Behind the Scenes--Closing the Curtain on Stereotypes

6, 7, 8

Using a variety of activities, students will examine the meaning and examples of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Students will begin to understand how these factors impact our human interactions as they relate to direct service learning relationships. It is imperative that students examine stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, as well as their sources, from cognitive and affective perspectives. Finally, they will learn a "how to" process for appropriately forming informed opinions which address the importance of sensitivity when interacting with others.

Lesson Rating 
Three Forty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • identify examples of stereotypes.
  • define or give examples of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
  • explain the connection between stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
  • state hurtful outcomes of stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
  • name sources from which stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination are learned.
  • identify the cause and effect aspect of a personal experience with stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
  • suggest an alternate outcome for an experience using a five-step "how-to" process.


  • Small surprise packages—one per student (see Anticipatory Set for details)
  • Whiteboard, chalkboard, overhead, or chart paper on an easel
  • Number slips (see Anticipatory Set for details)
  • Student copies and an overhead of What's the Difference? (Attachment One)
  • What's the Difference? Teacher Key (Attachment Two)
  • 3x3 self-stick notes (various colors—optional)
  • Student copies of Video Viewing Guide (Attachment Three)
  • Video Viewing Guide Teacher Key (Attachment Four)
  • Think-Pair-Share Activity (Attachment Five)
  • Carefully Taught (Attachment Six)

Home Connection 

Interactive Parent / Student Homework:Using Carefully Taught (Attachment Six), students will identify two examples of stereotypes in any of the three sources: music lyrics, magazine or newspaper pictures and ads, and/or poetry. Individually, they will record thoughts and feelings in response to the identified stereotypes. Then they will elicit, discuss, and record parent responses to the stereotypes.Teacher Note: Be sure to explain to the learners that the lyrics to the song are sarcasm.


  • Berry, Joy. The Human Race Club: The Unforgettable Pen Pal. Produced by Bridgestone Multimedia, Inc., 30 min., 1998. Videocassette. ASIN B000007QXM.
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein. South Pacific: Carefully Taught. Compact disk. 1958. ASIN B0000DHSL


  1. Anticipatory Set:Prepare enough small surprise packages so that each student may have one. They should be of varying sizes and appearance. About half of the packages should not be unappealing in appearance. The other packages should be large and/or attractively presented, using such materials as colored tissue, foil bags and ribbon. The packages should contain either a desirable item such as candy, money, or fun trinkets or an undesirable item such as rocks, coal, dog biscuits, inedible food, etc. Have students select a slip of paper with a number. When a number is called, the corresponding student will come to the table and select a package. (You may start with the number one or the last number.) Ask students, "What do you think or expect will be inside your package, and why do you think so?" After students have stated responses, record the package description with the expectation on a chart, chalkboard, overhead, or whiteboard. Then direct them to open the packages. While students are doing so, carefully observe their reactions and write those reactions on a whiteboard, chart paper, overhead, or chalkboard. Then discuss the expectations and reactions with students.

  2. Explain that when we use images of people, events or issues to make broad generalizations or oversimplified statements, it is harmful and called "stereotyping."

  3. Show a molding item (preferably a candy mold, although cookie cutter, gelatin mold or other will work). Tell the students it represents stereotypes because the mold will produce objects that look like you would expect¾the mold. It will produce objects that are consistent in shape and size. Directly teach the students that it is a natural function of our brains to organize incoming information (from our senses) into categories to make sense of our world. In doing so, we tend to think in terms of the typical rather than the atypical. For example, when we hear the word "bird," we are more likely to think of a robin than a penguin. Students should know that it was understandable that they expected the attractive package to contain a desirable item and the unattractive package to contain an undesirable item. It is helpful to organize bits of information in our mind when thinking of "things." However, when we are thinking in terms of people, stereotypes are harmful. Ask students, "Why are stereotypes harmful?" (Possible answers may include: They prevent us from seeing people, events or issues as they really are; They may prevent potential from being realized; They may prevent creative solutions to problems). Emphasize the importance of addressing people as individuals being unique in their thoughts and actions. Whether we agree or disagree with others, we must recognize their right to be an individual and to be heard.

  4. Now connect the meaning of stereotypes to prejudice. Teach students that when we form positive or negative opinions based on preconceived stereotyped images or thoughts rather than accurate and complete information, it is called "prejudice." Ask students, "Why is prejudice harmful?" (Possible answers may include: It may cause hurt or angry feelings; [it may lead to hostile actions]; It may prevent relationships from forming; It may prevent open-minded and tolerant thinking.) Distribute the flowchart entitled, What's the Difference? (Attachment One) on which students will record key information. It will be used later to demonstrate learning in the lesson Assessment. Elicit, from students, the key information that belongs in the first five shapes. See What's the Difference? Teacher Key (Attachment Two). The teacher may assist students by filling in elicited responses on an overhead copy while students fill in key information on their student copy.

