Resources for Teachers

Everything you need to teach introduction to sociology in one free convenient download.

Nathan Palmer, creator and author of, has taken all of the lectures, activities, and assignments, he uses in his introduction to sociology class and put them into one convenient Class Pack. If you are preparing a course in sociology right now this is the product that you need.

The download is available to all members of Membership is free and registering is quick and easy.

This is only the beginning:

In the coming months look for updates and new features to be added to the Soc101 Class Pack. The Soc101 Class Pack is in public beta and we look forward to receiving feedback from users. You can also look forward to Class Packs on other sociological topics.

Download The Soc101 Class Pack Now.

Poverty has a way of not seeming so bad to many students. For traditional students who’ve come straight out of their parents home and into the dorms of a university the world can seem like a very manageable place. Frequently when I tell my students that a full time worker making $7.25/hr receives roughly $940 a month, more than a few of them say, “Wow, that’d be great!” Their privilege and their parents economic support obscure the true costs of life.

One activity that I picked up years ago was to have students create a budget to see if they could really live off of minimum wage. This activity is in no way my own creation. It has been covered by Labeff and Clark (1986) in Teaching Sociology and I picked it up from one of my mentors Dr. Helen Moore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The only twist I put on the activity is that I have students read an excerpt from Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickle and Dimed.

Download my version of this activity here.

After students have read this excerpt I tell them to imagine that they have two children ages 1 and 3 and that they work full time at the local mall for $7.25/hr. Students are then expected to search local newspapers and websites to find an actual place they could live in town. Then they have to call childcare centers to get quoted prices for 40 hours a week of care for their children. After that they have to budget for utilities, a grocery budget, transportation costs, and any other cost they can think of.

When they have completed their budget, I ask them to write a 3 page paper that discusses how hard they think it would be to raise a family on minimum wage. I have them compare Ehrenreich’s experiences on minimum wage to their experience creating the budget. Lastly, I ask them, “After putting this budget together what would you say to someone who says that people on welfare are lazy and working the system for a easy life?”

Almost every student who I’ve spoken with after this assignment has said that life on minimum wage would be really hard for a single person let alone a parent of two children. I love this assignment because it allows students to walk half a mile in another person’s shoes. This activity grounds sociology’s lessons in the “real world” and in the experiences of the student.

LaBeff, Emily E. and Robert E. Clark. 1986. “Budgeting for the Eighties: Living Middle Class: A Class Project for Introductory Sociology” Teaching Sociology 14(2):136-137.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. 2001. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By In America. Henry Holt and Company. New York:NY

“Have a great break and if you celebrate Thanksgiving, have a great Thanksgiving.” This is what I always say to my students at the end of our last class before the Thanksgiving/fall break. Without fail a student will ask me, “Who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving?” When I suggest that Thanksgiving has a much different meaning for Native Americans & other colonized peoples my students either nod or roll their eyes at me. In my experience the students I have worked with are largely unaware of issues among Native American communities today. For many students the history of Native Americans ended with the government executed genocide. Students in the U.S. desperately need to learn about modern day injustices that Native Americans are currently living through. There is arguably no greater or more overt injustice than what is happening in Whiteclay Nebraska.

The town of Whiteclay, NE has only 14 people in it. Yet it has 4 off sale liquor stores that sell 4.5 million cans of beer a year (approx. 12,500 cans per day). Whiteclay borders the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, home of the Oglala Lakota, where alcohol is banned outright because of many issues with alcoholism. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a sovereign nation that is located on the South Dakota side of the Nebraska-South Dakota border. These 4 predatory liquor dealers make millions of dollars each year off of the Oglala’s and the social costs of their business are experienced on the Pine Ridge side of the border.

However, the overt and unquestionable injustice here is that the town of Whiteclay has no legal place for these 12,500 cans of beer to be consumed each day. You can’t drink the beer at any of the off sale liquor stores. You can’t drink it in your car or on the street. And you certainly can’t drink alcohol let alone possess it on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Despite evidence of daily illegalities there has been almost no police intervention. The state government of Nebraska enjoys the excess taxes from Whiteclay and yet claims to not have the funds to adequately police the area. is chock-full of resources, information, and videos on this subject. For more info start here. All photos here were provided by

As an educational piece Whiteclay is especially useful because it bridges the gap between historical and modern injustices carried out by the U.S. government. The Pine Ridge Indian Reservation contains the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre where between 150 and 300 Lakota men, women, and children, who were being disarmed by the U.S. 7th Cavalry, were killed. Forensic evidence suggests that many of Lakota were shot in the back and its widely believed they were unarmed.

