The Costs and Benefits of Belonging | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
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The Costs and Benefits of Belonging

Students learn about group membership and explore the range of responses available to us when we encounter exclusion, discrimination, and injustice.


Two 50-min class periods


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About This Lesson

Over the next five lessons, students will examine the human tendency to divide ourselves into groups. They will also consider how groups decide whom to include and whom to exclude as well as the benefits of being part of an “in” group and the consequences of being in an “out” group.

On the first day of this two-period lesson, students will respond to a reflection by a student named Eve Shalen, who describes the feeling of being excluded by her peers and how her strong desire to belong influenced her decisions one afternoon on the playground. First, students will reflect on times when they felt included or excluded from a group, as well as times when they may have included or excluded others. Then, after reading Eve’s story, they will consider why we humans have a need to separate ourselves into groups and how these groups play out at our schools and in our local communities. Finally, in a journal response, students will provide words of advice to Eve Shalen for how she might hold on to her identity while also being part of a group.

In the second class period of this lesson, students will look at the range of responses individuals have when they choose how to react to exclusion, discrimination, and injustice. After first defining bystander, victim, perpetrator, and upstander, students will respond to questions about how the students in Eve Shalen’s story reacted and discuss how the universal desire to belong can influence how we respond in the face of injustice or unfairness.

How do our beliefs about difference influence the ways in which we see and choose to interact with each other?

  • How can we maintain our own identity and still be part of a group?
  • Why do people so often do nothing even when they know something happening around them is wrong?
  • Students will recognise the ways in which our desire to belong to a group can impact our identities and the choices that we make.
  • Students will define the words bystander, perpetrator, victim, and upstander and identify them as a range of responses individuals have when reacting to exclusion, discrimination, and injustice.

This lesson is designed to fit into two 50-min class periods and includes:

  • 8 activities
  • 1 handout
  • 1 reading

The “In” Group provides an opportunity to discuss themes such as conformity, peer pressure, and belonging—themes that resonate with students’ own experiences and that have shaped the behaviour of individuals throughout history. Often when students think about acts of injustice, they divide those involved into two groups: the victims and the perpetrators. Yet others contribute to the prevention or the perpetuation of injustice. For example, a bystander is someone who witnesses or knows about an act of injustice but chooses not to do anything about it. On the other hand, when confronted with information about an unjust act, an upstander takes steps to prevent or stop this act from continuing.

That being said, bystander and upstander behaviour is not always so clear. For example, under the label upstander, we often list those who take a variety of actions, including resistance and rescue. However, upstanders might also include those who are able to maintain a part of their identity despite opposition, such as people who continue to secretly practice their religious faith despite persecution or others who refuse to give up hope in the face of injustice and adversity. The term bystander can be even more complicated. In most dictionaries, it means a person who is simply “standing by” or who is present without taking part in what is going on—a passive spectator. But some scholars, like psychologist Ervin Staub, believe that even passive spectators play a crucial role in defining the meaning of events by implicitly approving the actions of perpetrators. The choice not to act or speak up is still a choice.

It is important to recognise that it is not these labels themselves, as words, that matter; it is the way we think and talk about the actions (or inactions) of others that helps us both understand history and make connections to the choices we all make in the present. In addition, it is important to remember that individuals and groups usually do not fit into only one category. Instead, they may move into and out of these roles throughout their lives.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

Before the start of the lesson, hang two signs at opposite ends of the classroom that say “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.”

Similar to Jesús Colón’s Little Things Are Big, it works well to divide Eve Shalen’s reflection about a decision she made in the school playground into two parts, stopping midway through the third paragraph so students can discuss Eve’s choices and possible outcomes. So that your students cannot read her final decision in advance, you will need to print the reading, cut it apart in the third paragraph after the sentence, “One of them read aloud from a small book, which I was told was the girl’s diary,” and then copy it for your students in two parts, possibly placing the ending on the back of the page.

The terms bystander and upstander are difficult to define clearly because they can apply to a variety of different kinds of choices in different circumstances. It is important that students understand the nuances of these two terms before applying them to choices they learn about in this lesson and their own personal choices. To help you guide them through the nuances, make sure to read carefully the discussion of these terms in the Context section before teaching this lesson.

The Costs and Benefits of Belonging

Use these slides to help students learn about group membership and explore the range of responses available to us when we encounter exclusion, discrimination, and injustice.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides. The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lessons plans because the latter include important rationales and context that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson. The PowerPoints include basic media and prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plans

Day 1

In a quick barometer activity, ask students to think about the following statement: It is natural for human beings to form groups that include some and exclude others.

Then ask them to take a stand along the continuum between the “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree” signs that you posted before the start of class. Provide an opportunity for students to explain their choices before they return to their seats for a journal reflection about group membership, inclusion, and exclusion.

For this journal response, reveal one question at a time and give your students about two minutes to respond before moving to the next question. Prompt students to describe both what happened and how they felt.

Briefly describe a time when you . . .

  •  . . . were included in a community or group. How did it make you feel?
  • . . . were excluded from a community or group. How did it make you feel?
  • . . . excluded someone else from a community or group. How did it make you feel?
  • . . . did something that you thought was wrong or stupid because others were doing it. How did it make you feel? 

Students might not feel comfortable sharing their reflections with a peer or the class, so we recommend moving to Activity 2 rather than debriefing this response.

