A Lesson About Stigma


  • 10 minutes of additional class time

How it Works

This exercise was originally used in a setting where an 11th grade English class participated in grading each other’s homework; it could be adapted to a situation when homework assignments are turned in for grading as follows:

  • Make an announcement to the class that “today we are going to try something different,” and they are to pass their papers forward.
  • Announce that you are instituting a new grading policy. All papers will receive either a zero or 100 grade, but not based on whether answers are correct or incorrect.
  • The class will decide how we will divide the papers into two stacks (every other paper, first and second halves of the alphabet, male and female, etc.), then one stack will receive the zero and the others 100.
  • Students will complain that this is an unfair technique, and that there is no fair way to make that decision.
  • This is the opportunity to agree, and ask whether or not they ever witnessed this type of unfairness in the way people act toward each other.
  • (In the original exercise, one student gave an example of how someone stereotyped kids who live in a trailer park. Another student said, 'It's like when we have different groups in the cafeteria.')
  • Allow them to provide examples, then agree that the policy will not be used to judge assignments, nor will the class judge each other unfairly. 


This provides a simple illustration of the unfair nature of stigmatizing others based on stereotypes and other external factors rather than judging each person individually.

Related Exercises