Understanding Prejudice
Understanding Prejudice
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College Classroom Activities

Responding to Prejudice: A Role-Playing Exercise


To give students an opportunity to try out and evaluate the effectiveness of various responses to prejudiced comments.


Read these brief articles from Teaching of Psychology:

Then prepare a handout as described in the article, with 10 brief scenarios involving a prejudiced comment. The handout should preface these scenarios with the following instructions:

"The purpose of the present exercise is to practice responding to prejudice in a way that will ultimately lead to its reduction rather than its reinforcement. This is extremely challenging, because it is hard to respond honestly without leading other people to become defensive or hostile.

The exercise involves three roles, and all group members should have at least one opportunity to play each role. The three roles are Speaker, Responder, and Coach, and their corresponding tasks are as follows:

  • Speaker -- Choose a scenario (or make one up) and say the prejudiced remark.
  • Responder -- Respond in a way that is likely to reduce future prejudice.
  • Coach -- Provide candid feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the response.
To get the most out of this exercise, it is important to spend as much time as possible actually practicing, rather than simply discussing prejudice reduction, and the Coaches should be as open as possible in their feedback. To begin the exercise, one person should play the role of Speaker, one should play the role of Responder, and the remaining group members should play the role of Coaches. Let the conversation build for a minute or so before the prejudiced remark is made, and let it continue for a little while after the response is given.

Then, once the Speaker and Responder have concluded their interaction, the Coaches should critique the response, and the roles should be rotated for another practice round with a new Speaker and Responder. Do not worry about getting through all the scenarios or adhering precisely to the scripted comments -- the scenarios are simply designed as icebreakers to facilitate the exercise."


  1. Announce that you would like to focus on the question of how to respond when you're directly exposed to a prejudiced comment.

  2. Explain that according to the results of research, even one statement condemning prejudice -- made by a single college student -- can significantly strengthen the anti-prejudice statements made by others. Conversely, studies suggest that accepting or ignoring prejudice can have the opposite effect. Then say:

    "Of course, these findings don't tell us how to respond -- only that it's important to respond in some way. So in today's session, you'll have an opportunity to try different approaches and get feedback from each other on the effectiveness of your response.

    The way we'll do this is by breaking into small groups and role-playing scenarios in which one person makes a prejudiced comment and another person responds to it."

  3. Next, distribute copies of the handout with scenarios and give students time to read the instructions. Once they finish looking through the handout, continue:

    "When you role-play a scenario, have the prejudiced speaker silently choose a comment to spring on the responder, and make sure all the other members of the group critique the response afterward.

    The prejudiced comments don't have to come from the handout, but they should be clearly prejudiced. And the prejudiced speaker should respond to the objection (that is, let the exchange continue a little after the objection is voiced, just to see where things go). By the end of the hour, every member of the group should have had at least one chance to respond to a prejudiced comment and get feedback from the group."

  4. Then divide the number of students present by 4 and have them count off by that number to form groups of 4-5 students each. For example, a class of 30 students would count off by 7 so that five groups have 4 members and two groups have 5 members (counting off prevents students from simply forming groups with their friends).

  5. Once students have counted off, give them one hour for role-playing, during which time you can move from group to group and make sure students spend the time role-playing as intended.

  6. After the role-playing over, reconvene the class to discuss what was learned from the exercise. Here are some discussion questions you might ask:

    • Was it easy or difficult to object?
    • Were you able to avoid conflict?
    • Did you a find a way to object that didn't further entrench the prejudiced speaker?
    • Would you be able to intervene in actual situations with friends, family members, and strangers?
Discussion Tips

When discussing effective responses to prejudice, you might emphasize the value of:

  • Humanizing the victims of prejudice
  • Avoiding arguments that provoke reactance
  • Finding common ground and enlarging upon it
  • Planting a seed rather than needing instant resolution
  • Considering why the comment was made -- not just whether it's true
  • Thinking about what has worked to change one's own mind, and using that approach

You might also point out that there is a difference between taking a logical approach and taking a psycho-logical approach. A strictly logical approach may win a debate without changing the speaker's attitudes. Instead of arguing, a more effective response might be to say something like: "I'm surprised to hear you say that, because I've always thought of you as open-minded."

Other Suggestions

If possible, be sure to allot a full hour for role-playing. To make sure students understand how the activity is intended to work, you might also begin with a demonstration in front of the class.


Plous, S. (2000). Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 198-200.