Jesus Colon looks off into the distance.
Lesson

Why Little Things Are Big

Students reflect on the power of being labelled and use Jesús Colón’s essay to reflect on their own experiences of being misjudged.

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Grade

6–12

Duration

Two 50-min class periods
  • Democracy & Civic Engagement

Overview

About This Lesson

In the previous lesson, students established the relationship between stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination and then examined how we often buy into the “single stories” and stereotypes that we hear and read about individuals, groups, and places. In this lesson, students will learn how these “single stories” and stereotypes can lead us to make assumptions about others, which, in turn, can impact our understanding of the choices available to us and the choices that we ultimately make.

After reflecting on the power of being labelled, students will analyse Jesús Colón’s essay about a time when the aspects of his identity that he valued came into conflict with his decisions and actions. Finally, they will use Colón’s story to reflect on their own experiences feeling labelled and misjudged, as well as moments when they may have misjudged other people or groups, to examine complicated questions about their own identities and how they feel they are perceived by others.

  • What is identity? What makes each of us who we are?
  • To what extent do our choices define us?
  • To what extent does who we are shape the choices available to us and the choices we make?

Students will examine the relationship between identity, the “single stories” they may hold of others and others of them, and choices in order to draw conclusions about how labels can lead to false assumptions that, in turn, can impact our decision-making process.

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

  • 3 activities
  • 4 teaching strategies
  • 1 video
  • 1 readings

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

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

Jesús Colón's essay Little Things Are Big is set in the New York City of the 1950s. During this period, the white ethnic neighbourhoods of Brooklyn were changing as African Americans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latino immigrants were moving in. This process created the turbulent society in which Colón's story occurs.

Because you will stop halfway through “Little Things Are Big” for a barometer activity in which students will discuss possible outcomes for the story, it is important that they do not read ahead. To prevent them from seeing the ending in advance, read the first part of “Little Things Are Big” out loud and then pass out the reading after the barometer activity. Alternatively, you might photocopy and distribute the reading in two parts or use the video version, pausing at 02:14, so your students are not swayed by Colón’s ultimate decision.

Before the lesson, hang two signs—”Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree”—at either end of your classroom. Completing this step in advance of the lesson facilitates a smooth transition in Activity 2 from the text to the barometer activity.

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

Activities

  • Explain to students that today they will be thinking about the ways in which the “single stories” that we may have for others, and those that we assume they have for us, can impact the choices we make.

  • Ask students to respond in their journals to the following prompt:

    Think about a time when you have felt labelled, a time when someone had a “single story” of you. How did you feel? How did you respond? What other options did you have?

  • Because students may not feel comfortable sharing their personal responses, it is important that they are not required to share. You might ask for volunteers to share their stories or move directly to the next activity.
  • Read aloud Little Things Are Big, stopping on page two at “It was a long minute,” or watch Little Things Are Big, pausing the video at 02:14 (“I hesitated”). Have students work with a partner to create identity charts for Colón and the woman. Alternatively, ask students to count off by 2; instruct the 1s to create an identity chart for Colón and the 2s for the woman. Then ask students to think, pair, share with someone who created a chart for the other character.
  • Then lead a Barometer activity. Read the following statement: Colón should help the woman. Then have your students indicate the extent to which they agree with the statement by standing along the continuum between the “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree” signs. After students have lined up, lead a discussion in which you ask them to explain why they chose to stand where they are standing. You might also ask students to do a verbal “Street Calculus” for Colón and the woman, listing the risk factors and mitigating factors on the board before having students return to their seats to finish reading the text or showing the video.
  • Finally, divide the class into groups to discuss the connection questions from Little Things Are Big. Then facilitate a class discussion where groups can share the new endings they created for the story (in response to connection question #4). Finish this activity with a discussion of the following questions:

    • To what extent does our identity shape the choices available to us and the choices we make?
    • How does Little Things Are Big help you answer this question?
    • How does The Bear That Wasn’t and The Danger of a Single Story help you answer this question? How do your own experiences help you answer this question?

End the lesson by asking students to connect Colón’s story to their own lives by responding to the following journal prompt:

Identify a time when you misjudged someone else. Why do you think you misjudged that person? How did your false impression affect how you acted towards that person? How did this experience affect how you felt about yourself and the choices you made?

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