Scenes from Baquba suicide bombing
The motives of suicide bombers escape most of our understandings. This confusion presents a significant obstacle for policy makers trying to combat this type of crime. Robert J. Brym tackles this issue in his article “Six Lessons of Suicide Bombers” (Contexts, Fall 2007).  Use the discussion questions or the activity below to help students engage with this topic.

(This article, along with these activities will also be featured in the upcoming Contexts Reader.)

1)    Did it surprise you that suicide bombers tend not to be psychologically unstable or that they are not mainly motivated by religion? How do the facts and findings reported in this article conflict with our usual cultural understanding of terrorists and suicide bombers?

2)    Why don’t terrorist organizations recruit “crazy” people for suicide attacks, according to this article?

3)    Many countries refuse to negotiate with terrorists, stating that negotiation validates terrorism as a form of international relations. Based upon this article, do you think policies like this reduce the “boomerang effect” or make matters worse? Explain your answer.

ACTIVITY: Pretend you are the head of an anti-terrorism advisory board for the United Nations. Using Brym’s six lessons, devise a strategic action plan for combating and reducing instances of suicide bombing.

K-OS on The Come Up Show

It’s one of the most contentious words in America. Who can use? Who can’t? Should its meaning change when used by different people? It’s considered a curse word by a large segment of the United States and is prohibited from our major media and entertainment outlets–except for hip hop. Geoff Harkness explores this issue in his article “Hip Hop Culture and America’s Most Taboo Word” (Contexts, Fall 2008). We’ve put together some ways to use this article in your class on race, music, or popular culture:

  • Use these questions to start a class discussion:

1)    What social factors and cultural ties help explain the bonds Latino and black hip-hoppers express in this article?

2)    As its music and culture has become more mainstream and moved across class and racial boundaries, how has hip-hop changed?

3)    Like the “n-word”, groups sometimes “reclaim” words that are used as slurs to turn them into points of pride. Discuss the history and evolution of words like “ghetto,” “redneck,” “queer,” “faggot,” and “bitch.” Why have people sometimes chosen to reclaim derogatory words like these?

4)    Some words are loaded even if they seem neutral. Consider words like “feminist,” “patriot,” “communist.” What meanings and implications are built into these words? Can you think of similar words that evoke strong feelings?

Check out the article Is Hooking Up Bad for Young Women? by Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura Hamilton and Paula England, which appears in the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts. This highly accessible  and interesting article will work great in an undergraduate course on sexualities or gender.

Cerro Santa Lucía, SantiagoThe FULL article is available to download on!

The article offers insight on the “hook-up culture” among young people today by examining the Baby Boomers’ panic over teenage casual sex, presenting the data on casual and serious sexual relationships among teens, and examining pros and cons of hook-ups for women.

The authors cite the work of some journalists and others who have commented on “hooking up” among young women in very different ways:

  • Laura Sessions Stepp, author of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both (2007)
  • Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth: How America’s Obsession with Virginity is Hurting Young Women (2010)
  • Ariel Levy, author of Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture (2005)

A fun and interesting way to use this article in your class is to allow students to take on the role of commentator by writing a short paper (3-4 pages) on their understanding and opinions on hook-up culture. You could have them read sections from the books above and/or read blog posts like this one from in addition to this article from Contexts, and also have them research and cite scholarly work on the subject, like the work cited in the article.

Have them take a position on the issue of “hooking up”/casual sexual interactions in college and use evidence they find in their research to back up their claims.

Lesbian Romance

Questions that could be used to develop their argument include:

Do you think that hook-up culture is empowering for women or not?

Why do you think hooking-up is more common now than ever?

Why do you think young people hooking up causes such a moral panic?

Is sexual interaction within relationships preferable to hook-ups?

Is there a sexual double standard between men and women when it comes to hooking up?

How does the hook-up culture described in this article relate to same-sex relationships?

Students will eat up this article from the Summer 2010 issue of Contexts: “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover” by Amy Schalet. This interesting article compares American and Dutch teenagers and their parents on their opinions on teenage sexuality, including sleepovers with their boyfriends/girlfriends.

215/365 - This Strawberrybananna smoothie is better than the Wildberry (:Get a discussion of teenage sexuality started by giving your students this anonymous survey on their own experiences with and ideas about teenage sexuality. Adapt it to your own tastes and class’ needs. The idea is to keep it anonymous so they answer candidly, and then compile the answers yourself and share them with the class. We would suggest giving this survey at the end of one class and then having the discussion at the beginning of the next.

Another way to use a survey in class is to use the same questions as another survey, like this Gallup Poll on teens and sex, and then compare the class’ answers to the public.

We all love to hate reality TV. This assignment asks students to watch a few episodes of America’s Next Top Model after reading an interesting and accessible culture review from Contexts. There are many elements in ANTM worth sociological examination: race, gender, and sexuality of contestants and judges, gender performance, use and display of bodies, modeling culture, body image, patriarchal power, infantilizing women, feminism, self-branding and individualized success ideals.  You could even ask students to send you clips of segments they found especially provocative and show some of them in class to spark the discussion.


