Magazines geared towards teens are some of the best examples of illustrating gender norms for students new to Sociology. We recommend this activity for an Intro to Sociology class or to begin a course on the Sociology of Gender:Seventeen

Have students read “Selling Feminism, Consuming Femininity” by Amanda M. Gengler in the Spring 2011 issue of Contexts. Then, have them look through magazines aimed at young women or men (print or online) with a new eye for spotting the underlying messages about femininity and masculinity contained in the images or articles.

Send them home with a worksheet with these questions repeated 4-6 times so they can answer them about each image/article they find:

1. What message does this image/article portray about femininity or masculinity?

2. Do you believe this message has the potential to be harmful to young men or women? If so, in what ways? If not, why not?

3. Imagine you are talking to your younger brother/sister/cousin/daughter/son about this image or article, what would you say?

SeventeenHave them bring their examples into class and form small groups for a “Gender Workshop” (this could definitely work in a large class!) They’ll take turns describing their finds to the other members of the group. After they’ve all had their turn, they’ll have a guided discussion about their experience, addressing these questions in a small group discussion:

1. What was this experience like for you? Was there anything surprising about looking at these magazines in this way?

2. Do you believe that absorbing gender norms like the ones discussed today could have negative consequences for young men and women?  If so, how?
Give examples:

3. Whose responsibility is it to manage such messages about gender norms? The publishers of the magazines? The authors of the articles? The advertisers? The parents of the teens? The teens themselves?


Lindsay Lohan

Rebecca Tiger’s culture review “They Tried to Make Her Go to Rehab” (about the reaction to Lindsay Lohan’s struggles with drugs and alcohol) would be useful in any deviancy course or for organizing a discussion on addiction discourses or media/online interaction.

We recommend having the students read the article and then conducting their own review of comments about celebrity addiction that they can find online (like Rebecca Tiger’s review of Perez Hilton’s coverage). Have them bring examples of what they find to class to get a discussion going on how celebrity addiction is portrayed and how these discourses relates to drug policy and rehabilitation for the rest of us.


You could also bring up Amy Winehouse, whose recent death reinvigorated the public discussion of the causes, cures, and consequences of addiction.

Students love to analyze popular culture because it allows them to think about and write about the music, movies, TV shows, or books that they already love (or love to hate!) A fun way to use popular culture in the classroom is to have your students re-examine one of their favorite shows, movies, albums, etc. from a sociological perspective.

We recommend using Rebecca Hayes-Smith’s book review “Gender Norms in the Twilight Series” as a guide for your students (from the Spring 2011 issue of Contexts). Have your students read and discuss this short review and then go out and write one of their own!

day15 twilight saga

That wayThe grand majority of  the undergrad students in our classes will not end up working in academia, and many will ask, “What can I do with a degree in Sociology?” We recommend our “Embedded Sociologists” feature–where Hollie and Kia, as well as Suzy Maves McElrath and Sarah Shannon take a closer look at sociologists who work outside of the academy–to help your students get a sense of a sociological perspective  and what a background in sociology can offer them in the job market.

We think this article would work well in an Intro class because it offers a rich description of how a sociological imagination can be used outside of the classroom in future careers. It would also be a good addition to a senior thesis class, for those students who want to go to graduate school, but may not want to work in academia. We hope this article will also be useful to graduate students thinking about taking an alternative path.

Read the full text online!

A few questions to get a discussion of this article started:

1) Were you surprised at the range of careers sociologists can have?

2) According to the sociologists interviewed in this article, how can the sociological imagination be used to address real-world problems and solutions?

3) What are some ways that you have used your sociological imagination outside of the classroom?

4) Why have academic sociologists and non-academic sociologists generally not worked together? According to the authors, what are the possible consequences of such a disconnect?


Lunchtime for Hoodies

Jen’nan Ghazal Read explores views of Muslims in her article Muslims in America in the Fall 2008 issue of Contexts. You can read the full text here! This is great article to assign in any class on race, culture or politics. Use the discussion questions and activity below to incorporate this article into your class.

Also, listen to Jen’nan Ghazal Read talk about these issues on the Contexts Podcast Office Hours.


1)    How do the political views of Muslim Americans compare to the rest of the American religious public?

