Analyzing Assumptions | Facing History & Ourselves
Students with Ken Garcia-Gonzalez.

Analyzing Assumptions

Using visual imagery, students identify assumptions in a text and in the real world, consider the consequences of those assumptions, and build awareness of their impact on individuals and the community.


At a Glance

activity copy


English — US


  • English & Language Arts


  • Culture & Identity


About This Learning Experience

We know that every person is different from any other in countless ways, yet when we encounter others, we often rely on generalizations to describe them. While it is a natural human tendency to identify patterns as a way of organizing the onslaught of information and stimuli we encounter in any given moment, it can also result in misleading or dangerous outcomes. In The Danger of a Single Story, one of the most viewed TED Talks of all time, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie uses the phrase “single stories” to describe the overly simplistic and sometimes false assumptions we form about individuals, groups, and even countries. Literature invites an examination of these assumptions, which are often central to the internal and external conflicts that drive character development and the plot of the story. 

The following learning experiences use visual imagery to help students identify assumptions in a text and in the real world, consider the consequences of those assumptions, and imagine what it would take at their school to build awareness of the impact of assumptions on individuals and the community.

In order to deepen their understanding of the text, themselves, each other, and the world, students will . . .

  • Engage with real and imagined stories that help them understand their own coming-of-age experiences and how others experience the world.
  • Evaluate a text for the ways in which it upholds and/or challenges stereotypes of individuals and groups.
  • Analyze the internal and external conflicts that characters face and the impact these conflicts can have on an individual’s choices and actions, both in the text and in the real world.
  • Apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, and appreciate texts.
  • Prepare for and participate in conversations to practice expressing ideas clearly, building on others’ ideas, and incorporating evidence from the text.
  • Produce a clear and coherent piece of writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to the purpose and audience.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before using this learning experience, please review the following information to help guide your preparation process.

Facing History learning experiences are classroom-ready activities that you can incorporate into your lesson plans. They are designed to be modular and adaptable, so you can use them over and over again with a wide range of texts to help students explore characterization, point of view, perspective taking, setting, and thematic development through a Facing History lens.

This learning experience is divided into three sections—Introduce, Explore, and Extend—which increase in complexity and depth of analysis, but they don’t need to be used in sequence. The entry point depends on students’ familiarity with the concept and the level of complexity they are ready to tackle. Educators might choose to incorporate just one section into a lesson plan, teach all three over the course of one or two class periods, mix and match, or repeat one multiple times during a unit to help students track character or thematic development.

  1. Introduce: The first activity introduces a concept and helps students develop the schema they will need for deeper exploration. It may involve vocabulary work, schema building, and opportunities for personal reflection and pair–shares.
  2. Explore: The second activity engages students in a deeper exploration of the concept and helps them apply it to the core text of the unit. It includes opportunities for close reading, literary analysis, collaboration with peers, and rich questions for small-group and whole-class discussion about the text and how it connects to the real world.
  3. Extend: The third activity invites students to produce a reflective, expository, analytical, or creative piece of writing (or other form of expression) in order to explore connections between the text, key concepts from the learning experience, and/or their own lives.

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  1. Introduce the concept of assumptions by asking students to reflect in their journals on their own identities and the assumptions others might make about them. Let them know that they will not be sharing their responses. 
    • Write about a time when someone made a positive or negative assumption about you because of some aspect of your identity or because of a group that you belong to. What happened?
    • How did the assumption make you feel? How did you respond? 
    • What question(s) could they have asked you to better understand your values and perspective?
  2. Invite volunteers to share one or more of the questions they generated for the third prompt. As a class, discuss how it would feel to ask or be asked these questions.
  1. Project the following quotation from psychologist Deborah Tannen and read it out loud two times:

    “We must see the world in patterns in order to make sense of it; we wouldn’t be able to deal with the daily onslaught of people and objects if we couldn’t predict a lot about them and feel that we know who and what they are. But this natural and useful ability to see patterns of similarity has unfortunate consequences. It is offensive to reduce an individual to a category, and it is also misleading.” 1
  2. Assign pairs of students one sentence from the quotation to summarize. Have pairs share their summaries (you will have multiple summaries for each sentence). Then discuss the following questions in small groups and as a class: When is the human tendency to see the world in patterns useful? When is it dangerous? 
  • 1 Deborah Tannen, You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation (New York: Morrow, 1990), 16.
  1. Project or pass out the Street Calculus cartoon, and use the See, Think, Wonder teaching strategy to have students analyze the image in pairs or as a class. Next, examine the cartoon more deeply by having pairs discuss the following questions before sharing their ideas with the class:
    • In your opinion, what is the most valuable idea in this cartoon?
    • How aware do you think people are of the lists they make? 
    • Beyond the way we greet one another, how else might these lists shape the choices individuals make? 
  2. Pass out the My Street Calculus handout and have students work with a partner to create a “street calculus” for the text they are studying in your class. They should choose a setting and two characters for the activity. They might represent a scene in the text, exploring the characters’ internal monologues as they list the mitigating and risk factors. Alternatively, they could create a new scene and imagine the encounter that might happen. Have the class share their work in a gallery walk
  3. Divide students into small groups to present their cartoons and to discuss the following questions. Then have them share their ideas with the class. 
    • How aware are the characters of the lists they are making in their heads? In other words, how aware are they of the assumptions they are making about other characters in the text? 
    • How do their assumptions influence how they perceive other characters and the choices they make? 
    • How are the assumptions you see characters making, and the consequences of these assumptions, similar to or different from how things happen in the real world?
    • If you could give advice to one or more characters to help them better understand the assumptions they are making, what would it be?
  1. In their journals, have students reflect in writing on the following questions and then share their ideas with a partner:
    • Why do you think we make assumptions about other individuals and groups? Is it always harmful? 
    • What steps can you take to try to avoid making limiting or harmful assumptions about other people’s identities, values, perceptions, thoughts, or feelings?
    • Think about your school community. What would it take to raise awareness about the assumptions people might be making about each other? Consider administrators, teachers, staff, parents and guardians, and students in your response.
  2. Discuss the questions as a class, recording students’ ideas on the board. Have each student commit to one step they can take to either avoid making assumptions about others or teach one or more individuals in the school community something they have learned about assumptions. They can commit to their step on an exit ticket and reflect on their progress over the course of the week in their journals

Explain to students that they should imagine themselves as the advice columnist for a popular online publication. They are running a series called “Assumptions People Make,” and they have received a letter from a character in the text asking for advice.

  1. Share examples of advice column letters with your students in order to examine craft and genre. Include a discussion of the purpose and audience for this form of written expression. While most advice columns have historically been written by white cisgender women, Slate’s “Dear Prudence,” Vox’s “Ask Alia,” and Teen Vogue’s “Ask Arabelle” offer a wider range of perspectives. (Note that not all of these columns are still active, but you can find their archived advice letters through an online search.)
  2. From the point of view of a character in the text, have students write a letter asking for advice. Perhaps the character doesn’t know how to confront other characters who are making assumptions about them. Or perhaps the character made an assumption and now wants to mend the harm they caused. Students should include references from the text to demonstrate their understanding of the character, the character’s voice, and the character’s perspective.
  3. Finally, collect and redistribute the letters and have students take on the role of the advice columnist to craft a reply. Their response letters should demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between perception, assumptions, and choices, as well as the purpose and form of advice columns. Let students read the responses to their letters, perhaps asking for some pairs to share with the class, before collecting and assessing them.

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