Read the culture review “The Top Model Life” by Elizabeth Wissinger featured in Contexts magazine’s Spring 2010 issue.

Then, watch an episode (or a few) of America’s Next Top Model online.

Full episodes found here.


Next week we’ll share the final post from our guest blogger, Nathan Palmer.  In the meantime, if you have a activity or an assignment that you would like to share with our community of teachers, please send it to us!  We welcome any activity that is paired with Contexts articles or used generally to teach about the social world.  We would love to showcase your work!!

Email Hollie at  or Kia at

The article “Balloon Boy Plus Ei8ght? Children and Reality Television” from the Culture Reviews section of the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts is short and class-room friendly piece that explores the use of children in reality TV. As a big part of their popular culture, students will likely have a lot of say about reality TV in general and its use of child stars. Use the following questions either as a group or individually to spark an interesting discussion:

1) What are some reality TV shows that you know about that use children as their main stars? Do you watch them?

2) What do you think it is about using children in reality TV that makes so many people tune in?

3) Levey argues in the article that the children are being exploited by their parents and producers. Do you agree? Why or why not?

4) If you had the opportunity to put your children on a reality TV program, would you? What would be the benefits? What would be the drawbacks?

5) Do you agree with the author that the children currently on reality TV will suffer consequences for it down the road? If so, what are some examples?

6) Imagine how your childhood would have been different if you had been on reality TV. Do you think it would have been a positive or negative experience for you?

Or use this activity:

Bring in a clip of a reality TV show that utilizes child stars to share with the class. Discuss the way the filmmakers and the adults on the program are interacting with them. Do they seem to be enjoying their time in the spotlight? Do you think this is child labor?

This in-class debate allows students to understand both sides of the controversy over whether English should be the official language of the United States. This activity is designed to be used with “English-Only Triumphs, but the Costs are High” by Alejandro Portes in Contexts Spring 2002.

Directions: Students will read the article before the class period and come to class prepared with 3 arguments in favor of English being the official language of the United States (check out for arguments on this side) and 3 arguments opposed to English being the official language. Students will be assigned a side to take when they come into class. The two sides will break into smaller groups of 4-5 and discuss their arguments supporting their assigned side. Each small group will have 1 or 2 representatives who will be responsible for presenting their arguments to the other side. All representatives from one side will present their groups arguments, followed by all representatives from the other side. While one side is presenting, each student on the opposing side will come up with a rebuttal to an argument presented. After both sides have presented, the floor will be open for debate. After the debate, all students will come out of character and will have the opportunity to express their opinions on the issue. Afterward, all students will write an in-class reflection on what they learned from the debate and how they feel about this issue.

To be completed before class:

English should be the official language of the United States because:




English should not be the official language of the United States because:




In-class Small Group Work:

After all members of your group have presented their arguments, pick 3 that the group agrees are the best arguments for the debate:




As the other side presents their arguments, think of a rebuttal to one or more of their points.


Individual Reflection (after the debate):

What was your position on this issue before the debate?

What did you learn from this debate?

What is your position on this issue now?

For this activity, have students read David Grazian’s essay in the Culture Reviews section of the Spring 2010 issue of Contexts “Neoliberalism and the Realities of Reality TV.” After they read the article at home or in class, have them watch various clips from reality tv shows highlighted in the article and answer/reflect on the questions below. They should come prepared to discuss their reactions to the article and the video clips in class.

1) Have you seen the reality tv shows that Grazian discusses in the article? How often do you watch shows like these? Do you enjoy them?

2) What do you make of Grazian’s argument that reality tv shows reflect a neoliberal agenda? Do you buy this argument? Which parts of his argument do you find most compelling? If you don’t agree with Grazian, why not? What parts of his argument do you disagree with or find troubling?

Use video clips like these….

A third (and final!) set of ideas for using Hull, Meier and Ortyl’s piece “The Changing Landscape of Love and Marriage” (Spring 2010 issue) from the authors!

Exercise #1:

Have students answer the relationship values questions (which they used for their research published in Journal of Marriage and Family) as a learning exercise; perhaps in advance of the assigned reading so they are not biased by having read the article, and then compare the students’ responses to the findings in their JMF article as a jumping-off point for class discussion of relationship values/attitudes, where they come from, whether/why they differ by gender, SES, sexual orientation, etc.

“How important do you think each of the following elements is for a successful marriage or serious committed relationship?”  (using a 1=”not important” to 10=”extremely important” scale)

1)  Love

2)  Faithfulness

3)  Life-long commitment

4)  Financial security

5) Being of the same race

Exercise #2:

The article talks broadly about romantic v. confluent love. Students could debate which of these two models is more relevant today and/or which pieces of each model they like/don’t like and why.

For the romantic love model, Swidler’s four features (or myths) could be discussed:

1) one true love
2) love at first sight
3) love conquers all
4) happily ever after

For confluent model, Gidden’s ideas include these features:

1) relationship contingent on satisfaction of both partners
2) lots of communication/negotiation
3) overarching goal of self-development