2)    Why might Muslims, who ideologically align with most of mainstream America, still be considered “outsiders”?

3)     Can you think of other groups that are similarly considered “outsiders” in American society today?


ACTIVITY: The author provides demographic information on Muslim Americans. Download the Pew Center Report used in the article and write a summary of any information you learned that surprised you or that
you think should be more widely known.


We recommend using these discussion questions and activity with Ellen Berrey’s interesting and well-written article Sociology Finds Discrimination in the Law (read the full article for free here!) which appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Contexts.UnAmerican

1)    How would you define discrimination? How does your definition compare with a more formal, legal definition?

2)    The article states that sometimes people discriminate unintentionally. What are examples of unintentional discrimination?

3)    Based on what you learned from this article, what do you think should be done to rectify the effects of discrimination? Who should be responsible for taking action?


Explore the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website ( and read up about the different kinds of discrimination. Have you or someone you know been a victim of the types of discrimination described?



U.S. families have adopted tens of thousands of children from other countries in the last decades (many of whom are sitting in our college courses).

International adoption is a great topic for a class or lesson on race and culture because, for international adoptees and their families, race, ethnicity and culture often do not line up neatly.

We recommend the Culture Review “Culture Goes to Camp” by Lori Delale-O’Connor in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts to get a conversation going in your classroom about ethnicity and culture–and the challenges international adoptees may face with merging the two in their own identities.

To use this article in class, have students search the web and read up on culture camps like the ones discussed in the article and address these questions:

1) What types of activities are advertised on the websites? Put yourself in an adopted child’s shoes. How do you think a child would experience these “cultural” activities?

2) Imagine you adopted a child from another culture. Do you think that you would encourage activities like a culture camp? How important do you imagine it would it be to you to have your child “stay connected to his/her roots”? Why?

3) What culture do you identify most with? Is the culture of your ancestors important to you or present in your life? Did your parents encourage you to learn about it?

Encourage your students to look at marriage in a new light with Greg Scott’s photo essay “Matrimony” in the Winter 2011 issue Contexts. Scott’s article details his ethnographic short film centered on the marriage of two homeless heroin addicts. He encourages readers to explore their biases on what a marriage is or should be by asking of this couple, “Is this a real marriage?

Homeless couple, April 9 2011This article and short film would would fit well in many types of courses: on the family, marriage, sexuality, poverty, or drug use.

Have students read the article and watch the film before class, and write a short reaction paper. Then, use their responses to get a discussion going on marriage in contemporary America.

This week, we highlight the article Families Facing Untenable Choices by Lisa Dodson and Wendy Luttrell in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts. The article asks important questions without easy solutions. We recommend using this article in your class to encourage students to explore the hidden ironies of combining working and parenting among low-income mothers.

Before class, have students do a thorough reading of the article and outline the problems faced by low-wage mothers that appear in this article. Then, have them answer this question on their own in class before having a group discussion about the article:

Why are low-income mothers in a lose-lose situation when it comes to being mothers and workers?

100 days oldThis article would be paired well with the article highlighted last week “Children” Having Children by Stefanie Mollborn in the same issue of Contexts.

In addition, we suggest having students listen to the  Lisa Dodson, Wendy Luttrell and Stefanie Mollborn talk about low-income and teen motherhood in an interview with Office Hours on The Society Pages.

Teen parenting as a social issue does not fit neatly into categories of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for most people…which makes it great material for teaching sociology! Take a look at the article “Children” Having Children by Stefanie Mollborn in the Winter 2011 issue of Contexts and use the activity below in your classroom.Stay at Home Dad

Before students read the article, have a class discussion about their perceptions of teen parenting. What are their first reactions to the issue? Do they have personal experience with the issue? Were their fathers or mothers teen parents? Their friends? Themselves? What are social and practical challenges they imagine teen parents must face? Should the government use taxpayer money to prevent teen parenthood or leave it alone?

Then have the students read the article for the next class meeting and have students form small groups to discuss 1) how the article may have changed their views on the issue and 2) what was missing from the discussion from the last class that the article brought up.

Come back to the larger group and have volunteers from each group relay what they discussed. Then, ask students to explore what, if anything, should be done about this issue (e.g. whether government funds should be used to combat teen parenthood, and if so, directed where?)