Overview: Use this lesson to help students realize the impact that stereotypes and unconscious bias have on our everyday behaviors. In this short simulation exercise, students will get to experience first-hand how easy it can be to judge others based on fixed ideas and assumed characteristics rather than verified information.
Time: 15-30 minutes depending on the discussion.
Activity (Methodology): Mini-simulation, large group discussion
Materials Needed: Characteristics Labels, Scotch Tape
Applicable Content Areas: This lesson is applicable to a wide variety of content areas, especially those that require reflective or critical thinking to draw informed conclusions.
After this lesson, students will be able to:
- Describe the experience of being judged and judging others based on one piece of unverified information.
- Explain the impact of stereotypes and why it is important to seek to understand others before making judgments about them.
Getting Started: Cut out the Characteristic Labels into individual strips of paper. Be sure there is enough space for all students to move freely around the classroom.
1. Begin by asking students to stand in a line with their backs facing the front of the room. Using scotch tape, affix one characteristic label on each student’s back.
2. Explain to students that they each have been randomly assigned a characteristic and that their task is to form teams of four people for a semester long group project based solely on these characteristics. For example, they should ask themselves if they want this characteristic (or type of person) in their group or not.
NOTE: Be sure to remind students not to choose team members based on personal friendships or tell each other what word is on their back (they will find out in the debrief).
3. Then, allow approximately 2-3 minutes for students to move around the room and form teams of four. If a compete team forms before time is up, they may sit down and wait for time to expire.
4. When time is up, have students remain in their chosen groups for the discussion/follow up portion of the activity. If there are any students who have not yet formed a group, have these students sit together also.
NOTE: Students should NOT look at the word on their own back until expressly asked to do so during the debrief.
All types of qualities and emotions (both positive and negative) were randomly assigned. This exercise is intended to simulate how individuals are often consciously, but more often unconsciously judged by their appearance, their cultural backgrounds or because of learned stereotypes that may or may not be true. In this case, the quality of a teammate was assessed based on only one factor (the word on their back) rather than the full picture of who they are and what they can contribute to the team. Students with more positive characteristics tend to form teams more quickly, while students with negative traits (or those perceived as such) may have found teams more slowly, or not at all. Consider using the following questions to help student debrief the activity:
• How was the experience of forming groups?
• What did you notice about how you were treated/received by others? Why do you think this is?
NOTE: Students can look at their own characteristic labels after this question has been asked.
• Looking at the characteristics of all group members combined, are you happy with your team? Why or why not?
• What can we learn from this activity?
• How can we link this situation to our everyday interactions with others?
Lesson Extension Idea:
Time permitting, you may also consider guiding the conversation toward a discussion on the difference between intentional discrimination and unconscious bias through showing this short TED Talk- What does my headscarf mean to you? that challenges us to look beyond our initial perceptions, and to open doors to new ways of supporting others. The video could also be given as a follow-up assignment.