Mix It Up Year Round: Help Students Move Beyond “Us vs. Them”

In this activity, you’ll walk students through a reflection on the ways social borders divide your school—and how they can work together to unite their school community.

Social boundaries between students can be the toughest divides to tear down, and students often know more about where they lie than educators do.

In this activity, you’ll walk your students through a reflection on the ways social borders divide your school—and how they can work together to unite their school community.


Borders and Boundaries

  1. Have your students create a large map of their school, including the cafeteria and grounds.
  2. Ask students to identify places where cliques or self-segregating groups gather.
  3. Tell students to draw lines between these areas on the map, marking the invisible walls. They should identify as many places as possible (for example, athletes gather at “the wall” before school; band members gather on the back steps after school).
  4. Pose the following questions: How does a new student learn about these boundaries and invisible walls? What happens when someone tries to cross one of the invisible walls? Can some students cross the walls more easily than others? Why or why not? What forces keep the walls in place? What forces are trying to bring down the walls?
  5. Ask students to create a list of factors that separate these groups. Next, have them list as many similarities among the groups as they can. Do people pay more attention to the differences than to the similarities? Why or why not?


Go Deeper: Oppositional Thinking

Introduce your students to the concept of oppositional thinking.

  1. Write your school’s name and mascot on the board. 
  2. Write the name and mascot of your school’s greatest rival. This strategy works very well in schools with major sports rivalries, but consider bringing academic or artistic competition into the discussion as well.
  3. Draw a line down the middle, and ask students to supply adjectives for each school. In all likelihood, students will use in-group language to describe their own school or team and outsider language to characterize the other school.
  4. Erase the two school names and substitute terms describing other social divides—urban/rural or rich/poor, for example. Ask your students whether the adjectives still apply. Make the point that people easily gravitate toward an us-versus-them dichotomy.
  5. To model how to step away from this way of thinking, recreate some of the pairings using a Venn diagram. Begin with similarities rather than differences.

If you've been keeping up with these weekly articles. are you noticing changes in your students’ behavior toward each other? We’re guessing the answer is yes, and we’d love to hear about your successes in a comment below or via email, Facebook or Twitter!

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Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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