We are all different.
Odds are that if you are teaching English as a second language, you have pretty obvious evidence sitting right in front of you every day. And everyone in your class has probably heard that diversity is good and we need to appreciate the differences between us. It’s surprising that as many times as we hear that how prejudice and injustice can be a part of how we think - without us even realizing it. That is why it is worth taking the time to talk about social justice and diversity issues with students. The following activities are simple ways you can help your students learn to appreciate the differences they have from each other and recognize some prejudices that they might not even know they have. This is valuable for any class but particularly valuable if you teach a mainstream class with one or more EAL (English as an additional language) students or if you teach young learners. Kids notice the differences in people, and without appropriate instruction they can develop biases that they observe in others. It’s important for the EAL students in your class because they will feel different from the other members of the class, and it’s better to help your young learners understand those differences rather than make judgements based on them. In the following activities, the language is simple but the issues are real, so incorporate them whenever you can to help your class learn to not just love diversity but to live it.
What Exactly Are We Talking About?
Depending on the age and experience of your students, they may not have a clear idea of what diversity and social justice mean. In a class discussion, ask you students to share what they know about social justice and diversity and any experiences they have had that touch on the two issues. At some point, you’ll want to steer the conversation toward the following points.
Discrimination: It is okay to notice differences among people. It’s natural, and we should encourage it, but we shouldn’t judge or discriminate based on those differences when it comes to race, disabilities, or other factors.
Social Justice: Everyone deserves the same social, economic, and political rights, and those rights should not be influenced by race, gender, disabilities, or other factors.
4 Activities for Teaching about Diversity and Social Justice
This is a simple activity in which you will need one lemon for every member of your class. Give each person a lemon and tell them to get to know their lemon by observing it closely. If you want to include more of a language element in the activity, talk about the different adjectives you could use to describe the lemons. Then collect everyone’s lemons, put them in a bowl together, and ask students to find their lemon. They shouldn’t have too much trouble finding the lemon they had before.
The next day before your students arrive in class, peel all of the lemons and put them together in a bowl again. Once class starts, ask your students to find the lemon they had yesterday. Now that the peels are gone, students will not be able to determine which lemon was theirs.
After students have given up trying to find their lemon, talk about how the lemons can represent people. Everyone has things on the outside which make us different, which other people can see just by looking at us. But when we look past the outer skin, we are all the same on the inside. If you like, challenge students to write about a time when they judged someone based on what they saw or when someone judged them based on what they saw.2 Surprising Ourselves
You can present this activity to students as a lesson on careers. Start by asking each person to draw a picture of a construction worker. Then have students draw a picture of a nurse. Continue with pictures of a police officer and teacher. Then collect all the pictures.
For each set of career pictures, count how many pictures were of men and how many were of women. Odds are the majority of the construction worker pictures and the police officer pictures will be of men. Most of the teacher and nurse pictures will probably be of women. Ask students why they think this imbalance in gender showed up among the pictures. Then show students this video on gender bias in children.
Talk with your students about why they think these gender biases exist and challenge each person to write down three ways he or she could decrease gender bias in the world today.
Without letting your students know who each of the following people are, show them these pictures. Either as a class or in groups of three or four, ask students to make observations about each picture. What stereotypes might go along with each person? What might people conclude just looking at these photos?
Then fill students in on the accomplishments of each person. Are students surprised? Why?
Ethan Bortnick, child prodigy
Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theater’s first black principle dancer
Nick Vujicic, motivational speaker
Inequality in the Classroom
In this hands on activity, students will see how access to different resources affects student potential. Divide your class in half. To one half, give good quality art materials such as sharp scissors, colored pencils, crayons, glitter, glue, and whatever other supplies you have on hand. To the other group, give only plain white paper and some dull crayons. Then ask each person to make the best looking doll that they can. If you like, have students complete the assignment again with the other set of materials. After students finish, display the different dolls. Point out how some students had better resources and how those resources enabled them to make better quality projects. Then talk about how poverty can affect the potential of children around the world. Close the activity by brainstorming with your students how they can work to decrease the effects of poverty on children throughout the world.
Talking about prejudice and social injustice isn’t easy, but it is worthwhile for all of your students particularly if you have EAL kids in class.
By taking the time to examine the issues, your students will be better prepared to make a positive difference in the world around them both today and in their futures.
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