Respect for All 2012: Standing up to Discrimination

Students define the terms "prejudice" "stereotype" and "discrimination," read an an article about a group of vets who took a stand against discrimination, and consider the role of an ally both in the article and at school.

by Marieke van Woerkom


Students will:

  • Explore diversity and what it means to have a welcoming classroom environment
  • Define the terms "prejudice" "stereotype" and "discrimination"
  • Read an article about a hate crime in Lowell, MA, and determine who in the story was the aggressor, who was the target and who were the allies
  • Explore the role of an ally both in the article and at school
  • Explore the challenges to being an ally and ways of being an ally

SEL Skills:

  • Creating a more positive, supportive, welcoming classroom community
  • Exploring feelings (about a hate crime) 
  • Compassion
  • Standing up for those who are being targeted
  • Becoming an ally

Materials needed:



(10 minutes)

Instruct students in your class to take a few minutes to think about how we are all a part of different groups and belong to different communities. Ask students to think about some of the different groups they are a part of. You may want to hand out index cards where students can list some of the groups/communities they are a part of.

Explain that in this gathering you'll ask students to share some of the groups and communities they just listed. Next we'll appreciate them with applause. Model the activity by sharing a group or community you are a part of by standing up and saying "I am _____________." Then ask everyone else in your class who is part of the same group (eg , Puerto Rican) to stand up with you and get everyone else in the class to applaud.

Having modeled the activity with a few of the groups you belong to, ask several students to stand up and share some of the groups they are a part of, saying "I am _____________." Have others in the class stand with them if they belong to the group as well. As a class, applaud those standing up.

At the end of the activity ask your students some or all of the following questions:

  • What was that activity like?
  • What did it feel like to be applauded?
  • What did it feel like to stand as a group?
  • What did it feel like to stand alone?

Explain that we want our class and our school to be the kind of place where people feel welcomed and celebrated, no matter who they are or what group they are a part of. We want people to be able to stand up proudly for who they are and the communities they represent. This is what Respect for All Week is all about. 

Check Agenda and Objectives (1 minute)

Explain that this week, February 13-18, 2012, is Respect for All week. RFA week is a New York City Department of Education initiative to counter bullying and harassment based on ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability and other characteristics. In today's lesson we will think about steps we can take to counter bullying and harassment through different activities, including reading an article about a group of veterans taking a stand.


Defining Terms 

(14 minutes)

Ask students in what ways cultural difference can enrich our lives, our classrooms, our learning. Elicit some quick responses from your students before noting that unfortunately cultural differences are too often used as an excuse for bullying and harassing people, driving wedges between us.

Write the word prejudice on the board or chart paper. Ask the students what "prejudice" means. Work toward a definition of prejudice as literally "pre-judgment," a negative attitude about a group of people not based on knowledge.

Ask if they think some people are prejudiced against teenagers. What are some of the negative attitudes people have about teenagers? Elicit some examples from the group and chart them. Your chart might look something like this:


  • like loud music
  • are addicted to junk food
  • talk on the phone 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 these descriptions? Do all teenagers fit this description? Who can describe a teenager they 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 being prejudiced against teenagers?

Now write the word stereotype on the board or chart paper. Elicit and explain that the negative statements about teenagers listed on the chart are examples of "stereotypes." Ask if anyone can define the word stereotype. Work toward a definition of stereotype as a general statement about a group of people based on incomplete and often inaccurate information. Usually it's negative.

Now write the word discrimination on the board. Elicit and explain that discrimination is "an action or actions based on prejudice." Make sure the students understand that prejudice is an attitude, while discrimination is an action. Ask the students for an example of discrimination against teenagers - that is, actions based on prejudice against teenagers. Students might give examples such as the following: security agents following teenagers around in stores; police confronting teenagers who are doing nothing wrong.

Elicit other examples of prejudice and discrimination from the students. If they have trouble thinking of things, prompt them by mentioning various groups and asking students to describe prejudiced attitudes some people have toward the group and forms discrimination might take.

To record the students' ideas, you might make a chart like the one below: 

Teenagers They're all thieves

Teenagers Have the security agents follow them and encourage them to leave

Old people Crabby and boring Avoid them
Disabled people Can't work effectively Don't hire them
Girls Not strong or good at sports Don't let them play

Summarize the activity by saying something along the following lines: We all have prejudices we carry around in our minds. We all make generalizations; that's one way our minds make sense of the world. But when we act on negative judgments and generalizations about groups of people -judgments and generalizations formed without sufficient knowledge - we can cause lots of pain to ourselves and others.

We need to be aware of our prejudices; counter them by increasing our knowledge and experience; and work hard to see each person for who they are. Treating others with respect means seeing them as individuals and avoiding assumptions about them based on a group they belong to. This is what Respect for All Week is all about.


Vets hold 'eat-in' to help immigrants' vandalized restaurant 

(20 minutes)

Ask students to read the article "Vets hold 'eat-in' to help immigrants' vandalized restaurant" at

Coming back together ask students some or all of the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts and feelings about this story?
  • How did the restaurant owner feel after someone threw the rock through the window of her restaurant? 
  • How did she feel when the veterans filled up her restaurant?
  • Why do you think it might be significant that it was vets who took this action?
  • What message did it send?
  • The article talks about a hate crime. What is a hate crime? 
  • If you look back over the definitions we just created, what category does hate crime fit into?
  • Who were some of the groups/communities mentioned in the article? 
  • What roles did they play? Elicit that the man who threw the brick was the aggressor, the restaurant owner was the target (of discrimination) and the vets were allies to the restaurant owner.

Ask your students next to think about their school, asking some or all of the following questions:

  • Are people at your school treated differently based on what group they are from? How?
  • Do you think it's easy to stand up on behalf of those who are being teased, bullied or threatened? Why or why not?
  • What might make it easier? 
  • Thinking back to the article, what are some of the things we could do to stand by people when they are targeted either at school or beyond the school walls?



(5 minutes)

In closing ask students to discuss the following quote in pairs:

"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope... and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 
— Robert F. Kennedy


This lesson was written for by Marieke van Woerkom. We welcome your comments. Please email them