Tense Times Activities and Handouts

Handouts, activities and strategies for managing tense topics and difficult moments in the classroom and to foster dialogue, discussion and empathy.

Techniques and exercises for discussion

  • Hot Moments in the Classroom – Steps for addressing contentious or tense moments in the classroom, especially around hot-button topics
  • Dialogue Blocker - Activities designed to help students recognize common “dialogue blockers,” why people use them, and to become more aware of how they inhibit important conversations
  • The N-Word in the Classroom - Tedx talk video on reshaping education around the N-word by using our own points of encounter to frame the conversation and facilitate productive discussion
  • Dropping the N-Word in College Classrooms – Article with suggestions for how and why institutions should consider developing guidelines to address objections to doing so.
  • Can I say that in class? – A simple chart and table to consider what you can say in the classroom
  • Difficult Speech (PDF) – A guide for steps to follow in response to contentious or objectionable speech in the classroom

Activities and guides for fostering inclusive discussion

  • Setting Ground Rules – Approaches to setting discussion ground rules
  • Dialogue, Discussion, Debate (PDF) - Handout that helpfully distinguishes among the three modes of classroom discourse
  • Group Process - Handout with a selection of vetted exercises that will assist instructors and students in developing group cohesion, thoughtful engagement, and reflective responses to challenging material.
  • BARNGA Classroom Game - Simulation game that encourages participants to critically consider normative assumptions and cross-cultural communication.
  • Dominant Narratives - Discussion-based lesson plan and activities on dominant narratives: explanations or stories told in service of the dominant social group’s interests and ideologies.
  • Perfectly Logical Explanations - Discussion guide intended to serve as an example of how to engage with “perfectly logical explanation” or dominant narratives raised in classroom discussion.

Tools for students to explore their own identities

  • Examining Identity (PDF) - Handout and an exercise that helps identify notions of privileged and non-privileged identities across a wide range of identities.
  • Find Your Emotional Triggers (PDF) - Exercises to help participants identify things that “push their buttons” for negative emotions (anger, frustration, etc.), to harness angry emotions and turn them into positive ones.
  • Social Identity Wheel - Handout with activities that encourage students to identify socially and reflect on the various ways those identities become visible or more keenly felt at different times, and how those identities impact the ways others perceive or treat them.
  • Invisible Knapsacks - Discussion-based activity guides students in understanding privilege as a concept and recognizing the ways their own privileges benefit them and impact daily life.
  • Mapping Social Identity Timeline - Activity that asks students to create a visual map of their socialization in some aspect of identity (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.) through the course of their life.
  • The 5 Minute Poem - Activity that has students spend five minutes writing a brief four-stanza poem about where they are from.
  • Core Values - Handout with exercise designed to allow participants an opportunity to explore their personal values on a profound level. 

Techniques and approaches to teaching about race and racism

Further Reading

  • Patricia Gurin, Biren A Nagda, Ximena Zuniga, Dialogue Across Difference: Practice, Theory, and Research on Intergroup Dialogue, Russell Sage Foundation, 2013.
  • Tessa Hicks Peterson, Student Development and Social Justice: Critical Learning, Radical Healing, and Community Engagement, Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.
  • Jennifer Clifton, Argument as Dialogue Across Difference: Engaging Youth in Public Literacies, Routledge, 2017.
  • Ximena Zuniga, Gretchen Lopez, Kristie A. Ford, Intergroup Dialogue: Engaging Difference, Social Identities, Social Identities, and Social Justice, Routledge, 2014.
  • Nicholas Sorensen, Biren A. Nagda, Patricia Gurin, and Kelly E. Maxwell, “Taking a ‘Hands On’ Approach to Diversity in Higher Education: A Critical-Dialogic Model for Effective Intergroup Interaction,” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, vol. 9, no. 1, 2009, pp. 3-35.
  • Sherry K. Watt and Jodi L. Linley, Creating Successful Multicultural Initiatives in Higher Education and Student Affairs, Jossey-Bass, 2014.
  • Nicholas V. Longo and Timothy J. Shaffer, Creating Space for Democracy: A Primer on Dialogue and Deliberation in Higher Education, Stylus Publishing, 2019.

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