Psychology of Cults Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

What is a cult and what makes an individual vulnerable to them? This lesson plan uses a text lesson to outline key facts about cults. An activity teaches students about well-known cults.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • define 'cult'
  • list key characteristics of cults
  • summarize the qualities that make individuals prone to joining cults


1.5 to 2 hours

Curriculum Standards


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/social science.


Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.


  • Paper copies of the text lesson The Psychology of Cults
  • A worksheet created using the quiz from the associated text lesson
  • Assorted newspaper articles about several well-known cults


  • Begin by writing the following term on the board: 'cult.'
  • Ask students to draft a one-sentence definition for the term featured on the board.
  • Have the students take turns sharing their definition sentences with the class as you write key points from the discussion on the board.
  • Pass out the paper copies of the text lesson, one copy per student.
  • Instruct the class to read the introduction and 'What Is a Cult?' section of the text lesson.
    • How did we do with our definitions of 'cult?'
    • Why was Jonestown considered a cult?
    • What other examples of cults can you name?
  • Tell the class to read the 'Why Join a Cult?' section of the text lesson at this time.
    • Why does the lesson compare the joining of a cult to religion?
    • What qualities might make a person more likely to join a cult?
  • Have the class read the 'Who Joins Cults' section of the text lesson.
    • What does it mean to feel 'disenfranchised' and why does this make someone more prone to join a cult?
  • Tell the class to read the rest of the text lesson now.
    • Why do cult leaders users 'thought-reform programs?'
    • What can be done to prevent someone from falling victim to a cult?
  • Review key points about cults with the class before continuing.
  • Pass out the worksheet to the class now, one copy per student.
  • Instruct the students to work independently to complete the worksheet.
  • When all students have finished the worksheet, review each question and answer with the class as students follow along and check their work.

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