Two 50-minute class periods

Challenging Assumptions with Curiosity

Essential Questions

  • How can we talk with each other across our differences?
  • How can we engage in respectful conversation with people who hold different values in order to learn more about their perspectives and our own?

Learning Objectives

  • Students will consider the complexity of identity by creating identity charts to represent themselves and their values.
  • Students will practice using curiosity to move beyond the assumptions they may form about others.


This lesson is designed to help students move beyond the assumptions they might make about others and become more perceptive, thoughtful, and curious about their fellow citizens. It can serve as a preliminary step in a project that engages students in dialogue with young people in other schools and regions.

Students begin by reflecting on their own identities and the assumptions others might make about them. They also brainstorm questions that others could ask them that would help them see beyond their initial assumptions. Then, they turn their attention to a video in which young people from across the United States discuss their own values, what they perceive to be “American” values, and how well they think the United States is living up to its values. Students will practice identifying the assumptions they have made about the young people in the video, and then they will brainstorm questions they could ask those young people to better understand their identities, values, and perspectives.



  1. Reflect on Identity and Values
    • Ask students to write a brief reflection in a journal or notebook in response to the question, Who am I? Have them list words and phrases they, or others, might use to describe them.
    • After a few minutes, ask students to stop writing and then to draw on their informal writing to create an identity chart for themselves.
    • Ask students to consider how their values relate to their identities. If their identity charts do not include any descriptions of values, encourage them to add values that they feel are part of their core.
  2. Consider Others’ Assumptions About Us
    • Ask students to continue their writing by answering the following questions:
      • Based on your identity, what assumptions do you think people might make about you?
      • What questions could someone who holds such assumptions about you ask you to better understand your values and perspective?
    • Invite student volunteers to share a few of these assumptions and questions.
  3. Reflect on American Identity
    • Explain to students that, like individuals, countries also have identities, and those identities include values that are core to the people of the country.
    • On a whiteboard or other large visible surface, write the question: What are American values? Do you think the country is living up to those values today? Why or why not?
    • Ask students to record their first thoughts on a blank, loose sheet of notebook paper.
      • Note for students that there is no correct answer and that their peers will see their responses.
    • When students complete their writing, have them trade their papers with a classmate. As they read each other’s responses, have them annotate by adding the following marks:
      • Square: “Squared” with you
      • Triangle: Concerns or challenges you
      • Circle: Questions (large or small). Students can write their question next to the circle.
    • Next, ask students to repeat this process by trading the papers they are holding again with another classmate (but not the original author). Time permitting, you might repeat this process one or two more times.
    • Finally have students return the papers to the original authors, and then have them read the annotations their classmates left on their papers.
    • Debrief by asking students to comment on the process. What similarities did they notice in the responses they read? What differences? What was it like to read each other’s reflections? What was it like to see the comments others left on their reflections? 

      Day Two

  4. Explore The Values of Other Adolescents
    • Tell students that starting in early 2017, reporter Anna North asked teenagers throughout the country to respond to the same question you just did: What are your values as a person? What are American values? Do you think the country is living up to those values today? Why or why not? The video the class will be watching collects some of their answers.
    • Watch the video “What Does America Stand For?” We Asked Teenagers from the New York Times.
  5. Debrief the Video in a Jigsaw
    • Divide students into three groups for this jigsaw activity.
      Depending on your class size, you may choose to create more groups by replicating question sets or giving each group fewer questions. Whatever you choose to do, aim to have each group be about equal in size.
    • Distribute the Post-Viewing Jigsaw Questions handout and ask each group to discuss and take notes on their questions. Encourage all students in each group to take notes, as they will need them to share with others.
    • As the group discussions wrap up, ask each student to choose one of their group’s discussion questions that they would like to discuss with a new group. Then break students into new “mixed groups,” in which each member comes from a different initial group.
    • Ask students to share and discuss the questions they brought from their initial groups.
    • Debrief the activity as a whole group. Ask students to share what it felt like to discuss the questions raised in the video. What similarities did they notice among the perspectives of their classmates? What differences? How do they account for those similarities and differences? 
  6. Consider What Shapes Our Assumptions About Others
    • Prompt students to respond to two questions about the video in their journals:
      • About which person in the video do you have the most positive assumptions? What about them do you think creates these positive assumptions? (Consider race, gender, clothing, style of talking, accent, opinions, and other factors.) What questions might you ask this person to better understand their values and perspective?
      • About which person in the video do you have the most negative assumptions? What about them do you think creates these negative assumptions? (Consider race, gender, clothing, style of talking, accent, opinions, and other factors.) What questions might you ask this person to better understand their values and perspective?
    • Prompt students to review the earlier exercise “Consider Others’ Assumptions About Us” (activity 2 on day 1) in which they generated questions that could help others better understand them. Then ask them to answer the following question for each of the people they identified above: What questions might you ask this person to better understand their values and perspective?
  7. Provide Time for Student Reflection 
    Prompt students to reflect on the activity in their journals. What feelings, thoughts, and questions are they left with? What aspect of values, identities, and assumptions would they like to examine further?


  1. Examine Your Assumptions through the Other Person’s Eyes
    Ask students to return to the person about whom they had the most negative assumptions. Have each student write a letter to this person asking them the questions they generated in class.
  2. Create a Dialogue between Two Teenagers
    Ask students to choose two teenagers from the video, preferably those with somewhat differing viewpoints. Have students write an imagined dialogue between two teenagers. What values would they discuss? What questions might they ask of each other, and how would each respond? 

  3. Explore How the Media Shapes Perceptions
    As a class, move through the Blue Feed, Red Feed resource from the Wall Street Journal, which features up-to-date samples from liberal and conservative Facebook feeds. Discuss the following questions: How does the media shape our perceptions? Which is more powerful in shaping perception: identity or the media? In what ways are our identities intertwined with the media we consume?

  4. Acknowledge and Reflect on Daily Assumptions
    Provide the following homework assignment to students:
    Sit in a public place for at least 30 minutes and observe the people around you. In a journal, notice the assumptions you make. Record these assumptions and what you think led you to make them. (The person’s clothing? Their age? Their gender? Their body language?) Then, record questions you’d like to ask this person to better inform your perception of them.

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