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Diversity: Our Strength, Our Challenge: A Lesson for Grades 9–12


This highly interactive three-part lesson creates a supportive forum for students to explore both the dynamics of hateful behavior and the strength of unified action to counter it. Sharing personal backgrounds and experiences with name-calling and prejudice, students will develop an appreciation of their similarities and differences and build a sense of group unity. Through examining the roles that they each play in either interrupting or perpetuating bias in their schools and communities, students will develop a sense of personal responsibility for combating prejudice and will learn ways to create inclusive and respectful campus environments.


  • Students will depict and share important influences that have shaped their own cultural, religious, gender and social beliefs.

  • Students will share their own and learn of others' personal experiences with prejudice.

  • Students will examine the roles that each person plays in either perpetuating or interrupting prejudice and bias.

  • Students will learn effective strategies to confront bias.

Lesson Interfaces with the Following Subjects:

Civics, English, Language Arts, Sociology, Social Studies

Estimated Time:

2-3 class periods with optional extension activities

Materials Needed:


Before teaching this lesson, review the Teachers’ Notes to assist in creating a safe environment for students to explore issues of identity, prejudice and bias.

Teaching Procedures

Part I:

1. After creating a safe environment, distribute overhead transparencies and pens, one each per student.

2. Instruct students that you will share with them five categories that define personal identity and they will then be asked to draw symbols that represent each aspect of identity in their own lives. Students may draw anything that has meaning for them. They do not have to draw a symbol for each category, however encourage them to do so. Explain that the symbols/drawings will be seen later in the activity by the rest of the class.

3. Tell students they will have about 3 minutes for each drawing. Emphasize that this is not an art lesson, but a symbolic "shorthand." Instruct students to work alone, and not to comment on anyone else’s work. Tell students that there will be a time to share and discuss the drawings later in the lesson.

4. Read aloud and/or list on the chalkboard the following identity categories aloud, one by one. If written on the chalkboard, also use the questions as verbal prompts to assist the students in their drawings.

  • Gender: How does it feel to you to be male/female; what have you learned about being female/male in our society? Who taught you those things? How were you taught?

  • Race: How do you identify yourself racially? What have you been taught about your race? Who or what has taught you about your race?

  • Ethnicity/Culture: How would you represent your ethnic or cultural identity? Show how it feels to be a part of your culture. How did you learn about your culture? Who or what were your teachers?

  • Religion: How do you identity yourself in terms of faith? If you follow a formal religion, where have you learned about your traditions and beliefs? If you have spiritual beliefs, how have they developed? If you have no religious or spiritual beliefs draw anything that represents your own beliefs. Who have been your teachers? How have you been taught?

  • (Note: It is important not to make assumptions about anyone’s religious affiliation or belief. Agnostic, Atheist, Native American, Pagan, Wiccan, or other beliefs may be expressed by students, as with all other categories. Allow no negative comments.)

  • Citizenship: How do you feel about being a citizen of your country? What do you think your country is best known for? What (if any) common beliefs or values do citizens of your country hold?

5. After all students have completed their drawings, ask students to find a partner to share their transparencies with one another. Allow five minutes for this sharing. [If the maturity and trust level of the group is high, teachers may ask students to find a person they do not know well for this sharing.]

6. Ask for 3-5 volunteers, depending on time constraints, to share their illustrations with the whole class. Use an overhead projector to allow all students to see their classmates’ work.

7. Have all students hold their transparencies up to their faces and look through their transparency at their classmates.

8. Conduct a discussion about what they see. Ask the students the following questions:

  • How do other people look through the transparency?

  • Do you see each other clearly?

  • What effect might this "lens" have on how you view other people and events

9. To conclude, have students write down, and submit anonymously, two things they learned from this exercise. Close by inviting volunteers to share some of the things they learned from this exercise.

Part II:

1. Reinforce the previous learning and connect it to the following lesson by reading a few of the anonymous comments received from the students at the conclusion of the previous lesson.

2. List on chart paper the five identity areas (gender, race, ethnicity/culture, religion, citizenship) used in the previous lesson.

3. Invite students to add to this list other types of groups in the school with which they or others identify. This might include: grade level, athletic and civic associations, interests, sexual orientation, political affiliation, etc. [Note: Use your judgment in deciding if the following portion of the activity should be conducted in stand-pus or in small group discussions. If conducting stand-ups, you may want to consider choosing categories that may be perceived as less risky to start the activity.]

