Classroom Activities to Teach About Segregation

Even young schoolchildren can learn about segregation.
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The effects of segregation can still be felt throughout society. Teachers can help children understand segregation through numerous classroom activities. However, take care when performing some of these activities, especially with younger children. Leave enough time after the activity to explain the exercise in depth and allow children to share their feelings.

1 The Sneetches

For younger children, try an activity based on "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss. Using the class list, mark every third name. Read the marked names from the list aloud and announce that, from now on, these are the "good" students. They will have special privileges, such as lining up first or having five additional minutes of recess. Place a dot on their foreheads using a washable marker. Allow the situation to play out for half the day, with the "good" children favored in all activities. Then gather the class and explain that it was an experiment. Read aloud from "The Sneetches" and explain the randomness of picking the "good" children and compare it to the arbitrary way people decide one race or ethnic group is superior. Lead a long class discussion to soothe any hurt feelings.

2 Segregation Tic-Tac-Toe

Draw a grid containing 64 numbered squares on a large piece of paper and tape it to the floor. Place 25 pennies and 30 paper clips randomly on the grid. Have the students gather around to watch. Explain that the grid represents a neighborhood and the paper clips and pennies symbolize families. Each penny wants to live near -- touching -- at least two other pennies, while each paper clip wants most of its neighbors to be paper clips. Have students suggest moves to make, such as "Move the penny on square 2 to square 24." Move each piece according to the students' directions. As students try to make every piece happy, they start to create a pattern of extreme segregation. Take the pennies and paper clips from the board and tell the students to try to create a more integrated "neighborhood." Move the pennies and paper clips according to their instructions. Discuss how an individual's social race preferences can lead to segregation.

3 Eye Color

This exercise is more suitable for older children. Like the Sneetches experiment, the eye color exercise involves giving certain students special privileges but in this instance, the students are not told why the teacher favors one student over the other. Choose a particular eye color and begin treating students with that feature as superior; for example, only answer their questions or let them line up first. Never mention directly why some students are treated better than others. Observe that many students may unconsciously begin to assume their new roles by either acting superior or resenting those students who have been singled out. The next day, gather the class, explain the exercise and allow all the students to share their reactions. Leave plenty of time to discuss and air any grievances.

4 Frogs and Snakes

Have children put on a play with the theme of segregation. Download the play "Why Frogs and Snakes Never Play Together" -- available from websites such as Kidsinco -- and assign children to the roles. This story of a forbidden friendship teaches that segregation is the result of learned behavior. Afterward, tell the children to write their own ending in which the snake and frog remain friends. This activity is suitable for young children and teaches a lesson about the unfairness of segregation.

Sarah Wallman has been writing in newspapers since 2004 in publications such as the "Spectator." Her primary interests are health, religion, politics and psychology. She has earned two bachelor's degrees, and has a passion for providing information on health and fitness.