parent. These collaborative assignments are best viewed as “home learning opportunities” that make it easier for parents to speak with their children about drugs and reinforce the learning that occurs in the classroom. Translated homework assignments are available for Spanish-speaking homes.

Sometimes Project ALERT teachers express concern or skepticism about parents’ willingness to collaborate in the home assignments. In these cases, another trusted adult, such as an extended family member, adult friend, or school staff, may be enlisted to provide that support. Others worry that the home assignments might be viewed as intrusive to family privacy. Teachers can reassure parents that the information will not be shared in class. One way to encourage positive home learning experiences is to provide a letter explaining the curriculum at the beginning of the Project ALERT course. A sample parent letter, located in Lesson One and available in both English and Spanish, can be sent home to parents with the first homework assignment. This letter can be downloaded and adapted to fit your specific needs.

The intent of the home assignments is to facilitate discussion about drugs with a parent or guardian, so the assignments cannot be graded in the traditional way. Instead, many teachers provide participation points for completed assignments. A note signed by the parent verifies completion for those parents reluctant to return their responses to class.

Keep in mind how important these strategies are as you implement Project ALERT in your teaching settings.  They are a crucial part of delivering the program in the way it was originally intended, with fidelity, and with the potential for facilitating the best results for your students.

We hope you enjoy teaching the Project ALERT curriculum!

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