This is an exercise that teachers, counselors, and other school leaders can use with staff or students to increase acceptance and tolerance in schools and classrooms. By giving students a voice among their peers, this activity allows them to define themselves as they are and not as they may be perceived by others.
The teacher/facilitator should do the following:
- Group students in triads
- Assure that students understand “no judging, no ridiculing”
- Set group norms, such as what consensus means and what conversations to share or not share outside the group.
This activity was created by a faculty member at Bloomfield High School (Bloomfield, NJ)—a 2012 Breakthrough school that is dedicated to valuing its highly diverse student body. This activity can also be modified for use with adults, if desired.
Options for use: faculty or student activity
Each of us plays a role in society. There is a fine line, however, between those things that we bring into the role and those aspects given to us by our culture. We wear masks and attitudes defined by the world we live in, through the media, forms of entertainment, education and work, race, class, and gender. Oftentimes, like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, we find ourselves unknowingly forced to take on an identity without question. Fortunately, like Smith, we also can learn to challenge and change these roles.
In this assignment, we will have the opportunity to express and expose those identities to ourselves and others. In the process, we may learn how our society has fashioned us and, more importantly, how we can change both internal and external perceptions.
The task is easy. In your group, you will respond to the first set of questions while your fellow group members take notes. Afterward, you will ask the group the second set of questions and the group will respond. After all group members have spoken, we will share our findings with the class. All that is asked of you is that you answer these questions as openly and honestly as you can. Have fun.
First Questions (the individual reads and answers the questions; the group takes notes):
- What stereotype do I fit into? Why?
- Why is this a dishonest portrayal of me? Be specific.
- Why is this an honest portrayal?
- How would I describe the way others see me? friends? enemies? at home? in school?
- How would I describe myself?
- In what ways has my “identity” been damaging? In what ways is it beneficial?
Second Questions (the individual asks the questions and takes notes):
- Describe how you originally perceived me before this assignment. Why?
- What have I said that has changed your perception of me? Why?
Finally, if you are brave enough, choose one person in your group whose statements have changed your perception of them or yourself and, with permission, share this with the class!