In sociology or social science classes, instructors teach the concept of social stratification. In the United States, the premise of the equality of individuals is a governmental foundation, but the reality is that inequality occurs in society. Teachers can use well-designed and memorable classroom activities to teach stratification.
Coin Toss Activity
A common coin toss is one method of showing how quickly divisions of wealth can occur in society. Students bring three coins to class. The instructor pairs students off in a fast-moving game of calling "heads" or "tails." The winner of the toss keeps both coins, then the teacher pairs students off again. Once a student loses all his coins, he is bankrupt and can no longer play. As soon as someone accumulates 16 coins, the game ends. The teacher then leads a discussion to emphasise that social and economic events beyond individual control can alter a society -- sometimes more than personal abilities or skills. An instructor can vary the game by having students pool coins to represent credit agencies or other alliances. A report in the January, 2003 issue of Teaching Sociology notes that students found a simple coin toss to be a memorable lesson on distribution of wealth.
At the beginning of this popular game, players are equal: all receive the same amount of money and individuals do not own any property. Throughout play, some players amass more capital and property, while others lose money and cannot afford to buy property. The individuals with more capital are able to buy more houses and hotels -- thus gaining more income -- and eventually bankrupt those players with less resources. A teacher can lead a postgame discussion to help students analyse how the game reflects social stratification. With some guidance, students can draw parallels to real economic systems.
"Life Happens" Activity
Following a lesson devised by instructor Tracy Ore, a teacher divides the class into different families. Size and exact members of families differ throughout the class. The different families represent a stratified society. Each family unit has a certain level of wealth, which includes income from jobs, assets, investments and real estate. Based on its socioeconomic realities, each family makes a budget and a life plan. Then, members of the family draw "Life Happens" cards, which describe various scenarios that might affect those budgets and plans. For example, an automobile may break down or a spouse might lose a job. Through the activity, students analyse how economic conditions can make it easier or harder for families to withstand misfortune. Teachers can use this activity for one class period followed by a discussion. Alternatively, the activity can last an entire semester, wherein families draw a card every week, and report every three weeks on how the "Life Happens" conditions affect their financial security. Students write a report at the end of the semester to analyse social stratification.