This lesson is part of my “From the Archives” series: 20 lessons in 20 weeks from 20 years of teaching. Enjoy!

Context & History

I originally taught this lesson in my first year of teaching to 10th grade students. As part of a longer investigation into a “Teaching Tolerance” unit, I found my students were interchangeably using the words: “stereotype,” “prejudice,” and “discrimination.” This lesson was designed to help them build a conceptual framework around these words so that they could pay attention to and account for nuanced differences in language. Perhaps most importantly, I love the way this lesson is inductive. Rather than asking students to deduce a definition, it helps them learn how to construct a conceptual understanding about a word.

All that said, explaining this lesson on paper is kind of tricky, so I opted for a video version this week to show how the lesson evolves. If you listen to the video, you’ll also hear me talk about a lot of the “instructional moves” going on in my head when I use concept attainment lessons. I hope that “transparent talk” is helpful as you think about creating a concept attainment lesson of your own!

How I Used It Then

Originally, I used this lesson strictly to help students understand these words so they could start to apply them more effectively to the other work we were doing. Following this lesson, I expected to see these words in their writing and to hear them in discussion. It absolutely served that purpose!

NOTE: As it happens when you handwrite instead of word process, I misspelled the word “ageism” in the video. Please accept my apologies. It has been corrected in the downloadable handouts. Thanks for understanding!

How I’d Use it Now

In addition to the variations I offer at the end of the video, here are a few other ways I’d think about using this kind of a lesson in a sequence of learning.

  • Variation PRE-READING: I can see so many applications for this kind of a lesson as part of a pre-reading strategy, especially for complex texts. It resonates as a pre-reading lesson because so rarely do the vocabulary lists of “words you’re about to encounter in the reading” actually work for me or my students. What they really need is a reservoir of background knowledge to become more careful readers. If this lesson is done slowly and with lots of conversation and examples, readers can certainly build that background.
  • Variation WRITING PROMPT. Usually after the days when we do these kinds of lessons, students have a lot to say. They’ve just spent an entire class period working through some pretty interesting ideas and I often want them to capture that thinking before it leaves them. How about turning this into a writing prompt? Maybe something like…
    • Write a letter to your parents explaining the difference between these three concepts.
    • Write a letter to someone you’ve personally seen has being impacted by stereotype, prejudice or discrimination. What what would you say to that person today?
    • Take one of the texts we’ve read so far this year (your choice!) and respond to a moment in it, using your new understanding of stereotype, prejudice or discrimination. What new insights do you have about the text today?
  • Variation PRODUCTIVE GROUP WORK. Instead of making this a whole class lesson, create enough sets of “cards” for students to do a lot of this together in their small groups. Yes, you’ll still do the think alouds and I would probably have a version on our whiteboard that we’re coming back to as a whole class. HOWEVER, I think it’s far more powerful to have students be able to manipulate and move the cards into columns with a small team where they can delve more deeply into discussion and have more opportunities to verbalize their rationales and thinking.



What ideas do you have? Be sure to add them in the comments below!

If you’d like a PDF of the cards I used in this lesson, you can DOWNLOAD them here. Enjoy!
Teach openly,



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