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Teaching Resources
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K-3rd Grade Activities Elementary/Middle School Activities Middle School/High School Activities High School Activities Other Resources

K-3rd Grade Activities

The Sneetches and the Issue of Discrimination

Read The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss, to students, asking questions about racism along the way. Sample questions:

  • Were there any differences between the two groups of Sneetches besides their stars?
  • What are some real-life examples of this behavior? 
  • Like the Sneetches without stars, have you ever been discriminated based on your appearance, religion, skin color, etc.?

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Colors and Associations

Discuss the idea of color with students. Sample questions:

  • What ideas or people do students associate with different colors?
  • Where do those associations come from?

One can finish the lesson with an art project in which students paint with various colors.

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The Meaning and Origin of Names

Ask students to write about their names.

  • Who named them? 
  • What does their name mean?
  • What is the ethnic origin of their name?
  • Are they named after anybody?

When they are finished writing, students should share their answers with the class.

Original source: www.edchange.org

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Fun with Song Meanings: "Don't Laugh at Me," by Peter, Paul, and Mary

Play the song "Don't Laugh at Me," by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Read the lyrics to students and discuss the meaning of the song. Ask students if they can identify with the message of the song, or any of the descriptions in the song. Students should then write a short poem about a time they have felt left out or discriminated against.

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Discovering Inner Commonality

Hand each student an orange and ask all of them to "get to know their orange" (i.e. study it for a few minutes, know its bruises, etc.) Then have everyone put their oranges in a basket, and ask them to identify their oranges again. When finished, children should peel their oranges and then put them back in the basket. Ask students to identify their oranges once more. When finsihed, students can eat their oranges. As students eat, lead a discussion about how often times, people are similar on the inside.

Original source: www.understandingprejudice.org

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Pen Pals from Around the World

Set up students with pen pals overseas using KIDLINK.org.

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Holidays from Different Cultures

When holiday time rolls around, set up different stations to celebrate the holidays of different cultures, ethnicities, and religions. Allow students to speak about holidays their families and communities observe and the things they do to celebrate. Allow them to bring in and share objects of ritual and festivity that relate to the holidays they celebrate.

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Exposure to Languages: Reading The Boy Without a Name / el Nino Sin Nombre

As a class, read the children's book The Boy Without a Name / el Nino Sin Nombre, by Idries Shah. Explore the themes and ideas of the story and the similarities and differences between the cultural perspectives it presents. The book is written both in English and in Spanish. Explore the idea of bilingualism and ask the children to write and say a few words in Spanish.

Resource: en.childrenslibrary.org

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Elementary/Middle School Activities

Interviews with Students of Different Backgrounds

Ask students to interview someone of a different race or religion that they may not have otherwise interacted with. Students can then share their interviews and what they learned with the class.

Original source: www.ehow.com

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Customs and Holidays of World Religions

Ask students to do a project researching a religious holiday, festival, celebration or event that they are not very familiar with. Students can discuss information regarding the meaning behind their event, activities and customs involved in it, and the cultural influence the event or celebration has on a specific region or on a global scale. Students can then present their projects.

Resource: www.religionfacts.com

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World Heritage Site Project

Ask students to look up a World Heritage Site, either online or through books at their local library. Have students do a project where they write down some facts and interesting history about the site on a poster. As students explore their chosen site, ask them to explain why they think the place is considered part of "world heritage." Students should look at the dynamics of heritage at the local and global scale.

Resource: whc.uniesco.org

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Psychology of Segregation

Place stickers on half of the students in the class, then segregate the non-sticker students from those with stickers and give the two groups different privileges. For example, students with stickers might have to sit in the front of the class and students without might get extra recess time. Then have a discussion about how it felt for them to be treated differently on the basis of a sticker.

Original source: www.ehow.com

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Interpreting Poetry: "Declaration (of a Kgomotso Girl)," by Katie Pepiot

Assign a reading of the poem, "Declaration (of a Kgomotso Girl,)" by Katie Pepiot. Have students first read it silently and then select a student to read the poem aloud. After the reading, discuss questions such as:

  • Who are the narrators of this poem? 
  • What tone do they use? 
  • What do you imagine the lives of the speakers of this poem are like? 
  • What do they hope will be different in the future? Why? 
  • How does your life compare to the lives of the characters in this poem?

