With Halloween right around the corner, University of Minnesota sociology graduate student Meghan Krausch took the opportunity to talk with her students about Halloween costumes that are racist or that perpetuate stereotypes.  She was gracious enough to share the activity with us, which is below.

The goal of this lesson plan is to encourage students to consider how Halloween costumes reinforce hurtful stereotypes and white racial dominance in contemporary US society. It also serves a good case study of contemporary debates around race and representation in popular culture.

My course is on US Race Relations, and students were largely familiar with the premise of the discussion already, so I began with the following images and videos. Other courses may need to modify the activity to provide more introduction or basis for the lesson.

I showed a few images of “Indian” costumes, some racial/ethnic costumes for dogs, and a video of a comedy sketch involving blackface from the 1950s. I warned them that the blackface video was very offensive and hurtful, but that I felt it was important for us all to know what “blackface” actually refers to—a specific kind of racist performance that was at one time very common in the US. Examples of such costumes and videos are easy to find on the internet—these are just the ones I happened to use:




I then passed out the following 4 short readings/blog posts on cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes:





I asked students to choose one of the readings to read all the way through and to get into groups of 4. The majority of students seemed to find the first reading from Native Appropriations most useful. Based on our class conversation, I would recommend the first two blog posts (the open letter from Native Appropriations and the commentary from Autostraddle), and maybe scratch the other two.

I asked the students to answer the following questions in their groups:

  1. List at least 3 reasons why dressing up as a member of another racial or ethnic group is hurtful and/or offensive.
  2. List at least 3 reasons why people continue to wear these costumes.
  3. Has anyone in the group had any personal experience (with friends or family, for example) with this situation?
  4. How does the larger social context matter when we think about this issue?
  5. Design and draw a costume that is not offensive.

We then used this small group discussion to launch us into a larger discussion, which especially focused on dilemmas and debates about how can do what. I focused the students on a few questions, including the role that power, domination, and the larger social context play in determining the difference between when whites dress up as others and when people of color do the same thing.

Finally, I strongly suggest bringing Halloween candy if you are going to discuss Halloween in the classroom!

Meghan Krausch is an instructor and PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. She is currently finishing her dissertation on utopian social movements and “people’s education” in Buenos Aires.  She enjoys exploring the liberatory potential of education in and out of the university classroom.


Our friends over at Norton have created several animations that highlight sociological concepts, like the paradoxes of race and worldwide inequality (posted below). They will be posting new ones every couple of weeks on Norton’s youtube page. These would be great to show in class to help illustrate concepts for students!

Today we have a guest post from our fellow TSP board member, Kyle Green. Kyle is teaching Sociological Research Methods and wanted to share this activity that he is having his students complete while watching the presidential debates. Thanks Kyle!

I believe that one of the most important skills that a sociology major learns is how to recognize a good/bad argument, how to recognize when someone is using the right/wrong data to support their view, and to think about how the effectiveness of different types of argument varies by both topic and situation.

The presidential and vice-presidential debates present a great opportunity to put these skills into use. And it gets the students to think critically about politics, which is never a bad thing.

I require that the students in my research methods class watch any two of the four debates. They are asked to take detailed notes about the types of arguments the participants on each side made and the data they used to support their claims. The notes should also include:

  •  Self-reflection (How closely do they follow politics? Are they a strong supporter of a particular political party or involved in particular issues? Did watching the debate change their view?)
  • What arguments did they find the most or least convincing? Why?
  • What type of information was the most or least effective in this format?
  • How did the format of the debates affect the arguments used and supporting information presented?
  • Did you spot any of the common research errors or logical fallacies we discussed in class?

I have the students bring their notes to the first class after the final debate. I then divide them into groups of three where they have a chance to discuss their observations before have a larger class discussion about the lessons we learned.

In my families class last week, I had students fill out a “sociological” family tree, where they noted social trends in their own families over four generations.Here’s the pdf!


As you make the family tree, make note of social trends, such as: # of children (or remaining childless), marriage, divorce, remarriage, cohabitation, single parenthood, and living alone/remaining single. Other things to pay attention to: age of marriage and childbearing, educational attainment, women in workforce, social class (intergenerational mobility), interracial families, and gay/lesbian families. (You can make this as detailed or simple as you would like)

I paired this activity with the Contexts article “Families” by Tey Meadow and Judith Stacey from 2006.

If you plan on having students write papers or reflect on their own families throughout the course, this is good way for them to visualize patterns within their own families and compare them to trends in the U.S.

We just wanted to call attention to a great teaching tool posted yesterday on Soc Images.  As Gwen Sharp noted, a reader sent in a video about informal etiquette in men’s restrooms.  This video, found here, would be great to show in any discussion of informal norms.  Though, as Gwen notes, be sure to stop it by 4:40.

