How Accurate Is It?

Students will examine how generalizations can easily be invalid, and they will learn how to qualify generalizations to make them accurate.

This activity introduces students to the difficult concept of generalization so that they will 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, need to be qualified. The activity also asks students to practice using qualifying language.


Students will learn to identify and modify generalizations


Pencils and paper 


  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 the following statement on the board: "Snakes are harmful." Ask students to write whether they agree or disagree with the statement at the top of a sheet of paper. Then read each the following questions aloud. Have students write "yes" or "no" in response to each question.
    • Are all snakes harmful?
    • Are most snakes harmful?
    • Are many snakes harmful?
    • Are some snakes harmful?
    • Are a few snakes harmful?
    • Do you know about all snakes?
    • Is the statement "Snakes are harmful" true?
  1. As a class, explore the following questions.
    • How many students agreed with the statement on the board? How many students answered no to the seventh question? What made you change your mind?
    • 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)?
    • 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)?
  1. Have students work in small groups to evaluate the accuracy of the generalizations listed on the "How Accurate Is It?" worksheet. Encourage them to discuss their reasoning and come to consensus on each statement. Then have students work in pairs to rewrite each statement using the qualifying phrases discussed above so that it is as accurate as possible.
  2. 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.) 


  1. Watch one or more Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools program Destination videos. Ask students to listen for and record the qualified statements made in the tape. (Example: Most people in Honduras live in the mountains.)
  2. Ask students to collect examples of generalizations from advertising. Discuss why advertisers use generalizations and have students revise generalized statements to make them more accurate. 

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