Establishing ground rules



Be conscious of the need to prepare the class before undertaking learning activities with a sensitive subject matter. Begin the lesson with a reminder to students about being mindful of their own, their friends' and their fellow students' ability to conduct mature discussions about sexual relationships in a general, not personal, way. Make it clear that all scenarios will be considered and discussed non-personally and by means of 'third-party' reference. That is, the content of this lesson is being handled from a hypothetical approach.

At the outset of sexual health and relationships education, it is essential to establish a set of agreed-upon classroom ground rules. The sensitive nature of this subject area requires that students feel safe and comfortable in expressing their ideas, values and knowledge within a supportive environment. Students should not have to be concerned about being put down, humiliated, rejected or mistreated. A safe environment encourages respect for diverse views, norms and values, and provides encouragement for decisions that support positive sexual health and respect.

Examples of ground rules

Some examples of common ground rules are:

  • No put downs  Everyone has the right to their beliefs, values and opinions

  • No personal questions

  • Everyone has the right to pass (not to answer questions)

  • All questions are good questions

  • Listen when other people are speaking

  • Respect the opinions of others 

  • Use correct terminology

  • Use inclusive language

  • Maintain confidentiality  What is said in the room stays in the room, apart from the exception of the teacher's duty of care regarding mandatory reporting

  • No identifying information  If a student is telling a story about a friend they should not include their friend's name or any identifying information. Students should be encouraged to talk in the third person i.e. ‘a person I know'

How to set ground rules

There are several different methods for establishing ground rules. Below are some suggestions.

  • Conduct a classroom brainstorm. Seek agreement upon a few key rules and write these on a poster that will be displayed during each lesson.

  • Place participants in small groups. Ask each group to design a poster with a few key ground rules that they would like the class to follow. Each group then displays their poster on the board and provides an explanation. Get the class to agree on a few posters to be displayed during each lesson.

  • Participants trace their hands on a sheet of paper and cut out the shape. Each student contributes a ground rule on their hand cut-out to be placed around the room.


As well as establishing this 'framework' for classroom discussions, it is critically important that the ground rules are consistently implemented and maintained, along with consequences if they are broken. Students need to be able to trust the process and see that teachers are serious about ground rules.

More information on establishing ground rules is available from UNESCO's International Guidance on Sexuality Education. 

This teaching note appears in the following learning activities: