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One World Lessons: Stereotypes

In our latest blog series, Laura D’Elia and Wendy Garland discuss their experiences and offer diversity, equity, and inclusion lessons that can be taught in the K-6 classroom or library. Each lesson incorporates the Learning for Justice Social Justice Standards and the AASL Standards Framework for Learning, as well as includes recommended picture books from the Diverse BookFinder collection. 

Laura Beals D’Elia (she/her/hers) has been an elementary library teacher since 2002. She has presented at various state, national, and international conferences on such topics as 1:1 iPads in an elementary school library and technology program, digital storytelling, and guided inquiry. She currently co-teaches a professional workshop for educators with her district’s ELL District Coordinator about using inclusive picture books in the classroom for all grade levels.

Wendy Garland (she/her/hers) has been an elementary librarian since 2002. She has a BA in Spanish and a BS in liberal studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a MLIS from Simmons College. Wendy has spoken at library conferences both locally and internationally and was a participant in the AASL Induction Program. She shares all things “library” at @dancelibrarian and Listen. Connect. Empower blog.

Why Stereotypes?

A major theme throughout our lessons is identity. We have spent quite a bit of time reading stories, identifying mirrors and windows, mapping and drawing our own identities, and discussing the differences between who we are on the outside and who we are on the inside. It is important to this work that we continue to help students develop their empathy muscles. Therefore, we decided to include a lesson on how sometimes people can make mistakes about other people.

Students standing up on each side of a SmartBoard thinking about the question on the board, "Which person likes spicy food?"
3rd graders in an activity where we ask them to choose.

The Lesson

  • Essential Question: What is a stereotype and how can they be incorrect or unfair?
  • AASL Standard: Explore/Think V.A.2 Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by reflecting and questioning assumptions and possible misconceptions.
  • Social Justice Standard: Justice 11 Students will recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals rather than representatives of groups.

Pre-Read Aloud

We started this unit with a lesson that highlighted our identities, first with what people can see on the outside. We asked students to share what parts of a person’s identity are on the outside (for example: hair color, skin color, what you wear, etc.).

Lesson #1 Read Aloud

We chose to read Cannonball by Sacha Cotter. We asked students to pay attention to what we can tell about the main character by what we can see on the outside. After the story, students were able to share that the character:

  • Has black hair
  • Has long hair
  • Has brown skin
  • Likes to wear sparkly/fancy clothes
  • Likes to wear jewelry

Many students were curious to know if the character was a boy or a girl, so we went back to the text to look for common gender markers, like how the author uses "he" pronouns.

Lesson #1 Post-Read Aloud

As in previous identity lessons, we asked students to draw their own outside identities with as much detail as they could and had them think about “what can people tell about you from looking at you?” We used colored pencils (we offer Colors of the World and More Than Peach pencils) and most students were really invested in finding the right skin color, asking each other, “Does this color match my skin?” and “What color are my eyes!?”

3rd grade students draw their outside identities

Lesson #2 Read Aloud

For the second lesson, we wanted to introduce the idea of assumptions before we made the leap to stereotypes. A House for Every Bird by Megan Maynor is the perfect book. The character in the story loves to draw birds and also draws a house for each bird that matches the bird’s feather colors. The birds get upset because they don’t like the houses she makes for them and chaos ensues. Finally, the lesson learned is that the girl should have asked first before making assumptions.

A House for Every Bird


by Megan Maynor and Kaylani Juanita

"A young artist’s drawings rebel against her when she tries to put her sketched birds in houses that match how they look, but not how they feel in this hilarious picture book perfect for readers of Julian is a Mermaid and The Big Orange Splot. A young artist has drawn birds and bird houses in corresponding colors. Now it’s time to match them up. The blue bird goes in the blue house, the orange bird in the orange house, and so on. But wait! The birds don’t agree with the narrator’s choices and, much to her distress, are rebelling by swapping houses. Can the narrator make the birds see sense? Or is it possible that you just can’t tell a bird by its feathers?" -- publisher

Any Child

Lesson #2 Post-Read Aloud

We then created a series of images on Google Slides that ask which of the two people on the slide likes something. Students had to choose either the person on the left or the person on the right. Then, we asked one person from each side to explain why they chose that person. A small confession here: this activity is intentionally devious. After having just read a story about the problems with making assumptions based on what someone looks like on the outside, we wanted to see if students could identify that we were asking them to make an assumption. A few students figured it out but the rest made comments like:

  • Girls can like video games too
  • He looks like he plays basketball
  • He has black hair so he probably likes spicy food
A Google Slide with images of two children, one is a girl holding a soccer ball and the other is a boy looking through a microscope. The question on the slide says, "Which person loves to read?"
Sample of an image where we ask students to make a choice

This next step is very important and should not be skipped. We went back through the images so we could review the “correct” answers. For every single slide, the answer was, “I don’t know. I’ve never met these people.” By the 3rd slide, the students caught on and were chanting the response with us. That was the moment the students really understood assumptions. Of course, we apologized for setting them up. Most third grade students were playfully indignant, some were incredulous, and some just laughed. 

