Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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Teacher's Corner
College Classroom Activities

In a small seminar, it's usually a good idea to have students introduce themselves during the opening session, sharing a little about their background or aspirations for the course. Before doing so, however, many instructors prefer to loosen up the group with one or two activities that break the ice and facilitate disclosure. This page lists two exercises for that purpose.

Icebreaker 1: Learning Each Other's Names


To loosen up the class in a fun way and begin the process of learning names.


Bring six tennis balls to class in a paper bag and set the bag on the floor next to your chair, out of sight from students.


Begin class by welcoming students and introducing the activity as follows:

"In this seminar we're going to talk about some fairly personal and emotional topics, and I want to make sure we all know each other's name and feel comfortable with one another. To start that process, we're going to try a few exercises that will help us get to know each other."

Then pull a tennis ball from the bag, and explain:

"In the first exercise, I'm going to toss this ball to someone, who will toss it to someone else, who will toss it to another person, and so on until the ball comes back to me. Your job is to toss it to someone who hasn't gotten it yet, until everyone's had the ball. The only rule is that you have to say the name of the person you're tossing the ball to (if you don't know someone's name, just ask the person). And please remember who you threw it to, because we'll repeat the pattern. Okay? I'll start."

Next, pick a student whom you don't know, ask the person's name, and toss the ball. As students are throwing the ball to each other, make sure the names are being said loudly and clearly enough for people to hear, and remind students to remember the name of the person they threw the ball to.

Once ball comes back to you, say to the class: "Okay, let's send it around again, this time more quickly." Then, after the ball is thrown to the fourth or fifth student, quietly take another ball out f the bag and throw it to the first student (so there are two balls flying). After that, continue adding a ball every every fourth or fifth toss until pandemonium strikes with six balls in the air.

Conclude by saying, "Well, at least you know one person's name now!" Then return each ball to the bag as it's thrown to you.


Adapted from the "Toss-A-Name" Game on page 17 of Rohnke, K. (1984). Silver Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games, Stunts and Trust Activities. Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure, Inc.

Icebreaker 2: Learning About Each Other


To help the group learn about its members in a nonthreatening way that involves the active participation of everyone.


Begin class by welcoming students and introducing the activity as follows:

"Sometimes it's difficult to talk about yourself to other people, so in this exercise I'm going to read one dozen statements that go like this: 'Stand if you've ever [X].' And I want you to do just that -- to stand if a particular statement describes you. If you don't want to participate, or you don't want to share something about yourself, you can just remain seated. What I'm hoping is that as you see people stand or sit, you'll start to learn about each other. So, are you ready?"

Then read the following statements, allowing time for students to look around and see who is standing after each statement:

  1. Stand if you've ever traveled outside of [your country].

  2. Stand if you're fluent in a language other than [your language]. (Optional: You may wish to ask which languages the standing students speak.)

  3. Stand if you've ever ordered something to drink in a styrofoam or plastic cup.

  4. Stand if you've ever been bothered by the unnecessary use of styrofoam or plastic.

  5. Stand if you've ever thought about transferring from [your school] to a different school.

  6. Stand if you've ever thought about dropping out of college and just getting a job.

  7. Stand if you've ever known someone with AIDS.

  8. Stand if you've ever been the target of racial discrimination.

  9. Stand if you've ever harbored prejudice against people based on their skin color.

  10. Stand if you think you're less prejudiced than the average student at [your school].

  11. Stand if you believe that college students can make the world less prejudiced.

  12. Stand if you believe that you can make the world less prejudiced.
After students have sat down for the last time, continue with a class discussion in which you ask students whether they were suprised by anything and whether they learned anything interesting about each other. You might also discuss:

  • The level of diversity and multiculturalism in the class
  • The commonality of certain feelings, attitudes, and behaviors
  • The level of optimism or pessimism about reducing prejudice
  • The frequency or infrequency of other noteworthy answers


The statements in this exercise are designed to: (1) progress from easy to more personal and difficult, and (2) set up course topics that will be discussed later (e.g., about what one person can do to reduce prejudice). Instructors may wish to replace these statements with other statements that relate to their particular course, but they are still advised to lead off with at least three easy items to facilitate full student participation.