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Generalizations: How Accurate Are They?


Students will examine how generalizations can be hurtful and unfair, and they will devise ways to qualify statements so they avoid stereotyping other people.

This lesson introduces students to the concept of generalization as it applies to cultural stereotyping. The goal is to have students challenge generalizations made about people, insist on knowing the evidence that supports these, and be willing to modify their own generalizations when confronted by evidence showing them to be false. It is important for students to understand that almost all generalizations, particularly those about people and other cultures, need to be qualified. The lesson also asks students to practice using qualifying language. You may want to relate this lesson to Lesson 6, on making generalizations about Americans.


  • Students will learn to recognize and modify generalizations.



  1. Explain the meaning of "general" and "specific," using objects in the room or pictures to illustrate your point (e.g., "This horse is black" versus "All horses are black").
  2. Write this statement on the board: "Snakes are harmful." Ask students to write at the top of a sheet of paper whether they agree or disagree with the statement. Then read each of the following questions aloud. Have students number 1 through 7, then write "yes" or "no" in response to each question.
    1. Are all snakes harmful?
    2. Are most snakes harmful?
    3. Are many snakes harmful?
    4. Are some snakes harmful?
    5. Are a few snakes harmful?
    6. Do you know about all snakes?
    7. Is the statement "Snakes are harmful" true?
  3. As a class, address the following questions:
    • How many students agreed with the statement on the board at first? How many students answered no to the seventh question? If you changed your mind, what made you do so?
    • What words can you add to the statement "Snakes are harmful" to make it more accurate (e.g., some snakes, many snakes, a few snakes in Asia, many snakes in Australia)?
    • What can you add to the statement to show that you don't have a lot of factual information about snakes (e.g., as far as I know, I'm not sure, in my experience)?

4. Have students work in small groups to evaluate the accuracy of the generalizations listed on Worksheet #5. Encourage them to discuss their reasoning and come to consensus on each statement. Then have students work in pairs to rewrite each statement using qualifying phrases like those suggested above so that each statement is accurate.

5. As a class, discuss the conclusions of each group, paying close attention to how the statements were qualified.


Use the following questions to guide a brainstorming session to help students recognize generalizations and begin using qualifying language.

  1. Have you ever heard anyone use a generalization to describe you or another person? How does it feel when someone does that?
  2. What happened when we used a generalization to describe snakes? Was the statement accurate? What happened when we used qualifiers to describe snakes? When you filled out the worksheet, which statements were more difficult to evaluate—the statements about things or the statements about people?
  3. What are some ways we could complete the following sentences?
    • We should try not to use generalizations because _________ .
    • It is important to use qualified statements because _________.

4. What can you do if you hear someone using generalizations to describe a person or a group of people? (Help students articulate some nonconfrontational ways to respond to generalized descriptions.)

5. How can being alert to generalizations help us avoid stereotyping individuals from other cultures—or individuals different from ourselves?

Frameworks and standards

Enduring understandings

  • Understanding the importance of qualifying a generalization can help prevent stereotyping.

Essential questions

  • What do we gain from qualifying a generalization? Why bother doing it?
  • What are some ways we can avoid stereotyping other people who are different from us? 


Invite students to challenge generalizations in their daily lives. Ask the students to think about generalizations and stereotypes they might use sometimes in casual conversations with friends. List some words that often appear in students' casual conversations that can be hurtful to others. Ask students to substitute more accurate and qualified statements for these words. Challenge the students to model culturally sensitive behavior for their friends and family. Ask them to observe how many of their friends and families modify their word choices.