4. Tell students that you are going to conduct an exercise to illustrate concepts about similarities and differences. Using the list, invite students as they feel comfortable to stand up when a category is called that is important in their lives. Not one should be pressured to stand. Instruct students to look around and see who is standing/sitting with them. Tell students that there should be no talking during the exercise. The phrasing for each call is "If ----------- is important in the way you identify yourself, please stand up." Pause 5-10 seconds after students are standing and then say, "Thank you, please be seated." Call the next category.

[Note: If there are students with physical limitations that prohibit their ability to stand, conduct the activity as a hand-raising exercise.]

5. Following the stand-ups, ask students some or all of the following questions:

  • How did it feel if you were standing or sitting alone or with only a few other people?

  • How did it feel if you were standing or sitting with the majority of the group?

  • Have you ever been targeted or picked on because of your association with one of these categories? What happened? How did that feel?

  • Discuss how it feels to be considered either "alone" or of the "majority" on campus. How do teachers, administrators and other students treat those students? How does this dynamic affect the school environment?

6. Assign students the task of observing their school climate to notice the ways in which students may be targeted, excluded or included in various ways throughout the school day. Have them record their observations in writing.

Part III:

1. Ask students to report on any incidents of bias, name-calling they recorded since the last class meeting. Have students comment on what they did when they witnessed these acts? Ask if they acted differently from how they have acted in the past?

2. Distribute the Roles People Play handout to each student. Have students count off to form groups of four students each. Ask students to spend time privately writing their responses to each of the four questions.

3. Once completed, ask students to share their responses with the others in their small group. Once they have had the chance to discus their responses, invite the student to discuss and be prepared to share their responses to two additional two questions:

  • When you interrupted an act of bias or prejudice, what motivated you to do so?

  • When you witnessed an act of bias and did not intervene, what motivated you to "stand by?"

4. Ask the small groups to discuss their responses to the last two questions. Chart common themes or ideas about the reasons why they intervened and why they did not. Ask students which is easier to do -- interrupt or stand by and why? What are the consequences of either action?

5. Explain to students that learning to interrupt acts of hate and bias is difficult. There are no easy answers, but it is important to understand that each person plays a role in combating bias. Ignoring bias allows the act to go unchecked, allowing it to escalate to possibly more harmful and dangerous levels. Ask for examples in history or from their personal experiences when they have seen this occur.

6. Distribute the Strategies to Confront Bias handout and project the transparency on the overhead projector. Read the opening paragraph aloud. Have student volunteers read each of the strategies listed. Elicit other strategies and add to the list.

7. When the list is completed and has been read aloud, ask if anyone has a question about any of the suggested strategies. Ask students if they think that it is always appropriate to respond to a bigoted remark or action. Be sure that the point is made that it is not always wise or safe to respond in the moment; notifying an appropriate authority, or approaching the person later may be a safer and more effective strategy.

8. Share with the students the handout with quotes on the importance of individual participation and action. Conclude by inviting students to react to the quotes and discuss the relationship of the quote to the to the lesson they have just completed.

Assessment Recommendations:

Students’ understanding should be assessed through:

  • contribution to class discussions

  • active participation in a small group assignments

  • ability to provide examples or evidence to support ideas

  • willingness to listen and consider the ideas of others

Extended Activities:

1. Show one or more of the resource videos before starting this lesson.

2. Have students research origins of the motto E Pluribus Unum and write an essay about its meaning, historically and today.

3. As another possible extended activity, we encourage you or students you know to submit answers to the questions posed in our student writing exchange, on the website in "Student Sharing Their Thoughts" on the side bar menu of the 9/11 As History Web site. We will be publishing the best entries and crediting the appropriate writers in this publication, Ask the Children About September 11. Questions address how students feel they and their communities have changed since September 11 and what they have either done or think should be done to improve their communities.

4. Ask the class to generate "real life" campus examples to role play some of the actions students can take to make their school a more inclusive and respectful place for all people.

5. Have students research non-violent responses to hate. (See Internet Resources.)

National educational standards that this lesson meets:

Standards from McRel website (

Behavioral Studies Standards:

1. Understands that group and cultural influences contribute to human development, identity, and behavior

2. Understands various meanings of social group, general implications of group membership, and different ways that groups function

3. Understands that interactions among learning, inheritance, and physical development affect human behavior

4. Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions


What are the Basic Values and Principals of American Democracy

1. Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy

2. Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society

3. Understands the character of American political and social conflict and factors that tend to prevent or lower its intensity

Working With Others:

1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group

2. Uses conflict-resolution techniques

3. Works well with diverse individuals and in diverse situations

4. Displays effective interpersonal communication skills

5. Demonstrates leadership skills

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