  5. Focus attention on the topic of stereotypes. Label individual sheets of chart paper with some or all of the following categories:

    professional athletes

    young children

    white collar workers
    factory workers

  6. Give students 3x3 self-stick notes and ask them to write down stereotypes they have heard or are aware of regarding the above-mentioned categories (one per sticky note which may be color coded per category) and place them on corresponding category chart sheets. Although affective feelings are inherent in this process, the teacher must guide this activity as a cognitive recognition of stereotypes.

  7. Give the students time to view the charts. Then engage the students in reflection by using the following questions:

    • How do you feel about the stereotypes written?
    • Were positive and/or negative stereotypes written? Is there a difference, and if so, what?
    • What observations/insights can you share based on what you learned?
  8. Begin the second period by playing the song, Carefully Taught (Attachment Six) or just show the lyrics if the music is not available. Ask students to generate a list of sources by which stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination are learned. These should be posted as a reminder to reflect upon and be aware of so as to intentionally act sensitively toward others. The list may include: family, culture, gender, socio-economic status and media.

  9. Directly teach students that prejudice (feeling - affective) is based on stereotypes (thoughts - cognitive) and that acting on stereotypes and prejudice results in discrimination (actions - behavior). Direct students to write the label "discrimination" in the final symbol on What's the Difference? (Attachment One).

  10. Distribute Video Viewing Guide (Attachment Three). Using the video, The Human Race Club: The Unforgettable Pen Pal, (see Bibliographical References) now will provide a concrete and powerful illustration of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination to which young people can relate. Although it is a cartoon format, the level of thought is appropriate for all grade levels. It is a thirty-minute video, but the song at the end is optional. Therefore, allow approximately twenty-five minutes for viewing. Utilize the Video Viewing Guide Teacher Key (Attachment Four) to ensure focus and processing of key concepts. The following information may be used for discussion with students:

    • Prejudice happens easily. We must work hard to avoid pre-judging.
    • We must form intelligent opinions since our opinions affect how we behave.
    • Many young people refer to the elderly as "old" people. Discuss the denotation and insensitivity of that term vs. "elderly" or other positive/respectful descriptors.
    • We must evaluate people on "who," not "what," they are.
  11. Follow-up discussion may include responses to the viewing guide as well as characters to which students could identify. This may be related to thoughts, emotions and actions of the characters in the video. The guide may be collected and viewed by the teacher as a means of informal assessment regarding key information and concepts learned. Note: Students will need complete and accurate information from response #8 of the video viewing guide for subsequent lessons in this unit.

  12. On the third day of this lesson, make the transition from the cognitive learning to the affective investment in this learning so that students will find purpose in developing sensitivity to others as they build relationships with others in a direct service relationship. Do a think-pair-share activity in which students reflect on a time when they were affected by stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination or a time in which they were the offender and treated someone insensitively. Then have students orally share the experience with a partner, using the recording sheet Think-Pair-Share Activity (Attachment Five) as they listen to the experience of another and record the response.

  13. After students have finished the think-pair-share activity, examine the situation in the video between Joey Estrada and A.J. in terms of cause and effect. (A.J. prejudged Joey's "friend" based on stereotypes he held about people with handicaps. As a result, Joey was very hurt, and the friendship between the two boys was destroyed.) Then, using the five-step "how to" process to help people form intelligent opinions (to avoid stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination), elicit from and discuss with students how the sad/unfortunate ending between A.J. and Joey could have been prevented. (A.J. should have paid attention to the information he received¾Joey told him the "friend" was terrific, and he was sure A.J. would like the "friend." Although he was honest, A.J. didn't keep an open mind and ask questions to gather and evaluate information.) Then have the students evaluate the situation of their partner and suggest a different outcome based on the five step model (see "Reflect and Revise" in Attachment Five).

  14. Make the connection between the Anticipatory Set and key lesson information by explaining (or eliciting from students) the following: "You instinctively stereotyped the packages based on their size and/or appearance. In your hope and desire to get the most desirable/best package of all the choices, you used those stereotypes to make assumptions/prejudgment in selecting (act of discriminating) the packages."


Using the flowchart from What's the Difference? (Attachment One), have students work together in pairs or small groups to show their understanding of stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination. In the now labeled shapes, students must write their own description/definition for each of the terms or they must give a life-related example of each. Circulating among pairs or groups will enable the teacher to hear discussion, probe student thinking, and ensure involvement of all students. Upon reading of the description/definitions or examples, the teacher will determine if students have expressed full understanding. If not, further questioning or presentation of ideas is necessary.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark MS.4 Analyze information to differentiate fact from opinion based on the investigation of issues related to the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark MS.6 Describe the procedures and the importance of sensitivity to the people with whom students are working.

Academic Standards

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