This is a discussion-based activity looking at common misconceptions about particular groups. Students draw on the group´s knowledge to think about possible responses to negative stereotypes found online.
- to reflect on personal prejudices and negative stereotypes towards certain groups
- to develop arguments and explore responses to expressions of hate online
- to fill gaps in understanding and develop empathy towards groups often misunderstood by society
- Cut up a number of small pieces of paper – about 2 for everyone in the group (with a few “in reserve”).
- Be aware of any representatives in the group who may fall into a common “target group”. If you think there may be difficulties, take individuals aside beforehand and explain the activity to them. Let them know that they can be a useful resource for the group – and make sure they do not feel uneasy about the activity.
- It may be useful to prepare a few responses to some of the common concerns or misconceptions the group is likely to raise.
Step by step description
- Explain that a lot of hate speech and many racist attitudes are driven by ignorance. People believe things about groups of other people that they may never have met! Or they believe things about whole communities on the basis of information about just one person! When these beliefs are discussed widely, and go unchallenged, they start to be accepted as a “fact”. We can forget where we heard something, and forget that it may have been false, or just someone else´s opinion – and start believing it ourselves.
- Everyone on the internet can play an important role in questioning “facts” or opinions that they come across. Asking why – or explaining why not – is one of the most important things we can all do to stop the spread of false or malicious ideas. It is also the best way of arriving at reliable opinions for ourselves!
- Explain that the activity will explore some of the negative “facts” or opinions about certain groups that have become widely accepted today. We will try to develop arguments and debunk common myths using the knowledge and expertise of the group! The students should see this as an opportunity to gain a better understanding, and an opportunity to share their own knowledge/experience.
2. Get active
- Hand out the pieces of paper – two for each participant – and put the remaining pieces in a general pile, explaining that people can take extra slips if needed. Ask students to write down any negative opinions or statements of “fact” that they have seen expressed about particular groups – and which they would like to discuss. Give a few examples:
People should live in their own countries!
A woman´s place is in the home: women should stop taking jobs away from men.
Roma/gypsy travellers need to start living according to the customs of the country they´re in.
- Tell students they don’t have to believe in the statement themselves; they may just want to explore responses to commonly held ‘beliefs’. The papers should not be signed, and should all be placed in a hat or other container when ready.
- Place the three chairs in a semi-circle in front of the group. Only those sitting on one of the chairs will take part in the discussion; the rest of the group are observers.
- Explain that you will begin by inviting three volunteers to join in a conversation. If at any point someone else would like to join, then they may do so, but as there will only be 3 conversationalists at any one time, someone will have to change places with them. Anyone who wants to join the conversation should come forward and gently tap one of the ‘conversationalists’ on the shoulder. These two people exchange seats and the original conversationalist becomes an observer.
- Encourage students to come forward to express their own opinions, but also to express other opinions, which are not necessarily their own. In this way points of view that are controversial, “politically incorrect”, or unthinkable can be aired and the topic thoroughly discussed from many different perspectives. Offensive or hurtful comments directed at individuals in the group are not allowed.
- Ask a volunteer to pick a statement from the hat and start discussing it. Let the discussion run until students have exhausted the topic and points are being repeated. Then ask for three volunteers to discuss another slip of paper and start another round of conversations under the same rules as before.
- Discuss as many topics as you have time for. Allow a small amount of time at the end to ‘wind down’ after the discussion and reflect on the activity as a whole.
Tips for teachers:
- You will need to be very aware of different sensitivities or affiliations in the group, and should encourage students to keep this in mind in their discussions.
- There may be a number of statements that students, or you, feel unable to address directly. Write these up on a flipchart and either look into them yourself, to feed back later, or allocate to students to research and feed back.
- If the 3 conversationalists do not appear to be finding arguments against prejudicial statements, feel free to enter the conversation yourself. Avoid doing this too often: it might be worth stopping the conversation from time to time and ask if others in the group feel able to offer an alternative opinion.
- It is important to keep the discussion open, and for students to feel free to express views which they may themselves hold, or which are viewed as controversial but are commonly expressed in the media or in society as a whole. At the same time, the conversation should not deteriorate into a series of unkind and unjustified repetition of negative stereotypes. Encourage students to adopt an enquiring tone, and to phrase their comments in a sensitive way, even when they express a negative opinion about certain groups. Provide them with a few formulations, if necessary, for example:
“I have heard…”, It said that ...”
“Some people seem to think that ...”
“Can you help me to understand ...?”
“Why might this view be wrong?”
- Try to encourage everyone to enter the conversation at some point!
Reflection with the students / questions for debriefing
Use the following questions to allow students to reflect on whether the activity has altered their views, or given them arguments to counter examples of prejudice:
- Has anyone found out anything they didn’t know before?
- Has anyone’s opinion changed on a particular group or issue?
- Do you feel more able to engage in a discussion with prejudicial views? Do you think you might do this, either online or offline? Why or why not?
Suggestions for adaptations and variations
After gathering statements from students, you may want to allow time for them to research some of the comments before engaging in the discussion. Students are asked to prepare brief arguments to address the issue. This would raise the level of general awareness for the discussion.
This activity can also be organised as a series of activities, for example choosing to look at prejudices affecting a specific group in society. For each unit you could prepare or ask a group of volunteers to prepare information about the situation of that specific group in your country.
Reference / original source of the method
Keen, Ellie; Georgescu, Mara: Bookmarks – A manual combating hate speech online through human rights education. Council of Europe, 2014
This manual is designed to support the No Hate Speech Movement. It gathers activities designed for young people aged 13 to 18, however they are adaptable to other age ranges.