  • Choose a read aloud strategy and pass out the first part of the reading The “In” Group (See Notes to the Teacher). If you have copied the ending of the story on the back of the page, ask students not to turn it over until instructed to do so. After reading the brief introduction to Eve’s story, let your students know that in the United States, students in the 8th grade are around 13 years old.
  • Read aloud, stopping at “One of them read aloud from a small book, which I was told was the girl’s diary.” Ask students to think, pair, share a list of Eve’s options in this moment and the possible outcomes for each one. You may want to model one response with the class or have your students dive straight into their discussions.
  • To debrief, record students’ ideas for options and outcomes and then read aloud the ending of Eve’s story.
  • Time allowing, provide a moment for quiet reflection before discussing the text by asking students to complete a rapid-fire writing response in their journals. If you don’t have time for this activity, move to the group discussion.
  • Next divide students into groups of 3–4 to discuss the following questions about the text:
    • What factors contribute to Eve Shalen’s choice in the story?
    • How do you understand Eve Shalen’s statement at the end of the first paragraph of her story?: “It was as if the outcasts were invented by the group out of a need for them. Differences between us did not cause hatred; hatred caused differences between us.”
      • What is the difference between difference causing hatred and hatred causing difference? Why might a group feel the need to invent outcasts?
      • Why do we humans so often divide ourselves into “we” and “they,” or “in” groups and “out” groups?
      • Is the division always negative? When does it become a problem? What are strategies for confronting the problem of “in” and “out” groups?
      • How does our need to be part of a group affect our actions? Why is it so difficult for a person to go against a group? How does the Bear in The Bear That Wasn’t help you answer these questions? How does Eve Shalen help you answer these questions? How does your own experience help you answer these questions?
  • After groups have had time to discuss the questions, choose one or two of the questions to discuss as a class. You might focus on the role of “in” and “out” groups in your school or local community, encouraging students to come up with creative strategies for addressing them when they become problematic. The following questions can help frame this discussion:
    • Where in your school or local community do you see evidence of isolation and separation between different individuals or groups of people?
    • Where in your school or local community do you see evidence of cooperation between different individuals or groups of people?
    • Where in your school or local community do you see evidence of individuals or groups trying to create a sense of belonging and inclusion in places where there is isolation and tension?

End the lesson by asking students to draw connections between Eve’s story and their own ideas about the relationship between identity and group membership in a journal reflection:

Imagine that 13-year-old Eve Shalen has come to you for advice. She is struggling to fit in, but in order to do so she has made some choices she now regrets. What words of advice can you give to Eve for how she might maintain her identity—stay true to who she is—and still be part of a group.


Day 2

You might ask students to share their words of advice to Eve Shalen with a partner to help them review the content of the last day’s lesson before moving to today’s main activities.

Eve Shalen’s story provides an opportunity to introduce students to terms that describe a range of responses that people might have to an act of injustice. For the next activity, students will use context clues to help establish the definitions of four concepts that can be used to describe this range of behaviour. 1

  • Pass out the handout The Range of Human Behaviour Vocabulary Terms and instruct students to use the context clues in the sentences of the first column to predict the definition of the underlined words.
  • After asking a few students to share their predicted meanings of each word and how they came to that conclusion, you can share the dictionary definition and have them record the information in the third column of the chart.
    • Perpetrator: A person carrying out a harmful, illegal, or immoral act.
    • Victim: A person being targeted by the harmful, illegal, or immoral acts of a perpetrator.
    • Bystander: A person who is present but not actively taking part in a situation or event.
    • Upstander: A person speaking or acting in support of an individual or cause, particularly someone who intervenes on behalf of a person being attacked or bullied.
  • Invite students to critique the dictionary definitions. Do they have any questions about these definitions? How are they similar or different from the students’ own definitions? Are the dictionary definitions adequate, or do they need to be further revised?
  • You might point out to students that these dictionary definitions are written in the present tense (“carrying out” and “being targeted”) and ask them to consider the fact that a person may act as a perpetrator or bystander at one moment in time and be targeted as a victim at another moment in time. Therefore, these are roles that people play and not permanent identities.
  • 1Kelly Gallagher, Deeper reading: comprehending challenging texts, 4-12 (Portland, Me.: Stenhouse Publishers, 2004), 77-78.
  • Explain to students that they will be applying these terms to The “In” Group using a modified Four Corners strategy. Tell students that you will call out the names of individuals and groups, and they should move to the corner that they feel best represents that person’s role of victim, perpetrator, bystander, upstander. They should be ready to share why they chose a particular corner and explain what factors may have motivated or influenced each individual’s choices. Think about how you can complicate your student’s thinking by asking follow-up questions. For example:
    • Is Eve Shalen a perpetrator because she carried out an immoral act by reading the diary and participating in the exclusion of others from the “in” group, or is she a bystander because she didn’t actually steal the diary?
    • If your students don’t have examples of upstander behaviour, ask, “What would an upstander have done in this situation?”
  • Choose from the following list of people for the Four Corners activity. After students have chosen their corners, ask a few of them to explain their reasoning and the factors that may have motivated or influenced the individual’s choices.
    • The “small elite group” of popular students in Eve Shalen’s class who started singling out others in second grade
    • The 2–3 students, including Eve Shalen, who were singled out by the elite group starting in second grade
    • The rest of Eve Shalen’s class of 28 students The popular student when she invited Eve Shalen to see the diary
    • Eve Shalen when she sat with the popular group and read the diary
  • In small groups or as a class, discuss the following questions:
    • Where do you think our desire to belong to a group or a community comes from?
    • When can it be useful to conform in order to belong to a group?
    • When can conformity be harmful?
    • Why do you think people do nothing even when they know something happening around them is wrong?

Ask students to respond to the following prompt in a journal reflection:

Pick a moment of injustice or unfairness from your own life, from history, or from current events. Briefly describe this event. Then identify the victim, the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the upstanders. Then respond to the following question for the event that you chose for this response: Why do you think people did nothing even when they knew something happening around them was wrong?

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