Today the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is one of the poorest communities in the United States with extreme unemployment and abject poverty abound. Quite simply, this is a community that cannot afford to export millions of dollars across the border into Nebraska, nor can it provide support for the Lakota in need of treatment for alcoholism.

There are some excellent videos available to bring this issue into vivid detail for your students. I can’t recommend enough the documentary directed by Mark Vasina, The Battle of Whiteclay, which is loaded with activist interviews and footage of the protests and legal challenges that surround this crisis. Viewers get brought up to speed on the historical foundation of this issue and then get to see the crisis first hand. My students were appalled by the footage of Whiteclay where people drink alcohol openly in public and lay passed out on the side of the road. One poignant scene captures a woman as she confronts her brother who has taken and sold her car for money to support his disease. The last half of the film goes from courtroom to courtroom as advocates of the Pine Ridge Reservation try to get law enforcement to take action in Whiteclay or even simply ban any more licenses from being awarded to the tiny town.

I have created both a viewing guide/note sheet for the film and created directions for a paper that asks students to explore the crisis and why it is allowed to continue.

The Hidden Massacre of Whiteclay is a YouTube video that was created by the students of Omaha Creighton Prep. The video (shown above) is an excellent brief introduction to the issues.

To understand the present you need to understand its connection to the past. Native Americans across the United States are experiencing continued injustices. This Thanksgiving I will be thankful for my friends and family, but I cannot celebrate the history of genocide and injustice associated with Thanksgiving that continue to hurt Native Americans today.

Hegemony is supremely relevant to our students’ lives, it’s central to almost everything sociology has to teach them, and yet it is extremely hard to explain simply. Asking students to understand and recognize hegemony is like asking a fish to understand and recognize the water that surrounds it. Hegemony works precisely because it goes unnamed and largely unseen. How do you teach students to see the invisible?

Hegemony, as Gramsci defined it, is a very complex concept. The first step to helping your students grasp the concept is to define it much more narrowly. I define hegemony in my classes as the ways those in power use their power to control public perception in a way that ensures they will stay in power. Drat. Even that is not too clear cut. Here is an even simpler one: Hegemony is the way rich people get poor people to think and behave in a way that will keep the rich rich and the poor poor.

Thankfully, I have a metaphor that I use in my class that helps my students jump on board the hegemony express.

The Titanic Metaphor:

The sinking Titanic provides a great metaphor for hegemony. Many students have seen the movie and are well aware that many of the less affluent people on the bottom decks of the ship were unable to get off the ship and drowned. In the movie the ships crew seals a door shut to prevent the less fortunate passengers from making it to the top deck, thus ensuring the rich easier access to the lifeboats. This is a powerful metaphor for social stratification and competition for scarce resources.

I ask my students to then imagine what if the people on the lower decks of the Titanic decided that it was in their best interest to seal the doors on themselves, sit, and patiently wait for death. I tell them that if the people on the lower decks had been convinced by the people on the top decks that it was in their best interest to do this, this would be hegemonic.

When talking about any form of inequality or exploitation my students always seem to assume that I am talking about some other unfortunate group of people. Indeed many of my students do come from privileged backgrounds, but all of them have been exploited by those with more privilege and advantage than they have. To help show them what I am talking about I show them the chart below*:

I ask my students, “Why do you have to take the SAT if the test is basically a test of your families income?” I ask my students to tell me what the SAT is supposed to be testing and many are quick to say intelligence or ability to be successful in college. Then I ask my students to write on a piece of paper how the SAT is a form of hegemony. Students can easily see how the SAT is used to hide privilege and convince students of lower socioeconomic classes that they are not smart or not worthy of competing for a spot at Harvard or Berkeley. The SAT is the rationale that is used to get the lower classes to sit down and not compete for the educational opportunities on the top deck.

When students assume they are not the exploited that is a example of the very hegemony that I try to teach them about. It’s hegemonic when the students who suffer from inequality are convinced that they are the benefactor of that inequality.

*Chart was taken from an amazing article by Gregory Mantsios called Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study, Eighth edition

It’s been 20 years since Hochschild published The Second Shift
, but it’s critique of domestic labor still rings true in my classes. When teaching gender inequality I ask my students to think about their childhoods, how domestic labor was split in their home, and then discuss what the consequences are of this division. Mom’s Chores/Dad’s Chores is a simple, but powerful activity.

