Class Exercises that Highlight Individual and Social Differences and Similarities

Sharon Raz

Below are some activities that you can facilitate in class to engage students in learning about each other and highlighting some of their individual and social differences and similarities:

I AM, BUT I AM NOT

The activity engages participants in a process of identifying what they consider to be the most salient dimensions of their own identity. It is also a helpful introduction to stereotypes and ways in which people identify salient stereotypes in their lives. Common stereotypes can be very hurtful and difficult for individuals to celebrate their own identities. In this activity, we will claim some of our own identities and dispel stereotypes we may believe exist about the group.

1. Participants will be asked to fold their paper in half and re-open it to create 2 columns. On one side, the heading will be “I am.” On the other side, the heading will be “I am not.” Instruct participants to write the word “but” in the middle of the two columns.
2. Students will be asked to write at least five “I am, but, I am not” statements on their paper. Demonstrate one example to the group, such as, “I am Asian, but I am not good at math.” Participants should use this opportunity to introduce their identities and dispel any stereotypes about them.
3. Make sure there are no questions, and allow time for everyone to write at least five statements.
4. Allow participants to share their own after emphasizing listening skills and respect.

Suggested Debriefing Questions

  1. What are 1-2 words that describe what this activity was like for you?
  2. How did you choose which identities to share?
  3. Did anyone in the group surprise you? Why?
  4. How did it feel to be able to stand up and challenge stereotypes?
  5. (if there was any laughter during the exercise), I heard several moments of laughter. What was that about?
  6. Where did we learn these stereotypes?
  7. How can we reduce them? What role do we play in doing so?

Things to Consider

  • Addressing stereotypes is always a trigger. The debrief is very important. People may articulate stereotypes in their “but I am not” that might trigger other participants. A helpful way to debrief is to ask the group (or individual) “Where did you learn that stereotype? What was your first message about that stereotype? How is it reinforced for you?” It might also be helpful to ask other participants if they had heard that stereotype before and what their first messages about it were, too.
  • The key to this activity is the process of examining one’s own identity and the stereotypes associated with that identity, then having one’s own stereotypes challenged through others’ stories and stereotype challenges.
  • It is crucial, especially for the final part of the activity when participants are sharing their stereotypes, to allow for silences. People will be hesitant to share initially, but once the ball starts rolling, the activity carries a lot of energy. Allow time at the end for participants to talk more about whatever stereotype they shared.

Similarities and Differences – Venn Diagram Activity

The activity engages participants in communicating with their classmates about things they have in common and things that are unique to them. The activity starts with a discussion about our personal and social identities.

  1. The class is divided into groups of 3 (if it’s a Zoom class, you can divide the students into breakout rooms)
  2. Each group draws a Venn diagram with three circles.
  3. Each student is assigned with a circle and, as a group, they discuss identities that they have in common, and identities that are unique to each one of them. If two students share an identity, they would write it in the intersection between their two circles. If all three share the same identity, they would write it in the intersection between all three circles. Identities that are unique to each student would be written in each student’s circle.

Suggested Debriefing Questions

  1. Did you find many things in common?
  2. Were there identities that you left out? Why?
  3. How did you decide what to share about yourself?
  4. Did any of your peers’ responses surprise you? Why?

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