Observing First Impressions

9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, students identify personal qualities that are a result of their culture, experience, and genetics that make them similar to and different from others. Through active participation and response to an audio recording, they learn that rethinking first impressions about people can lead to connecting with others and valuing the diversity of different cultures. Students start to explore their personal role in connecting with people globally by valuing diversity.

PrintTwo Fifty-Minute Class Periods

The student will:

  • state that first impressions of people are not always reliable information.
  • describe personal traits and related assumptions/prejudices.
  • define culture as "the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a group."
  • identify traditional cultural influences: race, ethnicity, religion, heritage.
  • identify popular culture influences: technology, generational, social networking, and current surroundings, etc.
  • list three positive characteristics of his/her family related to culture (not genetics).
  • write a benefit of diversity to society.
  • brainstorm the benefits of connecting with people globally.
  • define service, volunteering, and philanthropy (giving time, talent, and/or treasure and taking action for the common good).
  • (homework) read and summarize an article with four key bullet points.
  • printout of the Hermann grid for each student or pair of students (copy image from Wikipedia "Hermann Grid")
  • teacher copy of Handout One: Uniqueness and Prejudice
  • index card for each student
  • Internet access and speakers to play audio file from computer: NPR radio show "This I Believe," featuring Matt Harding
  • printed copy of selected articles in Bibliographical References (a different article for each student or two) Alternative: provide copies of Handout Two: Articles for Homework. Assign articles to students and they go to the URLs (internet locations of the papers) to read the papers online.
Teacher Preparation 

Teacher Note: Matt Harding created a video of himself dancing all over the world. The video became very popular on YouTube because of the power of his sincerity in wanting to connect to different people in different cultures. Dancing (badly), laughing, and smiling with people seemed to break some barriers. The YouTube video is called "Where the Heck Is Matt?" Preview the video before deciding whether to show it to your class. You do not need to show the video to teach this lesson (it is not in the procedures). You may choose to have the students watch the video at home before or after Day One of lesson one.

Home Connection 

For homework, give each student a briefing paper to read and summarize (write four key bullet points). The briefing papers present the views and traditions from different groups on giving and serving. Each paper provides one group's perspective. Find links to the briefing papers in Bibliographical References. Print out the papers or provide students with the handout of the Internet links.

  1. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Latino Donor: Motivations, Preferences, and Interests: /resources/latino-donor-motivations-preferences-interests
  2. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Latino Volunteerism: /resources/latino-volunteerism
  3. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Native American Philanthropy (I): /resources/native-american-philanthropy-paper-i
  4. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Philanthropy and the Black Church: /resources/philanthropy-and-black-church
  5. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Tikkun Olam: /resources/tikkun-olam
  6. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Women and Philanthropy: /resources/women-and-philanthropy
  7. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Youth Philanthropy: /resources/youth-philanthropy
  8. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Buddhism and the Philanthropy of Compassion. /faithgroups/voices/buddhism_phil_compassion.asp
  9. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Generosity in Buddhism. /faithgroups/voices/generosity_in_buddhism.asp
  10. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Philanthropy in Islam. /faithgroups/voices/phil_in_islam.asp
  11. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Philanthropic Perspectives of Hinduism. /faithgroups/voices/phil_persp_of_hinduism.asp
  12. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Roman Catholic Philosophy on Philanthropy. /faithgroups/voices/roman_catholic_phil.asp
  13. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Tzedakah: Some Principles of the Jewish Way of Giving. /faithgroups/voices/tzedakah_some_principles.asp
  14. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. The Jewish Philosophy of Philanthropy. /faithgroups/voices/tzedakah_jewish_view_of_phil.asp
  15. Learning to Give Briefing Papers. Philanthropy and the Good Samaritan (Christian). /faithgroups/phil_in_america/philanthropy_good.asp


  1. Day One:

    Anticipatory Set:

    Show the students a Hermann grid (see Materials or Bibliographical References). Ask them whether the gray squares are actually there. Discuss how these gray squares are like our first impressions of people. (First impressions are things we assume about people that may or may not be true.)

  2. Put the following quote on the board: "We are good at picking out people who are different from us. Our instincts tell us they are a threat." (Matt Harding) Discuss with the students whether in their own experience they think this is accurate. Matt Harding states that at one time this was a survival instinct, but today, we have to deliberately override this instinct in order to connect with people. Discuss the benefits and dangers of seeing difference as a threat.