Interestingly, a group of fifth grade students had a very different response. Several slides into the exercise, students commented, “This is stupid! How am I supposed to choose one just by looking at this?” We only looked at five images because the outrage was escalating, and phrases were being thrown around like “These are stereotypes,” “You are assuming something that you don’t know,” and “This is racist!” We stopped, asked them what they meant by these statements, and the students led a passionate conversation (with us moderating) about what the words “assumptions” and “stereotypes” meant.  When we returned to the slides and we provided the “correct” answers, the students clearly became relieved because they understood the point we were making.

Lesson #3 Read Aloud

There are many great stories to use for this last lesson on stereotypes. We chose Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps by Srividhya Venkat as it has great appeal to our Indian students and clearly shows a common stereotype: dance is only for girls.

This title is not yet in The Diverse BookFinder's database, but you can find it in our Bookshop.

Lesson #3 Post-Read Aloud

Next, we used a series of Google Slides called Busting Stereotypes to show examples of stereotypes while also giving the students an opportunity to explain why the stereotypes were incorrect or unfair. Once they gave their explanation, they “busted” the stereotype! (by tapping the balloon in Present mode, the balloon popped, disappeared, and was replaced with confetti.)

Finally, we asked students to go back to their outside identity drawings and record the parts of their inside identities.

Student responses about their inside identities. Family: brother, mom, dad. Holidays: Lunar New Year. Food: pizza. Languages: English and Taiwanese. Country: Asia. Hobbies: video games, badminton.
Student responses about their inside identities. Family: we are 10. Holidays: Eid. Food: cannot read it as it is in Arabic. Languages: Egyptian. Country: Egypt. Hobbies: art and cooking.
3rd grade students filling out their inside identities 
(We love how this student wrote one of her favorite foods in Arabic)

We used the book Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers with older students and asked them to complete two columns of thinking: who THEY say they are and who OTHERS say they are.

The arms and hands of two children writing their responses to the activity sheet.
5th grade students brainstorm who they say they are
and who others say they are.

We used these activities to carry us to the final prompt, which asks them to think of something about their own identities that people could get wrong by making an assumption based on an outside or inside identity. Yes, this was challenging! We modeled with our prompt: “Just because I have gray hair, Doesn’t mean that I’m old.” We were wonderfully amazed by some of their responses:

Student's written response on paper
3rd grade response: Just because I'm small doesn't mean the other kids are better.
Student's written response on paper
3rd grade response: Just because I'm a girl doesn't mean I don't play Roblox.
Student's written response on paper
3rd grade response: Just because I'm like 30% Irish doesn't mean I do tap dancing
or any other Irish traditions.
Student's written response on paper
5th grade response: Just because I eat different food from my culture and you don't like it doesn't mean that the food that I eat is weird.
Student's written response on paper
5th grade response: Just because I can't get a problem right doesn't mean I'm not smart.
Student's written response on paper
5th grade response: Just because I'm Black doesn't mean I'm violent.


Next year, we feel that it might be more effective (and easier to manage) if the “Just because…” prompt was on the same sheet as the outside/inside identity activity. We will definitely make time next year to have students share their prompt responses if they choose. To ensure we respect student privacy and to make students feel comfortable, we would include a checkbox in the corner of the activity sheet that says, “It’s OKAY to share.” Having students opt in as opposed to opt out makes sure that you don’t accidentally share if the student forgot to or didn’t have time to check the box.

For some classes, we ran out of time and were not able to read Dancing in Thatha’s Footsteps. To better manage the three lessons, we will have students do both outside and inside identities in one class which will leave time in the last class to do the read aloud and share the prompts.

We loved how active this unit was as well as how it resonated with many of our students. We know children are hearing these kinds of things (stereotypes and assumptions) in their lives both inside and outside of school. It is important to give them the time and space to understand it and the language to talk about it. We hope that students will now be able to recognize an assumption and flex their empathy muscles by saying something to fix it.

Explore other One World Lessons

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