Teacher Education Program in action

Looking for some ideas on how use Contexts articles in the classroom?  A few years ago, Kia and I created/compiled various active learning exercises and case studies to accompany Contexts articles.  Most (if not all) of these activities have been posted as separate blog items, but we thought it may be useful to provide them all together as one document, found here.

Hi all!  Before explaining the activity below, I wanted to let you know that I’ll be posting from Kigali, Rwanda, for the next month and a half.  I’m conducting dissertation interviews and interning with the National Research Center on Genocide; if you’re interested, you can follow the travels here.  Thanks!


With the start of classes right around the corner, we thought it’d be useful to post a potential activity for the first day.  This activity, human bingo, was developed by some University of Minnesota graduate students and can easily be modified.  Essentially, it’s a good way to get students talking to one another and start creating a positive environment in the classroom.  In addition, the survey attached to the activity allows you to get to know your students right away.  Here you can find a copy of the activity, Human Bingo.

I’ve also asked students to share the most interesting place they’ve been, which has resulted in some fun conversations.  We’d love to hear your first day activities as well!

Here’s another great podcast that I’ll be using in my Families class this fall!

We interviewed Professor Katherine Newman about her book  The Accordion Family: Boomerang Kids, Anxious Parents, and the Private Toll of Global Competition. In this book, she and a team of researchers explore why, in the world’ wealthiest countries, an increasing number of adults in their twenties and thirties are moving back in with their parents. She compares the incidence of accordion families in Italy, Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, and the U.S.

I suggest having students listen to the podcast at home (in lieu of a reading) and answer these questions to prepare them for a class discussion:

1. What is an accordion family? What is a boomerang child? Which countries have high rates of accordion families? Which countries have low rates?

2. Why is it difficult to conduct the same survey in multiple countries? What was one difficulty that Newman and her research team faced? How did she attempt to alleviate this?

3. What are the conventional “markers of adulthood” and how have they changed? For example, why are boomerang children considered “adults” even though they do not have the “markers of adulthood”?

4. According to Newman’s findings, how are immigration and accordion families interconnected?

5. Newman gives a few reasons why, in the United States, parents and children have adapted well to the accordion family structure. What are these reasons?

6. How does social class matter when it comes to accordion families? Newman gives several examples.

7. Which countries have adjusted well to accordion families and which have resisted this new family structure?

8. What makes Japan so unique when it comes to perceptions of accordion families?

9. In Nordic countries, what prevents accordion families?

10. What recommendations does Professor Newman make for U.S. social policy?

11. According the Prof. Newman, are accordion families on the way out?

    Here are some additional resources on Professor Newman’s findings:

Film Real (57/365)

I ran across this wonderful resource written by Jon Smajda a number of years ago.  Some of it is a little dated, but it’s a great compilation of resources for media in the classroom.  

In the 7th grade, I had this really terrible teacher who would show movies about once or twice a week. He’d sit in the back of class and read the newspaper and my friends and I would pass notes, draw caricatures of the teacher, or simply make plans for after school: anything but actually watch the movie.

Unfortunately, this is (more or less) the image most people have in their heads of showing movies in class: a day off for both the teacher and the students. Of course, many of us show hour-long films in our classes and our students manage to avoid spitball fights and get a lot out of the film. This is one advantage of teaching college students and not 7th graders.

However, there are other options for using videos in class. For instance, short film clips can be a great way to illustrate a concept or to start discussion. Back in the old days when we had to haul around the A/V cart to show a video in class, it wasn’t necessarily worth the effort just to show a two minute clip. However, now that all our classrooms are hopefully equipped with projectors, DVD players and laptop adapters, it may be time to rethink the ways we can utilize video in teaching.

Television in the classroom

Television series are a standard that highlight both contemporary and historical social trends in an organized and narrative fashion, making them ideal for use within the classroom. Whereas other types of filmed media (such as feature length films and documentaries) are often too long to show during a single classroom period, episodes or segments from a television series are usually short enough to be played in their entirety, thus preserving the director’s intended messages while still leaving time for lecture and classroom discussion. Additionally, each episode or segment often represents a completely new theme or issue, allowing for instructors to return to television series that students are familiar with and were also successful in promoting student engagement in the past.

Video Sources

In addition to simply bringing in DVDs and showing short clips that illustrate sociological concepts or could serve as a springboard for further discussions or debate, here are some other sources to try out:

iTunes Podcasts – If you download iTunes and go to the iTunes Store, there’s a “Podcasting” section and within that there’s a section for Video Podcasts. A lot of news organizations and other semi-serious outlets are producing free video podcasts of their content.

