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Exercise 1

Stereotype Exercise
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Part One: Set-up
Before attempting this activity, the group should engage in both a ground rules discussion and an ice breaker. The nature of this exercise is to engage in an open discussion about the use of stereotypes and therefore attention must be paid to the personal experiences brought forth. Sensitivity and the ability to curb the passing of blame and guilt that might infiltrate the conversation is essential.

This activity is very effective when it follows the Assumption Game because after having completed the Assumption Game, participants cannot deny the use of stereotypes and they have a point from which to start.

Part Two: Brainstorming/Sharing


Categories can be good when they are used to help us organize information. An example of a classification is:

"All people whose ancestors lived in North America well before 1492 are Native American". But assuming certain characteristics based on that category is stereotyping. Going beyond classification and making judgements can be seen by this example: "Native Americans are tribal and have strong religious beliefs." Although this latter statement may not seem to defame the group (Native Americans) or the individuals that comprise the group, it is still a stereotype.

1. Brainstorm stereotypes about the above categories with participants.

  • Focus on only a few and pick the categories of people carefully.
  • Pay special attention to include stereotypes that are prevalent in your community as well as those that may be more discrete
  • Be cautious to direct the conversation so that it is free-flowing and honest but does not condone or affirm existing stereotypes.
  • Also, be aware that most, if not all participants have at some time been stereotyped. Use this as a connection between participants rather than allowing the differences to divide the group along racial, gender, age or other lines.
  • There may be laughter at some of the terms or comments made. Be clear that this behavior is unacceptable.
  • Although some of the comments may seem inane or harmless, some individuals can be very hurt or enraged by laughter which seems to support the generalizations.

2. Debrief by asking the following:

  1. Were there any stereotypes posted about groups or categories to which you belong?
  2. How does it feel to see them in print?
  3. Where do they come from?
  4. Where do we hear them most often used?
  5. How are they perpetrated? Were there any positive ones? Why should they also be avoided?
  6. Is there any group that is free from stereotypes?
    • Allow participants to express any feelings they have about the examples but be careful not to let the conversation focus on only one group of "targets". Rather, return focus to the idea that we see stereotypes in most if not all groups (positive and negative)
    • Allow any individuals to share their experiences with being stereotyped

Part Three: Stereotypes and other biases

For younger audiences, who may not have the facility to comprehend stereotypes, or for a continuation for any group, the following exercise can be used:

Go through the following list of statements and have them decide if they are stereotypes or not.

  • All gay men are neat and well dressed.
  • Some gay men wear earrings.
  • The elderly woman across the street is very frail. Real men don't cry.
  • African Americans are particularly musical and artistic. Juan, a young Hispanic man, has a substance abuse problem.
  • Beth wishes her hair was as straight and shiny as Wan-Lee's.
  • Mary is too soft and feminine to be a good boss.
  • Native Americans are naturally more spiritual than other groups of people.
  • AIDS is a devastating disease for the gay community.
  • Vietnam Veterans are all crazy.
  • All teenagers drink on the weekends.
  • Gay people should be able to adopt children.
  • Asians work harder than Caucasians because they all have good morals.
  • You have to talk slowly to people in wheelchairs.
  • Females are not good at sports.
  • Many Caucasians are racist.
  • Lesbians hate men.
  • All Gang members are thieves and vandals.
  • All Hispanics are illegal immigrants.
  • Martin is tall so he likes basketball. Elderly people are afraid to try new things.
  • People with disabilities can't play sports. All kids are lazy.

Acknowledge that some statements are indeed, stereotypes, some are biased statements and others are judgements about individuals.Discuss the differences between the types of sentences and address the problems that arise when using any of the statements.

  1. What is the correlation between the biased statements or judgements and stereotypes?
  2. From parts two and three: What have we learned about stereotypes?
  3. Who is effected by stereotypes?
  4. How?

Part Four: Making a change
Ask: "What can we do to avoid perpetrating stereotypes?"

One option: Fighting words with words Come up with balancing statements for some/all of the stereotypes ie: "Elderly people are afraid to try new things," is balanced with "My grandmother just bought a computer and she loves using e-mail."

Ask participants to share times in which they have challenged or seen another person challenge a stereotype, in real life, the media or other area.

  1. Is it realistic to use these balancing statements in real life when people use stereotypes? Why or why not?
  2. How can we react if we are the victim of stereotyping? What not to do in terms of reacting: violence, retaliation.
  3. What happens when we allow stereotypes to go unchecked?
  4. What effects did this exercise have on you?
  5. Did you learn anything about other cultures or your own?

Younger Audiences

Part One:
This activity can be pre-empted or supplemented with a creative project using magazines. Have students cut pictures from magazines, papers etc. Fix pictures to the top of a page and have each student brainstorm from the photo alone, characteristics, facts and generalizations about those pictured. This activity will allow them to see that they make generalizations based on appearances every day and allows them to use these stereotypes without being overwhelmed by guilt because their stereotypes are about individuals that they do not know.

Part Two: Feeling stereotyped:

  1. Split them up into groups/categories based on things like what color they are wearing, if they have long or short hair, their favorite music or classes etc. Have them form a circle and designate a recorder or assign an adult to facilitate this part.

  2. Have them come up with a list of similarities and differences within their circle.

    • Allowing these groups to see that even within their circle there are a great many differences illuminates the concept that not all Hispanics, homosexuals, Catholics etc. are alike either.

  3. List the groups on the board and have a session where you tell them "I hear that all red shirt wearers are bad at basketball"... etc. Ask them their reactions to those statements and point out that it is no different than saying "all poor people are lazy" or "all Hispanic men are illegal immigrants".

    • Allow the group to debate each stereotype.

  4. Discuss that we all belong to groups or categories and we need to look for similarities beyond skin color, religion etc. Generalizations that are based on opinion and not on the reality of all the groups' members are called stereotypes.

    1. Create new groups based on number of family members, interests, left or right handedness, sneaker color, skills etc.

    2. Point out that we are each unique and though we do fall into categories with others, those groups change constantly and will for our whole lives. For example, right now they are all students and you are a teacher but if you split up into new groups, you might be among them as a peer.

Parts Three and Four:
Allow students to share experiences with being stereotyped and challenging stereotypes for their age, gender, ethnicity or other category as with the traditional stereotype exercise. Use Parts three and four at your discretion, based on cognitive ability and school/community experiences or current events.