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A Personal Experience With Discrimination

Life Skills:

  • Thinking & Reasoning
  • Communication
  • Social & Civic Responsibility

Time Frame:
1 class period that runs 90 minutes.

Group Size:
Large Groups


Students will participate in a simulation in which they do not have the same civil rights as others. They will also view and discuss video of the classroom of Jane Elliot, the Iowa teacher who first pioneered this simulation.

Enduring Understanding:

  • Students will experience what discrimination "feels like" and the need for the protections and privledges guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
Essential Questions:
  • What would it feel like to be part of a group that is denied their rights?
  • What rights and liberties are offered to individuals and groups by the Bill of Rights?
  • How does the Bill of Rights promote civil rights and protect diversity?

Main Curriculum Tie:
Social Studies - U.S. Government & Citizenship
Standard 2 Objective 1

Assess the freedoms and rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution.

Career Connections:

  • Social Humanitarian


  • Construction paper (blue and brown)collars or large (so they can be seen across the room) tags for each student.
  • Pins or construction paper to attach the collars or tags to student clothing.
  • Bill of Rights Worksheet.
  • Selected video of Jane Elliot's simulation (see bibliography for videos to consider).
  • Venn diagram graphic organizer

Background For Teachers:
The following website gives an excellent overview of the work of Jane Elliot and the blue-eyed/brown-eyed experiment.

Student Prior Knowledge:
Basic knowledge of U.S. History and the protections offered by the Bill of Rights.

Intended Learning Outcomes:
Students will understand:

  • What it feels like to be part of a group that is denied their rights.
  • The rights and liberties offered to individuals and groups by the Bill of Rights.
  • How the Bill of Rights promotes civil rights and protects diversity.

Instructional Procedures:
To conduct this lesson follow these steps:

  1. Prepare blue and brown construction paper collars or large tags for your class. Depending on the racial/ethnic makeup of your community, you may need more of one color than another- be prepared with extra collars.

  2. Arrange the chairs or tables in your room so that there are two clearly defined sides of the room.

  3. As your students come into the room, meet them at the door and look at their eye color. If their eyes are blue or green, give them a blue collar or tag and direct them to one side of the room. If they are brown or hazel, give them a brown collar and direct them to the other.

  4. Tell your students that through your research and personal experience you have come to some interesting conclusions lately. You have found that student success can actually be predicted by eye color. You have found that students with blue or brown eyes (choose your eye color) are more prone to success. Therefore, they should be treated differently. Make up some rules for how you want to conduct this simulation. Be sure to treat the two groups differently. Be very supportive of the favored group. Call on them first. Give them lots of praise for everything they say or do. Ignore the other group. If you do call on them, be critical of everything they say. Give the favored group extra privileges, such as unlimited access to the bathroom or drinking fountain. You might consider giving treats to the two groups- if you do this give more to the favored group. Tell the favored group not to waste their time talking to the other group because, honestly, anything they might have to say wouldn’t be very intelligent. Practice, so that you can give these instructions with a straight face.

  5. Have students “vote” on whether they would like to work together or independently on the next part of the lesson. Only let the favored group vote, because the other group probably doesn’t understand what they are voting for, anyway. Chances are that your preferred students will vote to work together.

  6. Pass out the Bill of Rights worksheet or a similar assignment. Either do not let the disadvantaged students work together, or let them, but then almost immediately take the privilege away because they obviously can’t handle it. Sometime during the work time, accuse one of the students in the disadvantaged group of some infringement of class or school rules. Punish them for the crime without giving them a chance to defend themselves.

  7. While students work on the assignment, give lots of praise and attention to the favored group. Ignore or belittle the other group.

  8. After about twenty minutes (no longer), end the simulation. Pull the class back together and ask them to take off their collars and go back to their regular seats.

  9. De-brief with your class about the experience they just had. First of all, tell them that this has just been an exercise, and that everything you told them about the connection between eye color and intelligence or achievement was untrue. Then discuss their feelings. How did the people in the dominant group feel? How did the people in the disadvantaged group feel?

  10. Show the class a segment from one of the videos about Jane Elliot’s experience with this simulation. Have them watch especially for how participant’s attitudes changed as the simulation proceeded. How did Elliot’s subjects experiences compare with their experiences in your class?

  11. Next, guide the class in a discussion of how the experience they just had relates to U.S. History or current events. What groups in U.S. History have faced discrimination similar to that we exhibited in class?

  12. Review with the class the rights protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights. Have them complete a Venn diagram comparing their experiences in class with that of disadvantaged Americans before the Bill of Rights. Discuss their conclusions.

This lesson is best used as part of a unit on the protections and privileges of individuals and groups in the United States (U.S. Government 6210-02). Other activities in this unit (included on UEN) might include the Shadow of Hate, Five Senses activities, and the Bill of Rights in the News/Big Questions.

Assessment Plan:

  • Classroom discussion regarding activity and how it relates to the need for the U.S. Bill of Rights.
  • Venn diagram comparing their experience with that of disadvantaged groups in the U.S. before the Bill of Rights.

Prejudice: Answering Children's Questions", ABC News. Peter Jennings conducts a discussion with a group of elementary through high school aged students on prejudice and racism. Jane Elliot conducts a version of her famous 1950 experiment on the audience as part of the discussion (use selected segments only).
"Eye of the Storm" -This video explores the nature of prejudice in a dramatic third-grade experiment in the small, nearly all-white, all-Christian farming community of Riceville, Iowa.
"A Class Divided"- This FRONTLINE reunites Jane Elliot and her class after 15 years to relate the enduring effects of their lesson.
"Blue Eyed" (1995). A diverse group of 40 public employees from the Midwest--blacks, Hispanics, whites, women and men— are subjected to Elliott's withering regime. Jane Elliott treats them according to negative traits that are commonly assigned to people of color, women, people with disabilities, and other non-dominant members of society. She later describes, with great emotion, how her family has been harassed and ostracized as a result of her efforts to educate white people about racism. (A study guide is available upon request)


Created Date :
Aug 05 2002 13:44 PM

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