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Critical thinking and action: Stereotyping and discrimination

Stereotyping and discrimination | Changing appearances | We can make a difference

Suggested learning outcomes

Students will:

  • recognise cultural stereotypes about body size, shape, and image (3C2);
  • give reasons why people discriminate against others because of a body-image concept and describe how these actions affect others (3A4);
  • identify discriminatory practices based on body image and demonstrate assertiveness strategies to manage these situations (3C3).

Underlying concepts

Hauora: Identifying how stereotyping and discrimination affects physical, mental and emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

Socio-ecological perspective: Examining the factors that influence people's behaviours and recognising the need for mutual care.

Attitudes and values: Demonstrating inclusiveness and non-discriminatory practices.

Possible learning activities


Divide the students into small groups and allocate them one of the following people. Explain that they have been asked to choose an actor to play the part of one of these people in a play. In groups, the students discuss and list the characteristics that might be displayed by that actor. The teacher may choose to demonstrate one of these first.

  • an All Black
  • a ballet dancer
  • a jockey
  • a Spice Girl
  • a Silver Fern
  • a model
  • a doctor
  • a truck driver
  • a mother
  • a father
  • a grandparent
  • a movie star
  • a politician            

Each group can then explain why they chose these particular characteristics for their person (3C2).

Discuss with the class why we attribute certain characteristics to specific individuals and introduce the students to the idea of stereotyping.

Ask such questions as:

  • Why do we stereotype people?
  • Is it fair?
  • How might people feel when they are stereotyped?

Facilitate a discussion to help your students to understand that stereotyping is a form of discrimination and, using the questions above, discuss what is meant by the term "discrimination".

Select children's stories (some titles are suggested on the resources page) that depict characters in unconventional roles ones that challenge stereotypes. Create class groups and allocate a different story to each group. After they have read the story together, each group can give a short presentation or role-play that explains how the main character differs from the stereotype that society might have of such a person.

Sticks and stones

Refer to any previous work that the students have done on discrimination, such as in Reaching Forward or in programmes such as Kia Kaha: A Bully-free Zone or Keeping Ourselves Safe: Getting Help.

Identifying discriminatory practices

In small groups, the students can brainstorm the names some people are called (and the ways they may be hassled) based on their appearance. This might relate to their size, a disability or impairment, or any other perceived difference. Ask the students:

  • Why do we call people names and hassle them about the way they look?
  • How might people feel when they are called names?
  • What happens in our school when someone is called a name or is teased about their appearance? (3C3)

Create some simple scenarios and ask the students to generate different outcomes based on the possible effects of teasing about physical appearance. For example, one day, Alex had long, curly, brown hair. The next morning, the kids stared when Alex came in with a new haircut. What things might happen to Alex because of this?

Some possibilities might be that Alex:

  • was teased, got into a fight, and was sent to the principal;
  • swam faster at the swimming sports and was chosen to represent the school in the zone finals;
  • was complimented on the new hairstyle at playtime, worked well after lunch, and earned an award.

The students could develop more scenarios based on some of the examples raised in the group brainstorm activity. For each scenario, they can suggest a number of alternative reactions, with each set of possibilities including some positive outcomes.
Taking action on discrimination about body appearance

Using the scenarios that students have developed previously, the students, working in groups or as a class, can list ways to support themselves and others when they encounter discrimination about their physical appearance. They could practise using such assertiveness skills as "I" statements and other appropriate phrases and body language to make assertive responses to such situations (3C3).

Teachers' notes

  • Teachers need to be aware of their own values and beliefs about body appearance. Be careful not to reinforce discriminatory stereotypes.
  • Refer to the key concept Critical Thinking and Action.

Assessment Opportunities

  • Students explain why they attribute specific characteristics to a group of people (3C2).
  • Students identify discriminatory practices and demonstrate assertiveness skills to manage these (3C3).

Critical thinking and action

In the essential skills listed in The New Zealand Curriculum Framework, critical thinking lies within the field of problem-solving skills. In the Glossary of Health and Physical Education in the New Zealand Curriculum (1999), critical thinking is defined as "examining, questioning, evaluating, and challenging taken-for-granted assumptions about issues and practices" and critical action is defined as "action based on critical thinking". Teachers encourage students to use critical thinking to explore attitudes and values when they:

  • model critical thinking by commenting on their own thoughts as they consider issues;
  • ask open-ended questions (for example, "What would happen if... ?");
  • reflect questions back to students by asking "What do you think?";
  • often say "That was interesting. What made you think that?";
  • provoke controversy;
  • avoid imposing their own attitudes and values on students;
  • put students in small groups for discussions and use strategies that encourage all to participate actively;
  • expect students to support their stated opinions with reasons;
  • motivate and facilitate discussion rather than simply impart information;
  • provide opportunities for students to take critical action