Diversity is a broad term, used to describe differences or variety within a group. It may relate to cultural, religious, ethnic, and many other differences among people. In our day to day life, as we interact with a variety of people, we realize that some may be very similar to and others very different from us. How can we acknowledge the differences and at the same time find enough commonalities to coexist peacefully and productively?
In this lesson, students with explore the concept of diversity; how diverse is our classroom, workplace, community? Is diversity a challenge or is it an asset? What happens when we neglect seeing diversity in our environment or worse yet, discriminate against those different from us? The following classroom activities encourage students to define and think about diversity and its' impact on their daily life.
1. Classroom Activity: Who are you? Who are we?
Purpose of the activity: to find similarities between each other, to realize the power of getting to know someone.
Ask students to partner up, preferably with another student they typically don't interact with. Let the students know that they have about 5 minutes to interview their partner and gather information about them, before they reverse the roles. After 10 minutes are over, ask each couple to introduce their partner to the class.
Discussion questions: What have you learned about your partner that you didn't previously know? Have you discovered differences/ similarities? Were you surprised about some of the information? Teacher: make a chart and gather some of the characteristics students found out during the interview: What are the major differences? What are the similarities?
2. Classroom Discussion: Why are we all unique?
Open up the discussion by pointing out that we are both, similar and different. While we can find many similarities between us (as students have experienced in previous activity), we can also point out differences. Let's explore the differences: how do we differ? Gender, age, ethnicity, religion, cultural background, abilities, sexual orientation, political preferences, etc. Explore with students how our identities are made up of these (and many other) elements. Which of these are chosen? Which are we born into? Which are ascribed to us by others? Do any of these characteristics come with an advantage/disadvantage? If so, why and who determines it? What happens when we reduce a person/a group of people to only one of these characteristics (race/ religion/ethnicity/ etc.)?
Close the discussion by pointing out to students that our identities are made up of many different elements. When we reduce a person (or group of people) to only one of them, we neglect seeing the many other characteristics that make up a unique individual. Yet it is in the complexity and richness of our identities where we find connections and similarities to others.
3. Classroom Activity
Purpose of the activity: designing a community that values diversity.
Divide the classroom into groups of about 6 students. Each group receives a poster board and markers.
1. In groups, ask students to brainstorm what this classroom/school/community would be like if they truly valued diversity.
2. Ask students to design a poster of their vision and develop steps which they, as an individual or group, can take to achieve this vision.
3. Have each group present their vision to the whole class. Then, have them list their action steps. The other groups can ask questions or make comments.
4. Agree on three action steps that everyone in the class can take to help foster diversity in the classroom/school/community.
Suggestions for action steps: talk to someone you have never talked to before; question stereotypes by getting to know people that seem different from you; speak up when you hear someone make a discriminatory remark; reach out to people who are alone/left out; learn about other people's cultural/religious customs; celebrate/acknowledge holidays of different religions; learn about history of different ethnicities; listen to influential people of diverse ethnic/cultural/religious backgrounds; discover ethnic food; watch foreign movies; tune to world music; read foreign news and books; if possible, take trips abroad; try to learn at least one foreign language.
Follow up the presentations by pointing out that we all want to live in a community where we are accepted and appreciated for our unique contributions. By taking some of the actions outlined above, we are actively helping to create a community that embraces diversity.
4. Classroom Activity
Read and analyze with students King's statement about the World House. Choose one of the following activities:
A. In groups of two or three, ask students to analyze the quote and explain what did King mean by "world house"? Ask students to write in their own words the meaning of this statement. How does King's statement relate to today's world?
B. Material needed: white sheets of construction paper the size of a postcard (one for each student); color pencils/markers
Explain all unknown words. Discuss with students the idea of the "world house," what did King mean by it? After students understand the concept, ask them to draw a picture that captures the idea of a world house, a place where people live together in peace. When finished, display pictures in the classroom and ask students to introduce/explain their work.
Some years ago a famous novelist died. Among his papers was found a list of suggested plots for future stories, the most prominently underscored being this one: “A widely separated family inherits a house in which they have to live together.” This is the great new problem of mankind. We have inherited a large house, a great “world house” in which we have to live together—black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu—a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.
The World House, From: Where do you go from here: Chaos or Community, Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967
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