Purpose: Students confront and dispel stereotypes about various groups of people.
1. Students examine stereotypes.
Give each student a pen and an index card. Ask students to create a list of at least three stereotypes about various groups of people that they have read or heard about, or have seen. Let students know that their cards will remain anonymous, and that they do not have to agree with the stereotypes they write. Remind students to use appropriate language.
Have students write the stereotypes on their index cards in the following format: “I’ve heard that [group of people] are all [stereotype].”
Ask students for their index cards once they have completed their lists. Collect and shuffle the index cards; then, randomly distribute one to every student.
Allow students a few minutes to read their new cards silently.
While this is a serious and sensitive topic, expect the class to laugh when appropriate, as well as to experience the various feelings and hurt that these stereotypes can evoke in people.
Ask students to take turns reading the stereotypes aloud to the class.
2. Students identify labels as stereotypes.
When students have finished reading their index cards, ask:
- How did the stereotypes we read make you feel?
- Do you think the stereotypes we read are true?
- Do you think some people treat each other differently because of stereotypes like these?
Point out that using labels for someone can be dangerous, because you’re not really responding to the person—you’re only responding to a label, or a stereotype.
Explain that stereotypes result from trying to understand a very complex world by focusing on general similarities among people—like the class’s description of the pencils. Stereotypes cause problems because they make you overlook the differences among people.
3. Students recognize problems with stereotypes.
Ask students to raise their hands if they have ever been treated a certain way because of a stereotype. Then, ask for a show of hands from people who have treated someone else a certain way because of a stereotype. Pause briefly before making the following points:
- People sometimes use stereotypes to make judgments about another person without finding out who the other person really is.
- Believing stereotypes fools people into thinking that they know what someone else is like just because the person looks a certain way, does a certain thing, or hangs out with certain people.
- Stereotypes can also stop people from forming an accurate opinion, as they don’t take time to learn the facts.
4. Students find ways to avoid stereotypes.
Challenge students to offer suggestions that can help us avoid stereotyping others. Prompt students to generate a list of suggestions, such as the following:
- Don’t make a judgment about a person or a situation until you have the facts.
- Focus on individuals and their strengths and interests.
- Make an effort to get to know other people, and let them get to know you.
- Remember that if you think you know someone because they fit a general category or description, then you may be stereotyping the person. Everyone is unique, even if they have a lot in common with a larger group.
Challenge students to offer suggestions on how to avoid being stereotyped by others. Prompt students to generate a list of suggestions, such as the following:
- Focus on your strengths and interests, and make them stand out so that they are what people notice about you.
- Volunteer information about yourself.
- Volunteer to do things or talk with people you don’t know very well.