I ask my students to brainstorm chores that are stereotypically associated with moms and those that are stereotypically associated with dads. I have a male volunteer write the mom chores down as student blurt them out. “Laundry. Dishes. Groceries and cooking. Cleaning. Vacuuming. Transport kids to activities. Schedule doctors appointments.” The list goes on for a while and is daunting to say the least.

Then I have a female volunteer write a list of dad chores from the students lists. “Keeping the family safe. Mow the lawn. Fix the car. Squash bugs. Weed eat. Scoop Snow. Change oil.” Inevitably someone chimes, “Make the money.” If someone says this I ask my students how many of their fathers and mothers worked and almost the entire class raises their hands. Then I ask if the “bring home the bacon” stereotype is more fantasy than reality today. Students unanimously say that its a myth now-a-days.

After we have a good list of chores for both parents I ask my students if they see any common theme for each list. It sometimes takes a minute, but my students almost always see that the mom chores are everyday tasks. Alternately the dad chores are things that have to be done, but they don’t have to be done every single day.

I always finish the activity by asking, “do you think domestic labor inequality creates pressure on a relationship?” “Could this lead to divorce or marital unhappiness?” “What did you learn about gender roles and domestic labor from your childhood?” “What will you teach your children about gender and domestic labor?”

It’s syllabus time for many of us so I wanted to share with you one of my syllabi and highlight one component. The syllabus was developed for my 120+ student sized class Sociology 101 course I am teaching this fall at Georgia Southern University. I treat my syllabi like a contract between myself and my students, so I try to be very thorough.

One of the sections I am adding this term is a clear definition of “My Role as Professor” and “Your Role as Student.” Many students come in expecting a “teacher as expert” classroom model. They want the teacher to tell them what is “really important” a.k.a. what is on the test. Students with this learning mindset write on course evaluations that they want, “the class to focus more on what will be on the test” and that they want, “less group work.” Group work, from this mindset, is time wasted that could have been spent pulling information from the expert at the front of the room. I want to move my students away from this mindset as quickly as possible because no student grows as a human being in a “teacher as expert” class. If you want to be more than the holder of knowledge worth knowing, if you want students to develop critical analysis skills then you have to extinguish this expectation right away. I address this and a couple of other points in the excerpt from my syllabus below:

My Role as Professor
As the professor I am responsible for creating a safe, interesting, and maybe even fun learning environment for all students. I will help students learn the course material by providing activities, artistic expressions (a.k.a. media), discussion topics, and, when needed, individualized attention. I should be a thought provoker, a source of information, and an educational trainer pushing you to reach the high expectations I have for you in this class. I have spent a great deal of time to ensure that this class will be like no other you’ve taken before. I want you to leave class each day excited and motivated to apply the lessons of sociology in your personal life.

As a professor I am not responsible for telling you “what to study for the test”. I will not go over every piece of information that you will need to know for the quizzes. If you hoped that I, as the professor, would be a resource for you to find how you can put out the least amount of energy while still earning a good grade, I am probably not the instructor you are looking for. I respect you and your other time commitments enough to share this with you up front.

Your Role as Student
As a student in this class your primary responsibility is to come to class prepared. That includes doing the assigned reading and taking the time to think about how it relates to your experiences and the world around you. In class you are expected to give all of us your attention and participate in class and group activities and discussion. To put it simply, if you hope to do well in this class you have to be an active participant in your education.

You can find my entire syllabus here and feel free to use any piece of it without attribution. Many of my colleagues deserve credit for pieces of this syllabus as well. No one teaches alone, but this is especially true when it comes to syllabi. If you have syllabi or components of syllabi that you would like to share please feel free to send them here.

Soc 101 Syllabus

The Color of Fear is a emotionally charged film that will leave your students talking and rethinking their perception of the world around them. The film places eight men in a room to talk about race, prejudice, and discrimination. There are two men who are Hispanic, two who are African American, two who are Asian American, two who are White, and the film’s director Lee Mun Wah. The film was released in 1994, but every semester my students tell me that it is the best and most relevant video we watched in my sociology courses.

The film seems to have aspired to be a round table discussion, but turns more into an intervention for David Christensen, a white man who is unwilling to accept that the men of color actually experience discrimination. Throughout the film the men of color share times they have been the target of racism and discrimination and each time David minimizes and discredits them by saying that their claims are, “unfounded”. David tells them men of color that racism is no longer a problem and that the problem these men are experiencing is all in their heads- that they are seeing something that is not there. Not surprisingly, this infuriates the men of color, especially Victor a African American man.

