Being a teenager means a lot of things, but starting to date and get into romantic relationships or friendships sticks out as a huge milestone. The thing most teens need is guidance to make a healthy choice when choosing with whom to be friends or more than friends. Many students have seen toxic relationships either personally or in TV shows or movies, but exploring the warning signs in a person you hold dear is rarely taught. 


There are many types of toxic relationships and exploring each is a good way to enable students to identify when they or someone they care about might be in that situation. In the book, Are u ok? A Guide to Caring for Your Mental Health by Kati Morton, the author lays out five types of toxic relationships and their warning signs. After this list and explanation, she provides advice for overcoming toxic relationships for good. 


On page 120 of Are u ok?, she writes:


A toxic relationship isn’t always as easy to recognize as two ingredients that don’t mix well together. It can feel good at first, sometimes comfortable, and in many cases it may feel like the best relationship we have had in a long time. However, slowly but surely it can feel like every button we have is being pushed, and we don’t even recognize ourselves or how we are acting when we are together. While each unhealthy situation can feel unique to those in it, there are five types of toxic relationships therapists see over and over again. The more we can learn about them, and know what signs to look for, the more easily we can avoid them.




  • Introduce this research jigsaw project by forming groups of students according to your preference. (I recommend groups no larger than four.) 


  • Provide some background like the paragraph listed above or use the chapter 8 content for information about the five different kinds of toxic relationships listed below.
    • Enmeshment - Lack of Independence
    • The Master Manipulator
    • Abusive Relationships
    • The Black Hole
    • The Green-Eyed Monster - Jealousy


  • Have student groups discuss and call dibs on one of the five types of toxic relationships listed above. 


  • For the project itself, keep it informative and easy to understand. Have students create either a PowerPoint presentation or get creative with a poster. Encourage students to use concrete examples so that their peers can understand what this type of toxic relationship looks and sounds like. That is key in having youth understand complex ideas such as this. Requirements could look something like this:
    • A definition in their own words.
    • Easy-to-understand examples.
    • Warning signs or red flags for this toxic relationship type.
    • Recommendations from experts for overcoming and leaving this toxic relationship.
    • A visual of this type of toxicity.


  • After the projects are completed, have students hang their posters on walls around the classroom. Have PowerPoint presentations up on a computer or laptop nearby. Hold a gallery walk where one student stays at their poster/presentation and leads a short speech about their topic when others come by to learn. Halfway through, have another group member tag out their peer who has been presenting so that they may participate in the gallery walk. 


  • To add a little competition to the project, have students vote on which project did the best job according to the requirements asked of them. I usually give each student a sticky note and they vote by placing it on the poster/computer that was their favorite and the most informational. 


  • You could also add a graphic organizer students have to complete as they visit each toxic relationship type so that you can monitor for understanding. It could look something like the organizer below if you don’t want to include the topic they researched, as they should retain that information already, or simply add a fifth box.


Example: This student’s topic was The Green-Eyed Monster - Jealousy.


The Master Manipulator

Abusive Relationships

The Black Hole


Download this pdf version to easily save or print!



Jennifer Epping is a high school English and journalism teacher in Des Moines, Iowa. She has a passion for reading, writing, and making lame jokes to her students just to see them laugh or roll their eyes. She just concluded her ninth year teaching. Epping graduated from Iowa State University with a BS in journalism and mass communication (2010) and BA in English Education (2013). She attended New York University’s Summer Publishing Institute (2010), and spent some time in children’s book publishing in New York