Lesson 3 of 15
Two 50-minute class periods

Why Little Things Are Big

From the Unit:

Essential Questions

What is identity? What makes each of us who we are?

Guiding Questions

  • 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?

Learning Objectives

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.


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.

Notes to Teacher

  1. Placing “Little Things Are Big” into Historical Context
    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.

  2. Breaking “Little Things Are Big” into Sections
    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.

  3. Preparing for the Barometer Activity
    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.

  4. Classroom-ready PowerPoint Slides
    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.

    Why Little Things Are Big

    Why Little Things Are Big

    This PowerPoint for Lesson 3 of the Standing Up for Democracy unit is ready to use in the classroom with student-facing slides and complete teaching notes.



  1. Reflect on the Power of Being Labelled in a Journal Response
    • 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.
  2. Read “Little Things Are Big”
    • 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:

  3. Draw Connections between Text and Self in a Final Journal Reflection
    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?



Get Prepared to Teach This Scheme of Work in Your Classroom

Prepare yourself to teach this unit by reading about our pedagogy, teaching strategies, and the unit's structure.

Lesson 1 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Understanding Identity

Students consider the question "Who am I?" and identify social and cultural factors that shape identity by reading a short story and creating personal identity charts.

Lesson 2 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Transcending Single Stories

Students reflect on how stereotypes and "single stories" influence our identities, how we view others, and the choices we make.

Lesson 3 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

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.

Lesson 4 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

The Challenge of Confirmation Bias

Students define confirmation bias and examine why people sometimes maintain their beliefs in the face of information that contradicts their understanding.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 1:

The Individual and Society

Students explore their identities through a mask-making project.

Lesson 5 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

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.

Lesson 6 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

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.

Lesson 7 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

When Differences Matter

Students consider what happens when one aspect of our identity is privileged above others by society.

Lesson 8 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Blending In and Standing Out

Students use an excerpt from Sarfraz Manzoor memoir to reflect on identity, belonging, and wanting to feel invisible.

Lesson 9 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Defining Our Obligations to Others

Students are introduced to the concept of universe of obligation to better understand how societies create "in" groups and "out" groups.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 2:

We and They

Students work collaboratively to create illustrated children’s stories that explore issues of conformity and belonging.

Lesson 10 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Defining Human Rights

Students create a definition for a "right" in order to explore the challenges faced by the UN Commission on Human Rights to create an international framework of rights for all human beings.

Lesson 11 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Making Rights Universal

Students analyse four rights in the UDHR and decide whether they are universal and enjoyed by all in the world today.



Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 3:

Understanding Human Rights

Students work collaboratively to create a School Declaration of Human Rights Infographic.

Lesson 12 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Standing Up to Hatred on Cable Street

Students study the Battle of Cable Street in London by examining testimonies of individuals who demonstrated against fascist leader Oswald Mosley.

Lesson 13 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Public Art as a Form of Participation

Students analyse the Battle of Cable Street Mural and reflect on the role of public art to commemorate, educate, and build community.

Lesson 14 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Protesting Discrimination in Bristol

Students use the historical case study of the Bristol Bus Boycott to examine strategies for bringing about change in our communities.

Lesson 15 of 15
Democracy & Civic Engagement

Speaking Up and Speaking Out

Students analyse a spoken word poem about bullying and consider how they might use their voices to call attention to injustice in their schools or communities.

Final Assessment


Democracy & Civic Engagement
Step 4:

Choosing to Participate

Students have an opportunity to explore one issue in-depth and to create an action plan that inspires change in their schools or communities.

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