Victor at two points in the film becomes angry at David, but each time he raises his voice his words become a razor sharp scalpel dissecting David’s flawed logic and inaccurate perception of reality. Victor challenges David to see that in the United States being American frequently is shorthand for being White, that the world that is open to David as a White man is not as fully open for men of color, and that issues of race, prejudice, and discrimination are alive and well even if David chooses to ignore them. Click here to see a video of the second time Victor vents/educates David. This time Victor presses David to see that social and systematic inequality exists:

The video also discusses a variety of other topics including inter-ethnic prejudice and discrimination, masculinity, and Affirmative Action. However, after using this video a number of times it became apparent that the David/Victor relationship was by far the most compelling and eye opening part of the video for many of my students.

Up to now I have taught sociology to classes that are predominately White. On the first day of my Race and Nationality courses many of students are unsure why a course like this is needed in a post Civil Rights Movement era. Some are uncomfortable with the idea that White privilege even exists. I tell my students on the very first day that in any group or community there are multiple realities- multiple ways of seeing the exact same situation. Often my students think that I am out of touch with reality or that I’ve “read to many books”.

What I love most about The Color of Fear is that after watching the film it is crystal clear how someone could live in a unjust world and be totally unaware of it. David seems to be a good, honest, hard working man, but yet he is surprised to the point of disbelief when he hears the men of color discuss how racism has affected them. When David finally accepts the experiences of the men of color I can feel the whole room decompress. Many of my White students have told me that they identify with David and all of my students tell me that they better understand White privilege. Furthermore, this is a great sociological piece because it opens doors in students minds and begs them to see beyond the individual and to how the social affects each of us.

As is probably apparent by now, this film is controversial. I have shown this film over 10 times now and I have a few recommendations for anyone intending to share it with an audience. First, if at all possible watch the entire film in one setting or at the very least two classes back to back. The video is about a process of coming to terms with the world around us and if you stop in the middle it may leave students thinking that there is no hope for a positive conclusion. Secondly, don’t let students discredit Victor during the film. I have had students become uncomfortable by Victor’s outbursts and make disparaging remarks about him like, “is this guy crazy or what?” Each time I have stopped the video and asked the class if they feel Victor is crazy, unhinged, or out of control. Most students say no. If you don’t address the comments right away I fear that students will write Victor off and quit listening to him.

I have my students write a paper on the film and you can find the directions for that here. I focus primarily on David, multiple realities, and the dichotomization of racism.

Directions for Color of Fear Response Paper
Buy The Color of Fear

Flickr: This Year’s Love

Teaching ethnocentricity is like teaching a fish to feel the water that surrounds them. Many students unabashedly think that their culture is the “right way to live”. Luckily, there are a couple of widely used activities that will help open your students eyes to the consequences of ethnocentrism. Both articles, “Body Rituals of The Nacirema.” and the “The Sacred Rac” use ethnocentric language to describe culture in the United States.

The first is a classic anthropological article titled, “Body Rituals of The Nacirema.” This article is a anthropological study of the United States (circa 1956) however it uses loaded language to frame very “normal” aspects of american life in a very abnormal way. I typically have my students read this in the first week of my Intro to Sociology courses. I ask my students to raise their hand if they would like to live with the Nacirema. Any student who raises their hand has either figured out the ruse or has done this activity before. I tell these students that they may not talk until I say they can. This prevents them from ruining it for everyone else.

The majority of my class almost always says they do not want to live with the Nacirema. I ask them to give me their reasons. Typically students say that the Nacirema are weird because they hate their bodies and they let “holy mouth men” drill holes in their mouths. I let the students go on for a little while and then write Nacirema on the board at the front of the room. Then as the students are talking I slowly write Nacirema backwards. A-m-e-r-i-c-a-n. Then I ask, “Does anyone find it strange that Nacirema is American spelled backwards?”

I let all the students then discuss how ethnocentrism can affect the way we see a culture, even our own. My students usually love this activity, but I always apologize for decieving them or at the very least leading them astray. I think it is important to reestablish trust with your students by acknowledging that this was only for academic purposes.

The second article, “The Sacred Rac” takes a similar ethnocentric look at our obsession with cars in the United States. The article starts off by talking about a Indian anthropologist who travels to visit the Asu, a people who worship the “sacred Rac” much like the people of his country honor their sacred cows. This article is a great jumping off point for a discussion of stereotypes about Indians and about ethnocentrism. After reading this students almost always ask something like, “Why would a people put up with these animals if the cost so much and hurt so many people?” When I tell them that this article is about cars not racs in the United States the students are floored. I then provide them with stats from the Center for Disease Control that find nearly 5 million people are injured or killed in car accidents each year and that the total economic impact of car accidents was $230 billion in 2000.

