To help students identify the kinds of groups they are born into and join.
In this lesson, students will begin to think about and identify different kinds of groups. They will see that people are born into certain groups and that they join others. They will explore the circumstances that surround group affiliation and participation.
In general, people are born into certain groups based on their personal, social, and cultural surroundings. People also voluntarily join groups based on shared occupations, beliefs, or interests. Membership in these groups influences how people think of themselves and how others think of them. (Science for All Americans, pp. 91–93.)
A very effective way to teach students about groups at this level is to use their own experiences to help them make explicit their intuitive notions about groups and related behavior. Students can identify their own groups (family, classroom, scouts, or sports team) and indicate how one becomes a member of each. They should also know some of the things that members have in common with each other. Issues of adoption in families, exclusion from groups based on race or sex, and other potentially difficult issues might arise in these discussions, and they should be handled deftly. The school should be a model of inclusiveness, reinforcing the openness with which children this age generally come to school. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 158.)
As children try to understand biological and social phenomena, they often over generalize information about racial and cultural differences. One must be cautious, however, not to assume that children are prejudiced or deliberately using stereotypes when they over generalize. They may simply be thinking typically for young children trying to make sense out of their limited experience with other groups. Research indicates that stereotypic attitudes begin to develop about seventh grade. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 347.)
Begin the lesson by quietly and surreptitiously dividing the class into groups based on hair color. Give no other explanations or instructions other than this:
- Each member of your group has something in common. Can you tell me what it is that you have in common with your other group members?
Allow students plenty of time to guess and figure out that they have been divided into groups based on hair color. To further prepare students for the subject matter, you may decide to mix them up and divide them again into new groups, this time based on characteristics like eye color, shirt color, height, sneakers, etc. Again, allow them to figure out on their own what they have in common with other members.
Once students have an understanding of groupings based on a single criterion, ease into the lesson by discussing things that will make them more aware of different kinds of groups and how one becomes a member—either through birth or by joining. Questions may include:
- Does anyone know what a group is? (Two or more people gathered together because of common characteristics, interests, values, norms, etc.)
- What are some examples of groups?
- What kinds of groups do you belong to? (Current classroom, preschool, sports teams, close neighborhood friends, after-school activity groups, study groups, etc.)
- How did you become a member of ______ (group)?
- Do you think that your family is a group? Why or why not?
This opening discussion seeks to introduce students to the central ideas of the benchmark, which will be further reinforced in the body of the lesson.
Groups by Birth
Now have the class discussion focus on the groups that people are born into. Questions could include:
- When you were born, you were part of a group. Can anyone think of what group that was? (Without pressure, encourage an open discussion with a focus on family, gender, etc.)
- What do members of your family have in common? (Last name, home, values, religion, ethnicity, physical characteristics, sense of humor, etc.)
- Can others join this group? How might that happen? (Others can join through new births, marriage, adoption, etc.)
- Can you be part of more than one family group? Discuss further if appropriate. (Yes. For example, when one grows up and marries into a new family.)
Since the discussion is likely to touch on sensitive issues like race, culture, and religion, it will be important to keep in mind that students at this age do not intend to be prejudiced or to use stereotypes deliberately.
Groups We Join
Have students now begin to focus on the kinds of groups that can be joined. Questions could include:
- What is the difference between groups that you are born into and those that you join?
- What types of groups have you joined, if any?
- Why did you join ________?
In order to get students to think more about the types of groups people join and why they join them, have students do this activity. Divide the class into three groups: a neighborhood kids' play group, a cub scout troop, and a sports team. Other group options could include a classroom or a band.
Once you have divided the class into groups, lead a small group discussion asking students these questions:
- What type of group are you in?
- Is this a group you have to join or could you be born into it?
- What do you have in common with other people in your group?
- Would you join a group like this? If so, why?
- What are the good things about being in a group like this?
- What does this group do?
- Is there a leader for this group? Who sets the rules?
We have also created a Groups We Join student sheet from these questions that may be appropriate for older students.
As a way to review the lesson material and further reinforce what they have learned, direct students to think about and draw a picture of a group to which they belong. They also might bring photos of this group to class. Encourage them to share their group pictures with the class, addressing questions like:
- What group is this?
- Were you born into _______ or did you join it?
- About how many members belong to this group?
- What do you have in common with other group members?
- What kinds of things do you do with members of your _______ (group)?
Guess the Group Activity
Using books and magazines, show students pictures of people who are clearly members of different groups and ask them to identify the group, guess whether the person was born into or joined the group, describe what kinds of things members of the group do, and more.