Human interactions are governed by a complex series of unofficial rules called social norms. In introduction to sociology courses, students explore those norms and consider how human interaction dictates their daily actions. Extensive reflection is necessary to learn and understand sociology. By reflecting upon their lives, or asking others to reflect upon their experiences, sociology students can learn about why we do what we do as a cultural group.
Social Norm Violation
Our everyday actions are controlled by social norms. Those unofficial rules of conduct control everything from how we communicate to what we wear. We follow those norms because it is often uncomfortable not to. In an introductory sociology class, give students an opportunity to experience the discomfort of violating a social norm. Tell students that, for a class grade, they need to come to their next course section dressed oddly. Encourage students to adopt obviously unfashionable or unorthodox styles of dress. When students arrive in class in their atypical outfits, discuss their experiences as social norm violators. Ask each student to write down how he felt walking across campus or through the school building in his unusual outfit. Collect the student responses and read them aloud, not revealing the author. Discuss the feelings of discomfort that the students experienced as they made their way to class. Discuss how a desire to avoid this discomfort keeps people in line with the accepted social practices and norms.
Where Do You Fit?
While there is no requirement that you associate with others like you, people tend to seek out others who share similar interests or are involved in the same activities. Discuss the concept of cliques, and allow students to reflect upon where they fit within society. To begin this activity, ask students to brainstorm a list of common cliques. Write the student suggestions on the board. If students present the name of a group with which you are unfamiliar, ask the student to describe the group and explain what common features the members of the group share. After building your list, provide students with self-stick notes. Ask the students to write their name on these notes. Instruct the students to come to the board one at a time, and allow them to place their notes next to the names of cliques with which they most closely identify. As each student places his note, discuss the student's self-selected placement. Explore what characteristics that student has that makes him fit well with that group.
Race Relations Today
America has a tumultuous history of racial disharmony and lack of acceptance. While some say that this era of prejudice is over, others contend that race relations are still not where they should be and that people are commonly treated inequitably because of their skin color. Explore this topic with your students by asking them to recount events of racial harmony or disharmony that they have observed. To begin this activity, draw a horizontal line on your board. Label the left side of your line as "Discrimination" and the right side of your line as "Racial harmony." Provide each student with a self-stick note. Ask the student to recall an incident that they witnessed that displayed racial harmony or disharmony. Ask the student to describe the incident on his self-stick note. Once the students have written their descriptions, allow them to come up and place their incident on the race relations continuum. If the student believes that his incident shows harmony, he can place it closer to the right. If the student believes that his described incidence shows racism, he can place it closer to the left. After students have placed their notes, move across the line, reading each student-composed account of race relations and discussing whether that incident reflects race relations in current society.
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