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If you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all

by Philippa Rae

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To create awareness of the negative aspects of talking about people behind their backs.

Preparation and materials

  • To avoid the assembly being too preachy, short drama sketches can be added in to convey the message with humour. Chinese Whispers has been used here to show both the effects of passing unpleasant information on about someone else so that they become singled out and how information can become distorted so it doesn’t convey the true facts. You can use the examples given in the 'Assembly' or prepare your own beforehand. Alternatively, you can simply ask everyone in the assembly to try it with the people in their row. You can also give other examples of your own to illustrate the different points.
  • If you decide to used the Chinese Whispers examples given in the 'Assembly', read the steps, prepare the cards with the sentences given and note how to use them in the assembly if you have not used this technique before.
  • It can be a good idea to hold this assembly to coincide with a project or focus on bullying, with advice being given on how to overcome it. Individuals who have been bullied in any form can often suffer from self-esteem issues and depression.
  • Have available the song 'Careless Whisper' by George Michael and the means to play it at the end of the assembly.


  1. There is an old saying, if you can’t say anything good about someone don’t say anything at all.  In the real world, it would be unrealistic to expect to be able to do this, it would be impractical and not always justified.

  2. Consider this idea in the context of talking with your friends. We all love a good gossip don’t we? Usually it’s harmless, casual chit-chat. Sometimes the information is useful when we give it out of concern for others, such as, 'Did you know that Sarah’s dad is ill?'

    Being the first to tell people stories is not always useful or a harmless bit of fun, though. It might be great to revel in a few minutes of group attention, but maybe, before you realize it, that sort of gossip can cross the boundary and become a subtle form of bullying, which can harm. This is especially the case when a group or groups of people are singling out one person.

  3. Let me give you an example in Chinese Whisper Sketch 1.

    Give the card with the sentence 'Yesterday, when Julie came to school she had really bad breath.' to the first of ten students in a row, asking him or her to not show it to the others. That student then whispers the sentence on the card into the ear of the student sitting next to him or her. Each student in turn in the row passes on the information he or she has had whispered to the next student. The last student says out loud what he or she has been told. The first student in the row then says whether or not it is the same as what was on the card.

    This game shows on a small scale how gossip can be spread down a street, at the youth club or round the school. The person being gossiped about is made to feel uncomfortable by teasing and embarrassed. 

  4. In life, in an extreme form, gossip finds its way into magazines, newspapers and on to TV. 'Lots of people are at it,' you might be thinking, 'so why shouldn’t I?' 

  5. Think about these reasons for not doing it. Gossip is unkind and mean. At worst, it can ruin a good person’s reputation and pass on information that is either not true or distorted as it is out of context and without knowledge of all the facts. When someone next tells you something, think!

  6. We have already seen with the Chinese Whispers Sketch 1 what happens when a message is repeated over and over again and spread round, but this communication game is also well known for highlighting how the meaning of messages can be changed, too, as people add their own interpretations. There is a cumulative effect of the errors. It is not always intentional, but it shows how, nevertheless, communications can become distorted:

  7. Let's try another game - Chinese Whispers Sketch 2. 

    Change the order of the students in the row and repeat Chinese Whispers Sketch 1, but ensure that one student deliberately changes the wording.

    Have you ever broken a confidence, even accidently, or passed on second-hand information someone else has told you that you may or may not know has any basis in fact. If you felt really mean, you maybe started off a rumour that you knew was entirely untrue.

  8. Finally, let's play Chinese Whispers Sketch 3.

    Change the order of students in the row again and repeat Chinese Whispers Sketch 1, this time making up something that is untrue. 

    Nobody likes to be preached at about their behaviour and small amounts of gossip are inevitable – it’s human nature to talk about each other. We are social beings and communicate this way.

Time for reflection

Maybe next time you talk about someone, think about these questions.

- How would you feel if someone broke a confidence you had told them?
- If a person is your friend and you like and respect that person, why would you want to hurt him or her or have you not considered the pain that you might cause?
- What does it say about you, if you gossip about a person and still remain friends with him or her?
- Would you want yourself as a friend if you had it done to you? Would you trust you?
- What does anyone actually get out of it? Is it a reflection of your character or are you unhappy with issues in your own life?
- Would you be strong enough to confront rumours and tell your friend what was being said or would you say nothing?

After all, it’s a double whammy akin to cheating, having a so-called friend who is also telling tales about you behind your back.

Dear Lord,
Please give us the strength of mind and compassion of heart to think about others before we speak. 
Even if we don’t like the person or are no longer friends, help us to be fair and remind ourselves of the good things we can say.


'Careless Whisper' by George Michael

Publication date: October 2015   (Vol.17 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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