  3. Participate in a simulation in which students identify traits that make them unique and state what they don't want people to assume about them because of these traits. See the specific directions in Handout One: Uniqueness and Prejudice. Discuss the students' feelings about the activity (questions included in Handout One).

  4. Tell the students that some of these unique attributes and practices are a result of our genetics, and some come from our culture. Define culture as "the shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize a group." We get these attitudes and practices from our traditional culture (race, ethnicity, religion, heritage, family) and popular culture (technology, generational differences, social networking, media, and physical surroundings). Write those two headings on the board on a T-chart (Traditional Culture and Popular Culture). Brainstorm with the class examples of these two types of cultural influences (Traditional: holiday traditions, spiritual traditions, music, family practices; Popular: IM, movies, brand identification, etc.).

  5. Say, "When we look at all the factors that influence us, it is easy to see why we have so many differences from each other." Ask the students how respecting personal differences honors the experiences, culture, and heritage of different people. Discuss whyrespecting cultural differences isimportant.

  6. Have students write three or four unique and positive traits/beliefs/traditions about themselves that they feel are directly related to their cultural heritage (race, religion, family values, ethnic heritage, etc.). Each student writes these traits neatly in sentences on an index card but puts no name on the card. (e.g., My family eats dinner together each night so we can talk. I visit my grandparents in Bosnia each summer. We light candles on our holy days.)

  7. In preparation for the next class period, display all of the index cards where students can read one another's responses as they enter the room. At the top of the display, write the following reflection question: "In what ways are diversity and uniqueness a strength and benefit to our society?"

  8. Day Two:

    Anticipatory Set:

    As students enter the room, they read the index cards and reflection question. Tell them to write a sentence to answer the reflection question. After a few minutes, have them share their sentences with partners. Ask for volunteers to share their responses with the whole class. Review the key points and write them on the display with the index cards and reflection question.

  9. Tell the students that you are going to play an audio clip from a radio show called "This I Believe." In this episode, they will hear from Matt Harding whocreated a video of himself dancing with people around the world. Tell them to listen for the main idea of the broadcast--What does Matt Harding believe?--and prepare to discuss what they believe about the topic.

  10. Play the following episode of the NPR radio show "This I Believe," featuring Matt Harding: https://www.npr.org/2009/03/29/102423050/dancing-to-connect-to-a-global-tribe

  11. After playing the audio clip, ask the students to identify what Matt Harding believes. Discuss their beliefs/opinions about Matt's idea that people want to feel connected. (i.e., What does it mean to feel connected? disconnected? How is this related to respecting cultural differences? What is the best way to respond when we see someone who seems different?) Discuss the future or current changes in our world culture that might encourage people to see similarities instead of differences with people around the world.

  12. Ask, "Are there any common traits/beliefs/traditions that are important to all cultures?" Discuss what we might all have in common (celebrate holidays, spend time with family, want to feel valued/respected, etc.) that will help connect us with a common purpose. Ask the students to think about what they can do (make a contribution) toward connecting people with a common purpose.

  13. Ask students whether they think Matt Harding is taking action to make the world a better place (service/volunteering). Discuss ways his video makes (or could make) the world a better place. As part of this discussion, clarify the definitions of service, volunteering, and philanthropy (giving time, talent, and/or treasure and taking action for the common good).

  14. Tell the students that at the end of this unit (Lesson Three) they will create an audio or visual episode similar to "This I Believe." In their presentations, they will report their personal beliefs about service and volunteering as a result of examining cultural history and cultural influences.

  15. For homework, assign each student an article to read. Each article (see Bibliographical References or Handout Two: Articles for Homework) describes the attitudes, practices, and perspectives of giving and serving in a specific culture. Students bring to the next class period four key bullet points about the philanthropy of the culture represented in their paper. They will teach the rest of the class about the content of their paper.


Assess whether students understand the impact of cultural influences and are aware of prejudices through observation in discussions and activities. Each student writes three personal traits on the index card at the end of Day One, and should write a logical reflection at the beginning of Day Two.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Identify and discuss examples of philanthropy and charity in modern culture.
    2. Standard DP 06. Role of Family in Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Discuss the role of family life in shaping a democratic society.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Compare and discuss the interaction of families, business, government, and the civil society sector in a democratic society.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
    2. Standard PCS 02. Diverse Cultures
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Analyze philanthropic traditions of diverse cultural groups and their contributions to civil society.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.