We recommend this great documentary, The Road From Crime, about desistance from crime to show in any crim or intro class. The documentary follows Allan Weaver, a Scottish ex-offender turned probation officer as he explores how individuals like himself get caught up in the criminal justice system, and how some are eventually able to leave a life of crime behind. He discovers that “the system” actually leads to more re-offending, because it encourages labeling and stigmatization of ex-offenders.

The film references the research of American criminologists John Laub and Robert J. Sampson and interviews John Laub and Faye Taxman. Overall, it is a compelling and passionate discussion about what offenders need to become ex-offenders.

Make sure to show the one with English subtitles! The accents are hard to understand with American English ears :)

To listen to an interview with two criminologists who worked on the film (and its parent project, Discovering Desistance), please visit our Office Hours section.

Enter Ellis IslandDuring the 2012 election, immigration was not nearly as big of an issue as it has been in previous elections.  In the newest TSP Roundtable, leading scholars of immigration address why this might be the case and, more broadly, why immigration has long been a divisive political issue in the United States.  This is a great reading for any number of sociology classes.  A few questions for students to ponder after the reading include:


1)   How has immigration to the U.S. changed over time?

2)   According to Massey, when did the most recent cycle of xenophobia start, and why?

3)   How do immigration and race intersect?

The quiz, How Much Do You Know about U.S. Immigration, would also be a nice complement, though some of the figures may need to be updated slightly.

Bad News on the Doorstep

The TSP blog, Citings & Sightings, tracks sociologists and other social scientists whose work makes it into the news.   This activity draws upon this concept and gets students thinking about the public impact of sociology. 

1) Browse to https://thesocietypages.org/citings/ and read several examples of citings.

2) Then, search for a news story that cites a sociologist.  If you get stuck, try google news and search for the terms “sociologist” or “sociology.”

3) Using the Citings & Sightings blog as a model, write your own “citing” for the article you found.

Students could bring their citings to class and share them in groups or as a class.  Then, the groups or your class could discuss the following questions:

1) In your opinion, what makes the article, or the research cited, newsworthy?

2)  Why was a sociologist particularly suited to comment on the article?

3)  What unique contribution did sociology bring to the article?

4) Do you see many sociologists in the news?  Why do you think this is the case?

With a marriage amendment looming in Minnesota, I decided to spend a day on this issue in my Sociology of Families class. I wanted to present both sides of the issue without having to do it myself–because I could have hardly been neutral on the subject–so I had the students read short commentaries on the subject in class and evaluate the persuasiveness of the arguments.

This activity could apply to any contentious political issue that you would like to discuss in class, but are wary of sounding biased.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how I organized this activity in my class of 80 students:
(I allowed about an hour for this activity, but it could definitely have been longer.)

1. Before class, I collected several different commentaries from a major newspaper–half opposed to the amendment and half in favor of it. I paired one opposed with one in favor and stapled them together in a pack.

2. First, I split my class into groups of 4-5 and had each group read one commentary supporting the amendment and one opposing it–so each packet was being analyzed by two groups only.

3. I gave them 10 minutes or so read the commentaries, asking them to look for arguments that they found compelling or not compelling. I instructed them to underline and take notes on their handout, especially focusing on arguments that relate to themes we have discussed in class. For example, what have we learned in class that would serve as evidence to either suport or refute this claim?

4. Then, I had them discuss the articles with their small groups, and share which arguments they had focused on. This is the part that could have been a bit longer. Most groups appeared to be having spirited conversations about the articles.

5. Lastly, I asked them to share their analyses with the class. When they shared which arguments they had discussed, I prodded them to explain why they found that specific argument compelling or not compelling, and urged them to bring in material from class that would support their claim. (This part didn’t come as easy to them, which made me think that this would also be a great take-home exercise where they would have more time to reference their notes from previous classes). I took notes on their comments on the board, but I don’t think I would do that again. I feel it might have been a more fluid discussion without it.


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.