During Respect for All (RfA) week, students in schools across New York City will participate in programs and activities that teach them to value diversity and respect one another. They will also receive important information on where to go to for help if they or someone they know has been a victim of bullying or harassment. Working together, we can help prevent bullying and discrimination early on, while ensuring that every child is able to pursue his or her dreams without fear or discrimination.
Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility works in NYC public schools year-round to help them foster a climate of respect and caring. We also contribute to RfA Week by posting free materials on our TeachableMoment.Org website for teachers to use in their classrooms.
The lessons below were taken from the "Celebrating Diversity & Countering Prejudice" Units, of Morningside Center's research-based 4Rs curriculum (Reading, Writing, Respect & Resolution) for third and fifth grade.
Diversity issues can be controversial. Morningside Center has general guidelines for dealing with controversial issues that you might find helpful: Teaching on Controversial Issues.
Lesson for Students in Lower Elementary Grades
Introduction for the Teacher
Today, the idea that we would all get along if only we could overlook skin color and culture has given way to a more complex understanding of difference, of race, and of the hard work necessary for people to appreciate each other and work together. The images we use in diversity work are often those of the patchwork quilt or the rainbow mosaic. However pretty the images, though, they do not obscure the fact that our society has lots of unfinished business when it comes to respecting diversity.
Children as young as three and four are aware of this prejudice and have begun to absorb it. They can respond to open discussion of difference and prejudice. In this unit, students will explore similarities and differences, both physical and cultural. We will do this primarily through sharing stories. As we talk of our particular people and history and learn others' stories, we come to both a greater appreciation of our own group and of others. If we are secure in our own identity, we are more likely to respect other people.
Students stand in an area of the classroom where they can move around. When you call out a preference or attribute, those who have the preference or attribute in common find each other and stand together. For example, if you call out, "Favorite season of the year," the children whose favorite season is spring will find each other and stand together, while children who prefer winter, fall, or summer will do the same. Once the students are standing with others who share the same preference or attribute, you can ask each group to say something about why they're standing there. (For example: Why do you like spring the most? Or why is summer your favorite season?) Continue the activity with other attributes or preferences, such as favorite sport, favorite food, favorite kind of music, kind of shoes you're wearing, number of children in your family.
Go over the objectives and the agenda.
Face to Face
Partners will find out what they have in common and how they are different.
Assign partners and have them stand or sit facing each other. Everyone has three minutes to find out and jot down five ways he differs from his partner and five characteristics they have in common.
Have everyone change partners and repeat the exercise.
With the entire class, list typical similarities and differences on the board.
- What were some of the differences?
- Were there similarities that went along with differences (for example, most people have hair, but hair has different colors and textures)?
- Which differences are most important? Which are least important?
- Did you notice mostly physical characteristics?
- What other characteristics could you have noticed? What features are most people born with?
- Which can they change? How?
(From Creative Conflict Resolution by William J. Kreidler. © 1984 by Good Year Books.Used by permission of Pearson Education, Inc.)
It's not Fair!
Ask, What do you see or experience in your life that you find unfair? Elicit examples from the students of things they find unfair.
Prejudice and Discrimination
Explain that now we're going to explore a kind of unfairness called prejudice and discrimination. Ask, what is prejudice? Elicit the students' thinking.
Explain that sometimes people have negative attitudes toward people different from themselves. Without even knowing the person, they assume they won't like the person. This is called prejudice. Prejudice is a negative attitude or opinion that is not based on knowledge. Action based on prejudice is called discrimination.
You might mention the book Green Eggs and Ham by Doctor Seuss, which most children are familiar with. The character in that story says he doesn't like green eggs and ham. Finally, when he tries them, he does like them. His original opinion was formed without knowledge. That's an example of prejudice. People can also have prejudice about other people.
Ask, What are other examples of prejudice and discrimination? Elicit examples from several volunteers. Encourage the students to think of examples from their own lives. Are prejudice and discrimination fair? What effect do they have on people? When things happen that are unfair, either to us or to someone else, what should we try to do?
Standing up against things that are unfair
In "Quick Thinking," you describe a situation to the class; and then students, working in pairs, have a minute or two to come up with an idea for addressing it. When the time is up, the pairs share their idea with the group. The aim is to generate lots of ideas and get people thinking, not necessarily to come with one "best" approach.
Explain that in this "Quick Thinking" exercise, we're going to generate ideas for standing up to prejudice and discrimination. We're going to come up with ideas for stopping people from treating other people unfairly.
Here are some situations you might put out to the students for "quick thinking":
- A group of boys is playing basketball. A girl asks to play and is told, "No! Girls aren't any good at basketball!"
- A boy is being teased because his pants are too short and his shoes have holes.
- Two girls are close friends, and other kids start to tease them, saying "You're gay."
- Every day on the school bus, a boy teases another boy by saying, "Hey fatso! What's fatso up to today?"
- A new girl in the school doesn't speak English very well. (She has recently come from another country.) Kids are teasing her by saying, "You're stupid. You talk funny."
What's one thing you learned in today's workshop? It's not easy to stop people when they're treating others unfairly. Can you see yourself doing that, perhaps using some of the ideas we came up with in "Quick Thinking"? Ask for several volunteers to share their thoughts about this.
A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon
Abuela's Weave by Omas S. Castaneda
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman, illustrated by Caroline Binch
Blubber by Judy Blume
Charlotte's Web by E. B. White
The Emperor's New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen
The First Woman Doctor by Rachel Baker
My Name Is Maria Isabel by Alma Flor Ada
The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss
Lesson for students in upper elementary grades
Have the students work in pairs to tell each other a food they enjoy that comes from a culture different from their own.