These questions can be discussed in small groups or as a class.

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Color, Association, and Stereotypes

Discuss the idea of color with students and ask students to consider how stereotypes came about. For example, why is the color black associated with negative things?

Original Source: www.yale.edu (scroll down to "Lesson Plan I" for more complete explanation.)

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Nursery Rhymes in Different Languages

Play the "Big Watermelon" song or another nursery rhyme that can be easily translated, making up movements to the words. After reading the poem in its original language, ask for volunteers to present it in other languages. This activity works best in a diverse setting.

"Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" example:

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The American Melting Pot

Discuss the idea of America as a "melting pot." Have students share their parents' or other relatives' stories about their lineage, how their families came to America, and the challenges and rewards they encountered in this country.

Original source: www.eduref.org

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Exploring the Cultures of the World

Use the "Good News/Bad News/Who Cares" activity sheet to shine a light on the concepts of global perspective and differing cultural norms. How do American habits stack up to those of other cultures, and how do students feel about that?

Original source:www.peacecorps.gov

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Different Perspectives and Truths: Reading "The Blind Men and the Elephant"

Using the Indian folk tale, "The Blind Men and the Elephant," lead a discussion about different perspectives and the concept of multiple truths.

Original source: www.peacecorps.gov

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Learning the Cultural Activities of Others

Have someone of a different cultural heritage teach the students how to perform a traditional dance or cook a traditional meal, allowing students to gain insight into the culture.

Original source: www.arl.psu.edu

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Standing Up to Bullies

Have students participate in the "playing the bully card" game. Students will be given either "bully cards" or "stand up cards" and learn how to stand up to bullying behavior, particularly when the means of asking an adult to intervene can be a challenge.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Discrimination in Banned Books

The last week of September is Banned Books Week. Many teachers use the event to talk about free speech with their students but it can also used to begin a conversation about discrimination.

In class, give each student a banned book. Do not immediately tell the students why their books were banned. Ask them to look at the covers of their books and to read the title pages and first chapters. Ask them to note any illustrations. Once the students have completed their investigations, tell them the reasons for the banning of each book. Lead a discussion that addresses such questions as:

  • Are there valid reasons to ban books? 
  • Do the reasons listed for your book seem valid to you? Why or why not? 
  • What benefits, if any, are there to getting a book banned? 
  • What harm, if any, is caused by having a book banned? 
  • Is age-appropriateness a valid reason? 
  • Are books band because of discriminatory content? Are some books banned because of bias against a certain group of people? How can one tell?

During the discussion, have students help categorize the reasons why books are banned. After this discussion break students up into groups and assign each group one of the categories. Have each group create something (a poster, an essay, a PowerPoint, a drawing, etc.) that will help other students understand the reason why some might see their category as a valid reason for a book being banned and why others might see it as an invalid reason.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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The Imaginary Library

Have students create an original storybook and cover page illustration dealing with the theme of multiculturalism. For example, each child could do simple research on another culture (or their own) and create a story using what they learned.

Original source: www.ijb.de

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Getting Along with Other Cultures

Direct students to visit the website, "Out On a Limb: A Guide to Getting Along." This is a website that teaches children how to get along with other cultures through interactive games and stories. The website comes in Arabic, Spanish, and English versions.

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Middle School/High School Activities

Understanding Cultural/Religious Clothing

This lesson promotes understanding of the diversity of dress around the world, whether it is related to a culture or religion. Possible activities to try:

  • Identify different articles of clothing associated with various religions or cultures. 
  • Research some of the issues around different religious clothing pieces. 
  • Create a skit to educate others about religious dress or clothing that reflects a particular culture.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Becoming an Active Listener

The most important aspects of active listening are reserving judgment while others are speaking and genuinely paying attention what they are saying. Refer to this handout for the activity.

  • Divide students into pairs and give each pair a topic (topics can be anything from what they did over their holiday break to how they feel  their family background has influenced their conflict resolution style.) Each partner in every pair will have two minutes to speak on the topic. 
  • Before starting, tell students that the listening partner will have to repeat back what the speaking partner said when the two minutes are up, and that they should not interrupt or ask questions (follow handout guidelines.) 
  • Start the activity, then switch so the other partner has a chance to speak. 
  • Debrief activity with students by asking them how hard it was/ how they felt.

