174 Sample Discussion & Writing Prompts

Amy Minervini

Sample Discussion & Writing Prompts

Curated by Amy Minervini

These ideas come from The New York Times and can be modified to generate discussion or to fit various writing modes: personal narrative, reflection, informative, persuasive, and analysis depending on your purpose:

  1. What is your earliest experience dealing with race and/or racism?

Explain to students that everyone has a racial identity. Sometimes white racial identity is seen as the “default” and people mistakenly think only minorities (African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, Asian) have a race. It is important to emphasize that all people have experiences with race, whether they are overt, hidden, unconscious or implied. People might experience those encounters directly, witness them happening to others, or have opportunities, or privileges, as a result of their racial identity.

2.  Watch the video Peanut Butter, Jelly and Racism. After watching, have a brief discussion by asking:

•What is implicit bias?

•How is implicit bias different from racism?

•How does implicit bias lead to discrimination like racism?

•What do implicit bias or racism have to do with peanut butter and jelly?

•What’s an example of implicit bias that you have experienced, witnessed or heard about?

If you would like to go further in learning about and discussing implicit bias, this Upshot piece, “We’re All a Little Biased, Even if We Don’t Know It,” might help.

3. Divide the four First Encounters With Racism stories equally among the students. Have students who are all reading the same story sit together, then give each group 10-15 minutes to read their story silently. As students read, have them jot down individual words or phrases that stand out for them, feelings that emerge or thoughts they have. These notes should be saved for a later activity.

As an alternative, use the jigsaw method teaching strategy, a cooperative learning strategy in which small groups of students learn about different aspects of a topic and then teach one another. Watch this video to learn more about how to do it.

After reading their stories silently, students can use the discussion questions below to have a small group discussion. Then representatives from each of the story groups will report back to the whole class by describing what they read, and sharing some of their reflections on the questions below. While students are listening to other groups share, they can continue to jot down words, phrases and feelings that resonate.

Followed by a Police Officer

•What happened to Riley and what was his response?

•What is your personal reaction to this story?

•How was Riley prepared for his encounter with the police officer?

•Why does Riley say that in his community, a police officer is usually seen more of a threat than a friend?

•What impact do you think his needing to “prepare” has on him?

A Slur Directed at Me

•What happened to Marianne and what was her response?

•What is your personal reaction to this story?

•Why do you think Marianne wasn’t initially surprised when she heard the slur directed at her?

•What does Marianne mean when she says Washington has a “less overt” brand of racism?

•In what ways did Marianne think differently about her interactions with white peers after she moved to a town with more Asian-American people?

Lesson From Kindergarten

•What happened to Maya and what was her response?

•What is your personal reaction to this story?

•Why do you think Maya’s father starting talking to her about race and racism when she was 5 years old?

•Why does Maya feel she has to choose one race over the other in how she defines herself?

•How do you think this affected Maya differently as a biracial person than it might someone who is one race or with a different racial identity?

What I Wish to Tell

•What happened to Jose and what was his response?

•What is your personal reaction to this story?

•How did Jose and his friend know the white couple was talking about them?

•What were some of the hardships Jose faced in his journey, and why did he wish the white couple knew that?

•Why do you think Jose said he didn’t understand discrimination until he came to the United States?

After each group reports on the stories they read, engage the whole class in a group discussion by asking:

•After reading and hearing about the stories, what stands out for you?

•What were your thoughts and feelings while reading your story or hearing others talk about the stories they read?

•What are some common themes?

•What did you learn that you didn’t know before?

•Did anything challenge what you know or thought you knew?

•How did each of the people’s encounters with racism affect them?

•How were these effects similar and different from one another?

•What is the difference between interpersonal racism (individual acts of bias, meanness or exclusion) and institutional racism (policies and practices that are supported by power and authority and that benefit some and disadvantage others) in these stories?

•How did each person’s encounter with racism change them?

4. Engage with Social Media

To learn more about the Race/Related stories and how people are reacting to them, follow the hashtag #RaceRelated on Twitter. Explore other hashtags about race and racism, including #RaceEquality and #FightRacism. Research other popular hashtags that address race — or, better yet, come up with your own hashtag to start a conversation and then find ways to amplify it.

Learn more about how social media users see, share and discuss race by reading and discussing this 2016 Pew Research Center study on Social Media Conversations About Race.

5. Read “‘I’m Prejudiced,’ He Said. Then We Kept Talking.” to Think More About Difficult Conversations

Here is how this Times Op-Ed begins:

One morning in August, when I was a guest on C-Span, I got a phone call that took my breath away.

“I’m a white male,” said the caller, who identified himself as Garry from North Carolina. “And I’m prejudiced.”

As a black leader often in the media, I have withstood my share of racist rants, so I braced myself. But what I heard was fear — of black people and the crime he sees on the news — not anger.

“What can I do to change?” he asked. “To be a better American?”

Read the rest of the piece to find out what happens next. With whom in your life would you like to have a conversation about race? What do you imagine might happen?

6. Discuss Current Events

You might invite students to look through sources like this Times Topics page about Race and Ethnicity to find the stories that interest them. From there, the class might work together to create a gallery walk of news on these issues, or host a fishbowl discussion. Finally, they might write about their own points of view on a specific issue, either by writing argumentative essays in editorial form (and, perhaps, sending them in to our Student Editorial Contest anytime from Feb. 28 to April 5, 2018), by writing letters to the editor, or by posting thoughts on social media.

7. Read Diverse Literature

Deepen understanding of race and racism by fictional takes on the topic as well. For instance, “The Hate U Give” has been on the Times Bestseller List for Young Adult Hardcover Fiction for 29 weeks and counting.

Students might create their own annotated reading lists, or interview fellow students about books they love in order to create a display for the school library. Invite students to seek out books that they haven’t read, and that are representative of a number of points of view.

8. Watch Videos on Race, Bias, and Identity

Build a lesson plan around one or more of the videos in this chapter. The collection includes conversations with people of different races and ethnicities; films about the nature of stereotypes, racism and implicit bias; explorations of the power and impact of offensive and racist objects; and videos with different voices who express their struggles to fit into a country that embraces and rejects them. Watch the videos together, assign them to watch at home or pair them with short readings.

Videos from the Whiteness Project and the What Would You Do Series can instigate conversations about race, bias, and identity.

9. Take Action to Challenge Racism

Discuss what to do when a person is faced with racism, whether it is an offensive remark, “joke,” stereotype or discrimination. Talk about how young people might confront racism differently if they are the one targeted, or if it is an encounter they witness and want to act as an ally.

On a more community or societal level, have students talk about the racism they see in the world and what actions they might take to do something about it, which can include educating others or getting involved in organizing or activism on a local or national level. You might use this resource from the A.D.L., 10 Ways Youth Can Engage in Activism, or this guest post, “Ideas for Student Civic Action in a Time of Social Uncertainty,” from The Learning Network, to find specific ideas for how to do these things. Use this teaching strategy for engaging students in civic action.

10. Civic Engagement

Last fall, our Civil Conversation Challenge on Race, Gender and Identity invited teenagers around the world to come to our site and discuss these issues as they related to the 2016 presidential election. Do this for the 2020 election or current election year.

Read what more than 700 students had to say on questions like “Over all, as a society, do you think we talk about issues of race, gender, identity and diversity enough? Or, do you think we talk about them too much, and that these kinds of ‘identity politics’ breed suspicion, cynicism and distrust’?”

11. Join the Conversation

Civil Conversation Challenge for Teenagers, Forum 3: The Fight for Racial Justice



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