Go over the objectives and the agenda.
Write the word "culture" on the chalkboard or in the middle of a piece of chart paper. Ask the students to "free associate" with the word, sharing words or ideas that come to mind when they hear the word "culture."
Ask, what is culture? Elicit the students' thinking. Help them develop a definition of culture as the particular values, beliefs, customs, and ways of life shared by a group of people.
Explain that the word "culture" is most commonly used in connection with ethnic groups, that is, groups defined by language, religion, or ancestry. Examples of ethnic groups in the United States are Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans, Puerto Rican Americans, Dominican Americans, Mexican Americans, Jewish Americans.
Ask, What ethnic groups do we have in our class? Ask for volunteers to name their ethnic backgrounds.
Explain that in a complex modern society like the United States, there are other groups besides our ethnic group that we are part of and can choose to identify with. So while some people may identify most strongly with their ethnic backgrounds, others may identify most strongly with their work or occupation-for example, with being a teacher or a nurse. Another person might identify with their role in society (like being a parent or a student). Another might identify with being from a certain class background (like working class or middle class); still another, with being a feminist or a social activist or an artist. People in each of these groups share certain kinds of experiences, and may think of themselves as having certain values and life styles in common. Explain that in the 4Rs curriculum, we define culture broadly to include these kinds of groups as well as ethnic groups.
Prepare students for this activity by sharing some information about your family. For example, you might talk about your family when you were growing up or your family now; you might talk about your immediate family and your extended family; you might share something about your cultural background-where your ancestors came from and why they came to this country; and you might talk a bit about some values that were important in your family as you were growing up.
Then ask for volunteers to share similar information about their families. You might find something to serve as a play microphone and call several students to come up one at a time for a brief interview. Questions might include: Who's in your immediate family? Who is in your extended family? What are some things your family likes to do together? Does your family have special celebrations or traditions? What's the cultural background of your family? Do you know where your ancestors came from?
After completing several brief interviews with students, pass out drawing paper and markers or crayons. Tell the students you want each of them to make a "family banner" by writing their family name(s) in the center and drawing things or writing words that represent what's important in their family (activities, values, celebrations, traditions, favorite places, etc.).
After the students have completed their banners, give students a chance to share their banners with the group and talk a bit about them. To ensure that students pay good attention to each other, you may want to do the sharing of the banners in several sittings.
Have the students work with a partner. Ask, What's one thing you learned from our lesson today? After they've had a chance to talk in pairs, ask for several volunteers to share their thoughts with the group.
Lead the students in a round of applause for their hard work on a difficult topic.
America Is her Name by Luis J. Rodriguez, illus. Carlos Vasquez
Annie's Promise by Sonia Levitan
The Canning Season by Margaret Carlson, illustrated by Kimanne Smith (example of memoir)
Freak the Mighty by W. R. Philbrick, Rodman Philbrick (move is called "The Mighty")
Just Like Home/Como En Mi Tierra by Elizabeth I. Miller, illus. Mora Reisberg, trans. Teresa Mlawer
Friends from the Other Side, by Gloria Anzaldua, illus. by Consuelo Mendez. Bi-lingual.
Prietita and the Ghost Woman/Prietita y la Llorena by Gloria Anzaldua, illus. Christina Gonzalez. Bilingual
The Woman Who Outshone the Sun: The Legend of Lucia Zenteno, Rosalma Zubizarreta, Harriet Rohmer, David Schecter, Alejandro Cruz Martinez, illus. Fernando Olivera. Bilingual
First Thoughts: Exploring Stereotypes
Explain that one form prejudice takes is "stereotypes." Ask, What do we mean by "stereotype"? Elicit that a stereotype is a general statement about a group of people based on incomplete information.
Today we're going to explore stereotypes through an exercise called "First Thoughts." Have the students work in groups of four. Each group needs a piece of chart paper and markers. In their groups the students write the word "teenager" in the middle of the chart paper and draw a line around it. Then they fill the paper with their first thoughts about teenagers.
Give the groups five or ten minutes to complete their "first thoughts" charts. Then give each group a chance to share what they came up with. After all of the groups have presented, write "Teenagers" on the chalkboard, elicit from the class the main points that have emerged from their "first thoughts," and write them down. Your description might look something like this:
- like loud music
- are addicted to junk food
- talk on the telephone a lot
- are rowdy, rude, and disrespectful
- won't let anybody tell them what to do
- are totally into themselves
Discuss: Do some teenagers fit this description? Do all teenagers fit this description? Who can describe a teenager you know who is not like this? Is it fair to say or imply that all teenagers are like this? What negative results could come from people having stereotypes of teenagers?
You might repeat this exercise to explore stereotypes of older people.
Prejudice and Discrimination
Explain that cultural differences can enrich our lives. The foods we enjoy from various cultures are just one of the ways we benefit from cultures different from our own. But unfortunately cultural differences are sometimes used as an excuse for mistreating people. We often see this in the world around us. It is for this reason that we are participating in Respect for All week.
Prejudice and discrimination can cause much pain. Elicit from the students that prejudice is a negative attitude or opinion that is not based on knowledge. Discrimination is action based on prejudice. Ask, students to share examples of prejudice and discrimination? Encourage them to think of examples that they have experienced or witnessed in their own lives.
Make sure the students know the names for various kinds of mistreatment people experience because of differences. You might make a chart that lists target groups on the left and ask the students for the name for systematic mistreatment of those groups. The completed chart might look like this:
|TARGET GROUP||SYSTEMIC MISTREATMENT|
|People of color||Racism|
How did this activity work in your class? Please share your stories and other feedback with us! Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.