Classroom Activities to Teach About Segregation

Written by sarah wallman
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Classroom Activities to Teach About Segregation
Even young schoolchildren can learn about segregation. (Ableimages/Photodisc/Getty Images)

The effects of segregation can still be felt throughout society. Teachers can help children understand segregation through numerous classroom activities. However, take care when performing some of these activities, especially with younger children. Leave enough time after the activity to explain the exercise in depth and allow children to share their feelings.


For younger children, try an activity based on "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss. Using the class list, mark every third name. Read the marked names from the list aloud and announce that, from now on, these are the "good" students. They will have special privileges, such as lining up first or having five additional minutes of recess. Place a dot on their foreheads using a washable marker. Allow the situation to play out for half the day, with the "good" children favoured in all activities. Then gather the class and explain that it was an experiment. Read aloud from "The Sneetches." Explain the randomness of picking the "good" children and compare it to the arbitrary way people decide one race or ethnic group is superior. Make sure to lead a lengthy class discussion to soothe any hurt feelings.

Segregation Tic -Tac-Toe

Draw a grid containing 64 numbered squares on a large piece of paper and tape it to the floor. Place 25 pennies and 30 paper clips randomly on the grid. Have the students gather around to watch. Explain that the grid represents a neighbourhood and the paper clips and pennies symbolise families. Each penny wants to live near--touching--at least two other pennies, while each paper clip wants most of its neighbours to be paper clips. Have students suggest moves to make, such as "Move the penny on square 2 to square 24." Move each piece according to the students' directions. As students try to make every piece happy, they start to create a pattern of extreme segregation. Take the pennies and paper clips from the board and tell the students to try and create a more integrated "neighborhood." Move the pennies and paper clips according to their instructions. Discuss how an individual's social race preferences can lead to segregation.

Eye Color

This exercise is more suitable for older children. Like the Sneetches experiment, the eye colour exercise involves giving certain students special privileges but, in this instance, the students are not told why the teacher favours one student over the other. Choose a particular eye colour and begin treating students with that feature as superior; for example, only answer their questions or let them line up first. Never mention directly why some students are treated better than others. Observe that many students may unconsciously begin to assume their new roles by either acting superior or resenting those students who have been singled out. The next day, gather the class, explain the exercise and allow all the students to share their reactions. Leave plenty of time to discuss and air any grievances.

Frogs and Snakes

Have children put on a play with the theme of segregation. Download the play "Why Frogs and Snakes Never Play Together"--available from sites such as kidsinco--and assign children to the roles. This story of a forbidden friendship teaches that segregation is the result of learnt behaviour. Afterward, tell the children to write their own ending in which the snake and frog remain friends. This activity is suitable for young children and teaches a lesson about the unfairness of segregation.

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