These articles put both US culture and ethnocentrism in easy to understand terms. Students typically enjoy these activities and many have told me they show them to their friends. I have found that both these articles provide the most benefit if you do them early in your classes. After these experiences students are often more tolerant and open to other cultures.

“Situations defined as real are real in their consequences” – The W.I. Thomas Theorem

Conformity, obedience, and authority are all big topics in my sociology 101 courses. So it’s no surprise that I have students read about Stanley Milgram’s electrocution experiments. Students are stunned to learn that people were willing to electrocute another person to death simply because a man in a white lab coat told them to. Many of my students find the article very interesting, but laugh it off as something “other people” would do. To make students more empathetic of the people in Milgram’s experiment I have them take a pop quiz.

On the day the Milgram reading is due I show up to class exactly on time, leaving no time for before class chit-chat. I have a stern look on my face and in a authoritative voice I say, “Alright everyone, pop quiz. Clear your desks and take out a piece of paper. For the next 20 minutes I want NO TALKING!.” Students are stunned both by the pop quiz and my sudden change in demeanor. I wait with an impatient look on my face as they pull out pen and paper. If any students asks for clarification or attempts to protest I cut them off with a stern, “I said no talking.” When the students are ready I say, “Alright this is a pop quiz about math. I want you to write everything you know about Math. The more you write the more points you get. GO.” After a beat, students begin writing furiously.

“Alright this is a pop quiz about math. I want you to write everything you know about Math. The more you write the more points you get. GO.” After a beat, students begin writing furiously.

I wait maybe 30 seconds to a minute and tell them to stop. “Why are you writing about math in a sociology class?” I ask. After some laughter someone always says, “Because you told us to.” I spend the next 5-10 minutes decompressing and deconstructing the activity with the students. I tell them how hard it was for me to act so differently then I typically do. If you adopt this activity I can’t stress enough that you need to set boundaries for yourself (to avoid abuse or hurting your students feelings) and that you have to help students process through the emotions this activity filled them with. During the activity I refuse to demean or insult students in anyway. I simply speak with a clear and direct tone. This has always been enough to command obedience. I have never once had a student disobey or walk out.

With my students now cognitively open to the ideas of authority and obedience we move on to discuss the Milgram article. Often in the discussion students will draw the logical conclusion and ask in one form or another, “how much of our lives are really based on our own decisions and how much is guided by our obedience to authority figures?” I typically spend an entire class letting my students debate amongst themselves this very question.

I also provide students with recent examples of how our tendency for obedience has been abused. This year a French documentarian looked at how reality TV affects contestants’ behavior. He recreated Milgram’s experiment as a game show and found some of the contestants were willing to electrocute a man to death even though there was no prize or reward for doing so.

In April of 2004 a man called a McDonald’s restaurant in Kentucky pretending to be a police officer. In a three and a half hour phone call he convinced the managers to strip search an 18 year old employee and force her to perform sexual acts on another man. The man who received the sex acts later pleaded guilty of sexual assault and was sentenced to 1 years imprisonment.

A big part of any sociology course is the idea that the world we live in is socially constructed. The Milgram experiment, my math pop quiz, and these news events clearly demonstrate the Thomas Theorem to students. Even if things are not based in the “real reality” they can have severe consequences if they are defined as real in our social construction of reality.

Flickr: loop_oh

Getting students fired up about inequality is fairly straightforward. If you can convince them inequality is real and affecting themselves or people they care about they will decry the injustice. But how do you get students to do something about it? Earlier I discussed how to show students the way to make change in their community, but how can you encourage them to actually step up and do it? In many ways I am still, and will forever be, answering this question.

Part of the solution is in getting students to take social activism for a spin in your class. Make doing something in their community a graded assignment. I have my students during the last week of class write a letter to one of their political representatives (The directions for this activity can be found here). Students bring a stamped, addressed, handwritten, and unsealed letter about an issue of their choosing. I allow students to write any public official about any topic they like. The letters are handwritten because this communicates to the political representative beyond any shadow of a doubt that it was written by a human and not a computer. Also, the letter is unsealed so that I can ensure they wrote the letter.

Letters Written By My Students

This is only a small step. Students may write about frivolous topics unrelated to or even counter to the lessons of your course, but at the very least they will practice taking action in their community. The point is to get them to take action. If you forced them to write on a list of topics or worse force them to write about topics that you talked about in class the way you talked about them in class you will appear to be a political ideologue and you will be reviled by most of your students. You have to let the students draw their own conclusions.