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Cross-Cultural Communication Role Play

In this activity students learn to identify and solve cross-cultural misunderstandings by analyzing the story of an American Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. Refer to www.peacecorps.com for an overview of the activity and corresponding handouts.

Original source: www.peacecorp.com

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High School Activities

Discussing Tolerance in Current Events

Discuss popular current events and controversies concerning tolerance. Read articles on women's rights in the Middle East, the Burqa Ban in France, immigration in the United States, gay marriage, affirmative action, or any similarly multi-faceted situations, and moderate a discussion among the students about how to balance civil liberties, equality, and the customs of various people.

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Learning About Hate: Watching American History X

Watch the film American History X, which is about two brothers who become involved in the White Supremacist movement in Long Beach, California. Afterwards, discuss the incentives someone might have to join a gang or similar group, and ways to combat these problems.

Resource: www.bsu.edu

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Different Cultures/Common Experiences: Watching Arranged

Watch the film Arranged with students, which exposes a simple story about two women, one from an Orthodox Jewish family and one from an Islamic family. The two explore their common experiences as they go through the process of being married in their religious cultures. After seeing the film, ask students to write an essay on the themes, motifs, symbols, and concepts in the film as well as their own opinions about the story (e.g. what they liked, disliked, found to be different, or similar to their own experiences.)

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Considering International Issues: Watching Vanguard on Current TV

Watch an episode of the documentary series Vanguard from Current TV, which explores critical international issues ranging from Mexican drug cartels to the growing homophobia in Uganda.

Good episodes to choose from are:

  • "Scarf Wars" (explores the religious politics in Turkey.) 
  • "Lost in Democracy" (looks at the democracy of Bhutan.)
  • "Missionaries of Hate" (investigates growing political and social homophobia in Uganda.)

Afterwards, analyze what occurred in the episode. How did the journalist report the topic? Was it one sided or did it look at both sides of the issue?

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Creating a Classroom Culture

Have students try to establish a "class culture" by making personal lists of things that they feel are "right" and "wrong." This exercise will get heated, but also explore ideas of diversity, tolerance, and how culture affects our viewpoints.

Original source: www.ofcn.org

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Words and Stereotypes

Have students guess the origins of commonly used words today that denote various racial, gender, or other types of stereotypes. Then have them research the origins of the words and their evolution. Discuss the power of words in shaping opinions and reflecting prejudices. Examples: gay, gypped, hag, lame, numbskull, blockhead, shrew.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Exploring Tolerance and Prejudice through Lyrics and Poetry

Compile a list of songs, spoken word, poetry, and speeches that deal with tolerance, prejudice, racism, sexism, individuality, and pluralism. Have students listen and reflect and then write a short piece analyzing the different messages of the authors regarding injustice and their approaches toward it. (Try to pull pieces from a variety of sources, and consider the maturity level and sensitivity to profanity of the class when choosing.) Possible ideas:

  • "I Have A Dream," by Martin Luther King, Jr. 
  • "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," by Gil Scott Heron 
  • "Blowin' in the Wind," by Bob Dylan 
  • "99 Problems," by Jay-Z 
  • "Dream Deferred," by Langston Hughes 
  • "Faith, Truth, and Tolerance in America," by Edward M. Kennedy 
  • "Song of Myself," by Walt Whitman 
  • "I'm nobody! Who are you?" by Emily Dickinson 
  • "I am not my hair," by India Arie 
  • "Try Being a Lady," by Sista Queen (from Def Jam Poetry)

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What Does it Mean to Be American?

Read the famous essay, "Our America," by Cuban Independence leader José Martí. In this essay, Martí examines the question of what it means to be an "American" and touches on the issues of identity and race. After reading the essay, lead a class discussion on the ideas expressed in Martí's essay. Some of the main ideas to be considered:

  • "America's" population is characterized by mixed and multiple races. 
  • There is no racial hatred because there are no races; race is an abstraction that cannot be justified by any objective observations of a nature in which love highlights the universal identity of human beings.

Have students express their opinions and give their own interpretations of his essay.

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Cuisines of the World

Ask students to eat at a traditional ethnic restaurant. Have them write about the experience, from the food and customs to the history of the ethnic group itself and their impressions/reflections. Encourage students to try to publish their articles in the school newspaper.

