The Multicultural Person
- Africa, Asia, Central America and Mexico, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, Pacific Islands, South America, The Caribbean, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe
- Grades 3-5
- Cross-Cultural Understanding
- 20 minutes
Students will learn that they belong to many groups, depending on the criteria they choose to determine the groupings.
Each of us belongs to many groups that function in ways similar to larger cultures. This exercise can be used to teach elementary school children about the many groups to which they belong. It attempts to teach the notion of differences in a neutral framework without evaluating those differences as being either good or bad.
- Students will identify themselves as members of many different groups.
- Students will observe differences without making value judgments.
- Prepare for this activity by developing three lists of neutral characteristics that would be likely to divide the group. The first list should include characteristics related to objects worn or carried by the students, e.g., those wearing black shoes/brown shoes/other-colored shoes; those wearing red/those not wearing red; those with backpacks/those without backpacks. The second list may include more personal characteristics, such as hair color, eye color, birth month, or food and activity preferences. The third set will contain more obvious cultural differences, such as national background, national costumes, and language. The lists should be appropriate for the students in the class and designed in such a way that students are not singled out in embarrassing ways.
- Move desks and chairs off to one side of the room to clear a large area in the center of the floor.
- Assemble the students into a large group in the center of the room. Ask students to name a few characteristics that they all have in common (e.g, all of the students live in the same community and are members of a particular class in school). Help students identify ways that these characteristics set them apart from other groups. For example, all of the students in the school may be expected to follow a particular set of rules. All of the fifth-grade students may take part in an annual field trip.
- Then give a series of instructions that will divide the group according to items on the first list, such as: "All those wearing red move to the right side of the room, and all those not wearing red move to the left side of the room."
- Reassemble the large group and continue to issue instructions that will divide the group in a series of ways.
- After the group has become familiar with the exercise, move toward the more personal differences related to the second list.
- End the exercise by using characteristics from the third list.
Use the following questions to focus discussion around cultural difference being just one of the significant components that define us.
- How did it feel to learn that each of you is a member of many different groups? Were you surprised by the number of groups to which you belong?
- How did you feel about being put into a group based on characteristics you couldn't change (e.g., eye color and hair color)?
- What happened when we started dividing the class into subgroups according to the color of their clothing or shoes? What comments did you or your classmates make?
- What did you learn by doing this exercise?
- What do you think about judging individuals according to the color of their shoes or by what kind of food they like?
- How does this exercise relate to how you get along with people? What kind of judgments do you make about people? How are your judgments similar to or different from food or clothing preferences?
- What if we had done this exercise by giving different treatment to certain groups? How would you feel? How might other people in the group feel?
- How can we use what we learned during this exercise in real life?
- Point out to students that each of us typically can identify with a number of groups. Provide several examples, such as "people who speak Spanish," or "people who like to eat fish." Have students brainstorm additional examples of groups. Then, ask students to list on a sheet of paper 10 groups to which they belong. Have students arrange the items on their lists in a hierarchy from the group with largest number of people to the smallest (e.g., from people who live on the planet Earth to people who hate French fries). Then have each student collect the signatures of other students in the class who belong to the same groups. Afterward, discuss the similarities and differences among the student lists. Did students in the class belong to many of the same groups? Do some of these groups identify members as part of a particular culture or cultures?
- This lesson could lead to a service-learning project. Discuss the multicultural nature of your class, school, and community. Have your students learn more about the cultures present in your area and then teach other students about them. They may make posters, bulletin boards, videos, or multimedia presentations to accomplish this. Use the Service-Learning Rubric found in the Looking at Ourselves and Others PDF to help you plan and execute a project that will have strong impact.