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An Experiment in Unfair Treatment/Prejudice


  • Mental Health
  • Civics
  • Psychology
  • Sociology


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Students experience some of the feelings associated with prejudice/bias and unfair treatment.


Students will (depending on their grade level)

  • experience in a small way what if feels like to be treated unfairly.
  • discuss their feelings about being on either/both sides of prejudice and unfair treatment.


morals, justice, health, prejudice, bias, spelling, Civil Rights, Black History, holocaust

Materials Needed

  • ribbons, one per student (an equal number of two colors of ribbons, cut, with a safety pin attached to each)
  • a simple reward for each student; a lollipop or pencil, for example (optional)
  • list of very easy spelling words for spelling bee
  • list of very difficult words for a spelling bee

The Lesson

This lesson is a good lead-in to a discussion of the difficult topic of prejudice. It could be used during Black History Month to introduce a discussion of Civil Rights, Rosa Parks' bus ride, slavery and the Underground Railroad. The lesson also could be used as an introductory lesson to a discussion of the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps, and many other topics of historical importance.

Before the Lesson
Prepare two sets of ribbons; each set should be a different color. Provide one ribbon -- equally divided between two colors -- to each student.

The Activity
As each student enters the class, pin one colored ribbon to his or her shirt. (Ask permission before pinning. Students who prefer to not wear the ribbon can display it in some other way.) When students have settled down, ask them if they would like to take part in an experiment.

Proceed by setting up a spelling bee, with students forming teams based on the color of their ribbons. The catch is that all students wearing one color ribbon will be given very easy words to spell; students with the other color ribbon will be given very difficult words.


As the spelling bee progresses, you might award a simple prize, such as a lollipop or pencil, to each student who correctly spells a word. (If you do that, however, you should be prepared to give all students the same reward at the end of the activity.

Very quickly, students should notice what is going on. When they do, give them an opportunity to tell you how it makes them feel. Ask students who were on the team given difficult words how they felt knowing they would get a difficult word because they were wearing a certain color ribbon. Ask the others how they felt.

When the introductory activity is complete, you might begin a discussion of an historical event in which people were singled out for unfair treatment.


Students might write a simple paragraph describing the activity, how they felt about it, and what they learned from it.

Submitted By

Pauline Finlay, Holy Trinity Elementary School, Torbay, Newfoundland (Canada)

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