Racial Disparities Jigsaw Mini-Unit

In this mini-unit, students investigate racial disparities and their underlying causes and identify steps individuals and society should take to alleviate them.
Grade Level

  • Students will explore structural aspects of racism.
  • Students will connect historical racism with contemporary social problems.
  • Students will gather and use information for research purposes.
  • Students will read and listen critically.
  • Students will contribute to the overall effort of a group.
  • Resource material dealing with school resegregation, the educational inequity, the racial income gap, health care disparities and disproportionate minority confinement.
  • Copies of the Racial Disparities Information Organizer (PDF) for student groups.

Suggested Procedures

Begin by asking students to define racism and to share examples of racism. It's likely that students will focus on interpersonal examples of racism -- calling someone the "n-word," for example.

Let students know the class will be exploring racial disparities in U.S. society. Divide students into 5-person "jigsaw" groups. Be sure the groups are diverse in terms of gender, ethnicity, race and ability.

Assign one student from each group to investigate one the following racial disparity topics.

  • School resegregation
  • Educational inequity
  • Income gap
  • Health care disparities
  • Criminal justice system (disproportionate minority confinement)

Explain students will investigate their racial disparities topic along five lines of inquiry.

  • What is the nature and scope of the disparity or problem?
  • What impact does it have on African American communities?
  • What historic and present-day factors help create the problem?
  • What can individuals do to help address the problem?
  • What changes does society need to make to help relieve the disparity?

Provide time for students to review their assignments, locate resources and investigate teacher-provided resources individually.

Create "expert groups" that include students with the same topic from each of the small groups, e.g., all students who are investigating "school resegregation" should form an expert group, sharing what they learn in their individual investigations and working to create shared responses to the five investigative questions.

Note: Teachers should observe the groups at work and offer support in those places where students have difficulty. In our individualistic society, for example, it may be easier for students to identify steps individuals, rather than society, should take to remedy disparities.

Working together, the expert groups should create and rehearse the presentations they will make to their respective jigsaw groups.

Bring the students back into their jigsaw groups, and ask students to teach their topics to peers. As the "experts" teach the material, encourage students to complete the Racial Disparities Information Organizer. Encourage them to ask questions for clarification.

As a whole class, reflect on the information contained in students' Racial Disparities Information Organizers.

  • Some causes show up repeatedly, across the different kinds of disparities. Why might this be?
  • Was it easier to come up with individual or societal actions? Why?
  • How are societal and individual actions related? Can one occur without the other? Why?
  • Is one kind of action more effective than the other? Why?

In closing, provide time for students to reflect on what they learn in writing or through artwork.

Alternate Procedures

Instead of focusing on all 5 categories of racial disparities, select one for classroom focus. Break students into small, jigsaw groups of 5, and assign each student one of the 5 investigative questions. For example, if you selected "resegregation" as the focus, you'd assign one student from each jigsaw group to investigate one of following questions.

  • What is the nature and scope of school resegregation?
  • What impact does segregated schooling have on African American communities?
  • What historic and present-day factors help create segregated schools?
  • What can individuals do to help address school segregation?
  • What changes does society need to make to help relieve school segregation?

Students from the jigsaw groups with the same investigative question should caucus in expert groups as described in the main activity and then return to their jigsaw groups to teach what they've learned.

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