Responding to Difference | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Students sitting in groups in a classroom

Responding to Difference

Students explore a poem by James Berry about the ways we respond to difference and complete a creative assignment about their school or community.


One 50-min class period


English — UK


This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.


About This Lesson

In the previous lesson, students learned about our tendency as humans to form groups. They learned that while group membership can come with benefits, there are also potential costs that can involve hard choices between maintaining one’s own identity and risking exclusion from the group. Students also explored the range of responses available to people when they encounter exclusion, discrimination, and injustice. In this lesson, students will look more closely at the variety of ways we respond to differences between ourselves and others. This is important for students to consider because our responses to difference can contribute to the creation of “in” and “out” groups that can favour some individuals and groups while marginalising others. After reflecting on difference in a journal response, students will read a poem and use it as an entry point for discussing the different ways people respond to human differences and the consequences of those different responses. In the end, students will turn their attention to their school or local community and, in a creative assignment, consider the ways in which they would like to see people respond to difference.

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

  • How do we learn which differences between people matter and which do not?
  • How do we respond to difference?

Students will categorise the many ways in which humans respond when encountering difference and use this information to write creatively in response to the question, “What do we do with a Difference?”

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-min class period and includes:

  • 4 activities
  • 1 handout 
  • 1 reading
  • 1 extension activity

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before teaching this text set, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

This lesson’s third activity requires some preparation in advance, the steps of which are explained in the directions on the What Do We Do With a Variation? Question Sort handout. If you do not want to prepare the question strips in advance, you could distribute the handout and ask each group to cut apart one along the dotted lines for the sorting activity.

Responding to Difference

Use these slides to help students explore a poem by James Berry about the ways we respond to difference and complete a creative assignment about their school or community.

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.

Save this resource for easy access later.

Save resources to create collections for your class or to review later. It's fast, easy, and free!
Have a Workspace already? Log In

Lesson Plans


To introduce students to the themes in this lesson’s text, ask them to respond in their journals to the following questions:

  • What are some of the ways that people respond when they encounter an individual or group that seems different from them?
  • What are some of the reasons for the different responses people might have to those who are different from them?
  • How do we learn about which differences between people matter in our society and which do not

Then ask students to Think, Pair, Share their responses before bringing the class together and asking each pair to share one of the ways people respond when they encounter difference and recording their ideas on chart paper.

  • Tell students that they will now read a poem by James Berry about the many ways we respond when we encounter a difference. While Berry was born in rural Jamaica in 1924, he moved to Britain in 1948 where he lived until his death in 2017.
  • Pass out and read aloud What Do We Do With a Difference?. Try reading it a few different ways. Perhaps you read it out loud the first time so that students get a sense of the rhythm of the poem. Then, using popcorn or wraparound, which are explained on the Read Aloud teaching strategy page, have students read the poem out loud sentence by sentence, and then a third time line by line. Finally, ask students to discuss in a Think, Pair, Share activity what they think the poem is about based on their first impressions of the text.
  • Next, divide the class into groups and pass out the envelopes with What Do We Do With a Variation? Question Sort sentence strips and some post-it notes or index cards. Tell the students that they should sort the strips into categories of similar kinds of responses. They should create a label for each category and write it on a post-it note or index card (for example, “Fear,” “Indifference”). They might start by creating piles of responses to difference and then labelling them. Or they might create their categories first and then organise their strips into them. Regardless of their process, students should work together with their group members to complete this task.
  • After the groups have organised the lines of the poem into categories of responses, ask them to discuss the following questions:
  • Which lines of the poem were easiest to categorise and which ones were the most difficult? Why do you think some responses to difference were easier or harder than others to place in a category?
  • Which of your categories had the most and the fewest examples from the poem? What might you attribute to this difference?
  • Can you think of any specific examples (in your school, your local community, or the world) of the different ways that Berry says humans respond to differences? Why do you think people respond in these ways?
  • What are other ways that humans respond to difference that Berry does not acknowledge in his poem?
  • What is the message of Berry’s poem? What does he want his reader to understand about humans and human behaviour when responding to difference?
  • After groups have finished their discussions, ask them to share one interesting take-away from the activity and their discussion. You might also choose to facilitate a class discussion about one or more of the questions.
  • Ask students to take a moment to envision how they would like their school community to respond to the differences between its members. You might ask them to close their eyes and visualise the response they would like to see (rather than what they perhaps have seen or experienced).
  • Then tell students that they will end the lesson by writing an additional three-line stanza that describes their vision for how they would like their school community or local community to respond to a difference today. They can follow the pattern of Berry’s poem by starting the first line of their stanza with “Do we . . . ,” finishing the question in line two, and then adding an additional question in line three. You might choose to have pairs work on this task, or ask students to create their own stanzas.
  • Students can share their stanzas in a Wraparound or Gallery Walk.

Extension Activity

In the reading Understanding Strangers, Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski and Moroccan scholar Fatema Mernissi reflect on the ways in which we respond to difference, both in ancient times and today. Similarly, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in the United Kingdom, Jonathan Sacks, considers how we confront the “Other” when he shares his three models for integration in the reading Three Parables of Integration. Both of these readings pair well with each other and James Berry’s What Do We Do with a Variation? After teaching Berry’s poem, you might assign half the class each reading and divide the students into groups to read aloud and then discuss the connections questions. Then jigsaw the students into groups of four so each group has two students with each reading. Students can summarise their readings and then compare and contrast Kapuscinski’s three ideas for how we might respond to the “Other” with Sack’s three models for integration. Then, in a class discussion, students can compare the readings with Berry’s poems. They might rank all of the responses to difference in the three readings from the most inclusive to least inclusive and discuss where they see evidence of these responses in their own school and local communities.

Materials and Downloads

You might also be interested in…

Unlimited Access to Learning. More Added Every Month.

Facing History & Ourselves is designed for educators who want to help students explore identity, think critically, grow emotionally, act ethically, and participate in civic life. It’s hard work, so we’ve developed some go-to professional learning opportunities to help you along the way.

Using the strategies from Facing History is almost like an awakening.
— Claudia Bautista, Santa Monica, Calif