Original source: www.arl.psu.edu

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Attending a Cultural Fair

Attend or hold a cultural fair/world fest. Cultural fairs and world fests promote diversity, tolerance, and empathy. During such an event, different art forms (dance, spoken word) and various aspects of culture (food, art, prominent issues) are presented to raise awareness of the various world cultures. For high schools and middle schools, a one-day fair may be most feasible. In the fair, there can be different booths/tables/stations. Some examples include: origami table, salsa dance station, African art exhibit, ethnic food tables etc.

Resource: www.culturalaffairsla.com

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Sharing Poetry and Spoken Word

Have students write and submit their personal works on diversity and tolerance, and then create an open forum for students to share their feelings and discuss their understanding. Having a contest with a prize might provide a greater incentive for students to participate and to speak out.

Original source: www.necc.mass.edu

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Examining and Combating Hateful Behavior

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. By sharing their 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.

Original source: www.adl.org

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Social Justice in Photography

Use photographs to teach social justice. Present students with photographs from different eras. Have students analyze the photographs to gain a greater understanding of history. They will explore issues of racism, stereotypes, bias, and how photographs can expose racism.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Bully Survey

In this lesson, students will evaluate group practices and propose measures to improve the classroom climate. They will take personal responsibility for accomplishing anti-bullying goals and collect data from real-world situations and represent that information in a simple graphic organizer.

Original source: www.tolerance.org

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Internships Abroad

Give students the opportunity to learn about diversity and other cultures with real-world experiences through an internship or volunteer program abroad. Link to Diversity offers a range of possible locations and positions open to high school students. It also includes a list of resources for traveling abroad.

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Defeating Stereotypes: Inside/Outside the Box

Ask students to identify stereotypes they have regarding the various social identities of their classmates and write them in a box drawn on the blackboard. Then ask students who have those particular identities to determine the accuracy of those stereotypes and have them write what they think is true outside the box. For example, one stereotype about women is that they are bad at math, but a female student may go to the board and write that she loves math.

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Exploring Socialization through Video

Watch videos concerning the prominence of socialization in society and discuss the effects it has on various groups. Some videos that can be used:

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The Rwandan Genocide: Differences, Imagined and Real

Have students study the Rwandan Genocide. Some scholars think that differences between the Hutus and the Tutsis were completely invented by European colonists, while others think that there were existing differences that were simply exaggerated by the colonists. Discuss how differences can be imagined. Discuss how real differences can be negatively exaggerated and placed in a framework of superiority/inferiority (read part A, "Origins of Genocide," in this article: "Sexual Violence and Genocide Against Tutsi Women".)

Other questions to ask:

  • Why do differences of any sort (real or imagined) cause one group to feel superior and develop hatred toward other groups?
  • What are some ways we can overcome this?

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What is Tolerance?

Have a debate or discussion in which students are encouraged to talk about individual and cultural differences as well as differences in moral values in a rational, non-threatening way, keeping in mind the value of tolerance. Then discuss the idea of tolerance. Questions to ask:

  • Does tolerance mean agreement with or a positive attitude toward those who have different backgrounds or does it mean peacefully coexisting with people who you disagree with?
  • How does being tolerant reconcile with having a belief system that is important in one's life?
  • Ask students if they found and differences in values during their discussion and how they think tolerance helps them get along in spite of these differences.

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Equality and Religious Freedom: The Ideas of Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was a very interesting figure in American history, full of lofty ideals that were extremely influential in the political and social development of the United States. One of Jefferson's proudest accomplishments was the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, enacted in 1786. Read this act and then use the following questions to foster debate:

  • Why did Jefferson support religious freedom?
  • What did he see as the harmful effects of coercing religious belief?
  • How have the United States government and state governments strayed from or adhered to these principles?
  • How do other countries around the world deal with religion and religious freedom?
  • Jefferson mentions a "natural right" to religious freedom at the end of the act. What does he mean by this? Do you agree? Discuss.

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Other Resources

Links to other resources:

Teaching Tolerance: www.tolerance.org.

City College of San Francisco/Lessons in Tolerance Project: www.ccsf.edu.

The Museum of Tolerance Steps to Tolerance Program: www.museumoftolerance.com.

Anti-Defamation League: www.adl.org.

Reading Is Fundamental: tolerance story sampler.

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