The instructions for this first class are written as if grade 8 students have been exposed to the concept of three types of influences that can affect their decisions around alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs. In the first year that A Question of Influence is used in the Nova Scotia school system (20062007), teachers will need to extend the length of time for this introductory class and add Activity 7.1: Circles of Influence from the grade 7 unit. Insert instruction points 1 through 3 of that activity into the beginning of this introduction to the grade 8 unit and drop instruction point 1 below.


  1. Remind students that the material on alcohol, cannabis, and other drugs they have covered through Healthy Living classes in grade 7 has looked at three types of influencing factors that can have an impact on their decisions and behaviour. Ask the students to recall the three types of influences. Explain that the activities that will be covered in Healthy Living 8 also look at ways they can influence themselves, how others influence them, and how they are influenced by the world around them. Explain to the students that the activities related to the three types of influence in this unit are more in-depth than in previous grades.

  2. Explain to the students that two things that can influence their decisions about alcohol, cannabis, or other drugs are what they see others doing and what substances are available. If the upcoming activities are to be useful, they need to focus on the substances they are most likely to face. As a result, ask for their input on what they know for sure is available right here in this community. Stress that you are not assuming that they are using anything nor are you asking them what, if anything, they are using. You are just looking for a list of substances that should be the focus of the upcoming classes, based on what the students know for sure.

    Ask the students to answer the following questions:
    • What substances are available to you at home, at school, and in the community?
    • What do you know for certain that other teens in our community are using?
    • Is there anything special or unique about how they are using the substance (smoking it, washing down with alcohol, or combining with another drug)?

    Depending on your sense of which approach would draw more information, you can use an open or anonymous approach. In the open approach, have students come up to the flip chart or board (as a group, not one by one) and write things down. In the anonymous approach, students can write their responses on slips of paper. Ask them to put their responses in a box that you circulate among the students. Try to have every student contribute.

  3. Finally, take stock of all the responses and draw some conclusions. Look at which substances come up most frequently (e.g., some form of alcohol and cannabis) and what follows after these (e.g., mushrooms, some kind of prescription drug). You may need to ask for clarification on some of the items, depending on street names, etc. Try to end up with a short list of four categories such as alcohol, cannabis, prescription meds, and mushrooms. Appendix B: Understanding Drug Influences, Risks, and Effects can help you with categorizing different drugs.

  4. Once you have a short list, ask the class “Does this look accurate? If we concentrate on these substances, will it provide you with enough information on the things you might run into to make sound decisions? If the answer is yes, end the lesson by indicating that these substances will show up in the future activities. If the answer is no, ask, “What is missing or should not be here?” and change the list until the class agrees.

    You may encounter one student who is adamant about one specific drug, even though it is not really something everyone agrees they will encounter. Keep the substance on the list and assign it to that student as a part of the process of developing survey questions in the next session.

    Note: The case studies and activities throughout this unit emphasize alcohol and cannabis. Based on the results of students’ identification of what is available to them, you may want to incorporate these substances into Learning Themes One and Two by adding an additional substance to the survey questions and switching the substances mentioned in the stories.