A New Peace Sign Activity: Working with 5th Graders

By: David J. Smith, March 26, 2016

While at the U.S. Institute of Peace, I often worked with middle school students. Working with this age group can be very rewarding, but also at times challenging.   Developing an activity that is engaging for them, as well as meaningful from a learning standpoint can be frustrating.

The peace sign (or symbol) is an ironic symbol that represents a range of movements and causes.  Michelle Rivera-Clonch writes about the symbol in my book Peace Jobs: A Student’s Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace.  In “Origins of the Peace Sign” she provides background on the event that the symbol was created for. In 1958 an anti-nuclear protest march was planned from London to Aldermaston, England during Easter weekend.  The organizer of the march, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), was looking for a symbol that could be used to represent the march.  CND approached designer Gerald Holtom who came up the the ironic symbol we know as the peace sign.  Holtom described the image in two ways: first, as a “little man in despair” with his arms out, and the second as semaphore signal for the letters N and D, standing for nuclear disarmament, drawn in a circle.  Because it has never been copyrighted, it has been adapted and applied in a countless ways.


After my talk at Penn State, I was invited to work with a group of 5th graders at  State College Friends School.   I often encourage students to use their creative processes to consider their views of peace.  I asked students to consider what the peace symbol might look like today if they were asked to design it.   In the 1950s the paramount global issue was nuclear war.  Today, we are facing a myriad of challenges: global warming, violent extremism, domestic and gun violence, and war, to mention a view.   I told them they were a design firm and had been asked to come up with a new peace sign for today’s challenges.   It was a fun activity. Below are their “proposals”(and mine).

Students at State College Friends School with their “proposals” for a new peace symbol








Published by David J. Smith

I am a career coach, consultant, and head of a not for profit - the Forage Center - that offers humanitarian education training. I also teach at George Mason University and Drexel University. A one time lawyer, I spent many years teaching in a community college where I was a Fulbright U.S. Scholar teaching in Estonia. I'm the author of Peace Jobs: A Student's Guide to Starting a Career Working for Peace (IAP 2016). I've been married to my best friend for over 31 years and we have two well adjusted adult children who teach me something new everyday. I live in Rockville, Maryland.

2 thoughts on “A New Peace Sign Activity: Working with 5th Graders

  1. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I do think that you ought to publish more on this subject
    matter, it might not be a taboo matter but typically people
    don’t speak about these subjects. To the next! Kind


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