Hulu – Hulu.com is an effort by NBC & Fox to make their TV shows available for free online & there’s a lot there: from new TV shows to an archive of lots of old TV shows and many full-length movies. You cannot download the movies, which is a shame, but you can embed the clips into your own website and there’s a cool feature where you can set which portion of the clip plays in your embedded instance of the clip, which is very cool if you wanted to, say, embed a clip on your class website and only want your students to focus on one part of the clip.

Network TV – Hulu is good for NBC & Fox shows, but an increasing number of shows on CBS (CBS.com) and ABC (ABC.com) are freely available for online viewing.

PBS Frontline – http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/view/ – Dozens of episodes of Frontline available for free viewing online.

Joost – http://joost.com – Kind of like Hulu, but not as cool or as user-friendly.

YouTube – Obviously, there’s YouTube. Google video tends to have more serious/professional stuff, whereas youtube has more homemade videos.

video.google.com – A growing collection of videos online by google. Search for anything – see what you can find. (You can download most clips to your hard drive as well.)

TED Talks – http://www.ted.com/talks – About TED: “TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from those three worlds. Since then its scope has become ever broader. The annual conference now brings together the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers, who are challenged to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes). This site makes the best talks and performances from TED available to the public, for free. Almost 150 talks from our archive are now available, with more added each week. These videos are released under a Creative Commons license, so they can be freely shared and reposted.”

Miro – http://www.getmiro.com/ – Miro is a free, open source video application that is integrated with thousands of free video feeds from all over the internet. It’s sort of like iTunes and the iTunes store, only everything is free.

http://freedocumentaries.org – You guessed it, free documentaries online.

Archive.org – This site is a massive collection of free online video, audio and text. Within the video section, there are some subcollections that may be of interest to some of you:

“The Beat Within” – http://www.archive.org/details/beatwithin – video diaries of young people inside the California prison system.

“Shaping San Francisco” – http://www.archive.org/details/shaping_sf – A “participatory social history of San Francisco.” Short films covering many aspects of the city and its history.

“Cinemocracy” – http://www.archive.org/details/cinemocracy – a collection of 1940s pro-war propaganda films, by some of the best directors of the time and commissioned by the US government directly.

“Mosaic Middle East News” – http://www.archive.org/details/mosaic – collection of television news clips from throughout the Middle East, translated into English.

“Media Burn” – http://www.archive.org/details/media_burn – “over 3000 hours of material reflecting historical, political and social reality as seen by independent producers from 1972 to 2002, almost entirely without a narrator or news announcer. It is a major dose of American studies, media history and electronic literacy.”

Movie Trailers – http://www.apple.com/trailers – Movie trailers provide short, but information-packed, previews of movies that can be fascinating when put under a sociological microscope. Whether you’re interested in representations of race, gender or class or in consumerism and marketing, movie trailers often offer quick, fun examples.

Old TV Commercials – http://x-entertainment.com/downloads/ – A collection of old commercials from the 1980s, with an especially large collection of advertising directed at children.

Richard Beach’s Teaching Media site – http://www.tc.umn.edu/~rbeach/teachingmedia/ – Beach is a professor in the U’s Department of Curriculum and Instruction and he’s written a textbook on how to teach media literacy. This is his website for the book, and it’s full of links to video materials as well as ideas for how to integrate them into your classes. For example, Modules 4, 5 and 6 introduce critical approaches to interpreting media representations and advertising, while Module 7 discusses how to talk about the role of ideology in various film genres.

Comedy Central – www.comedycentral.com – Comedy Central puts a lot of video clips from their shows online. Many, of course, are probably useless in the classroom, but some of their shows frequently have some clever social commentary, such as The Daily Show, http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_daily_show/index.jhtml, and The Colbert Report –http://www.comedycentral.com/shows/the_colbert_report/index.jhtml.

Media Education Foundation – http://www.mediaed.org/videos/index_html – Contains short preview videos to most of their videos.


It's survey season

The roundtable “Polling, Politics, and the Populace” is a great overview of the insights sociologists can provide to polling.  While there are several aspects you could discuss the classroom, one of the key points highlights the difficulty of asking questions.  To illustrate this, students could create a few survey questions in class after reading the roundtable.

Have the entire class brainstorm a topic and audience for a fictitious survey.  Then, have students break into groups.  Each group should develop three questions about the topic.  After 10 minutes, ask each group to write their questions on the board.  Then, discuss the questions as a class.  Are they closed or open-ended (you could also specify this in the directions so all are closed-ended), and why might this matter?  What do they measure?  How are they different?  Are there ambiguous words, jargon, or other confusing aspects?  Would there be difficulties with in-person polling?  Etc.