Humane Education Activity: Load the Bus - Exploring Stereotypes

Yesterday we shared a post from humane educator and parent, Kerri Twigg, outlining how she engaged her daughter in talking about stereotypes and prejudice, after a schoolmate called her dad a "hobo." Kerri kindly gave us permission to share an activity she uses with her drama students to explore stereotypes:

I find this exercise a great way to explore stereotypes with students. I have found that students get quiet when you start to talk racism with them. It is like they are scared to say the wrong thing. This activity gets them moving and playing while providing the teacher with actions to explore. Students act out stereotypes without even knowing what they're saying -- which is exactly what we want to explore.

This exercise, while written with a classroom in mind, can also be done at home with a few people.

Load the Bus

Age: This is appropriate for grades 3 +. (I have done it with younger without the discussion and they think it's pretty fun).

Materials: Enough chairs/mime boxes for each student.

Set up: Set the chairs/mime boxes up as if they were seats on a bus. If you have a larger group, 2 chairs on each side of the aisle works well.

Instructions: Have the students form a line. Tell them they are each going to enter the bus, one at a time. They all need to enter the bus as characters and use their bodies or voices in a new way that shows this character. Encourage the students to use different characteristics than what has already been used by other students.

The first player enters the bus, moving in a way that suggests a character -- let's say they are walking like an old man. They find a seat on the bus and sit. As soon as the player has sat down, send on the second player. This second player is a totally different character. As player ones sees what player two is doing, player one rises and mimics player two until player two has found a seat. A third player enters the bus, again as a different character than the previous two. Both player one and two rise and mimic the actions and characterizations of player three, until player three sits down. This continues until all students are on the bus. Once all students are on the bus, have them unload the bus, going in the opposite order. Each student copies the movements of the player as they are exiting the bus.

Discussion: Ask the students if they have any comments about the activity. How did they feel they looked when they copied everyone's movements? Which characterizations were difficult to copy? Which were easy?

If any of the students chose to enact stereotypes, this is a good time to explore it. I usually ask the student what they meant by their action, where they have seen that particular characterization before. What is helpful about portraying certain types of people this way? How might it cause harm? Try not to shame the student, but rather challenge, inform and support their learning. Discuss how silly it looked when everyone did the same actions; do they think the world encourages everyone to be the same? Discuss how sometimes it seems that people are all expected to dress the same, listen to the same type of music, and have similar families. Do they see the same thing? Is that the world they want to live in? What is hard about being different? What do they like about being unique?

End the exercise by asking each student to enter the bus again, but as their best selves. It's amazing, but most students will enter the bus with their held high when just given this simple direction.

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