Lesson 4: Identity and the Media

Exploring Bias & Stereotypes


  • Students will be able to recognize biases and stereotypes in the media.
  • Students will begin to recognize the impact of mainstream media representations, especially on marginalized identities.



The teacher will introduce the terms ‘bias’ and ‘stereotype’


Note to Teacher:

Bias is a term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, especially when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective. The term biased is used to describe an action, judgment, or other outcome influenced by a prejudged perspective.


A stereotype is a preconceived idea that attributes certain characteristics (in general) to all the members of class or set. The term is often used with a negative connotation when referring to an oversimplified, exaggerated, or demeaning assumption that a particular individual possesses the characteristics associated with the class due to his or her membership in it. Stereotypes can be and has been used to deny individuals respect or legitimacy based on their membership in that group.


In the next activity, students will participate in bias training and reflect on their own preconceived stereotypes. Ask students to write the first word that comes to mind when they hear the following words. This is a silent activity and a discussion will take place after the list is completed. The teacher will read the following words:


  1. Student
  2. Teacher
  3. History Books
  4. Asian girl
  5. Latino male
  6. African American man
  7. Vietnam War
  8. Angkor
  9. Buddhist
  10. India
  11. Arab
  12. American


One by one, discuss what images or adjectives came to mind when they heard the word. Discuss how we are influenced to associate a certain word with an image or adjectives, and why those associations trigger our biases. Discuss negative aspects of stereotypes and biases and how we can make informed decisions about other people, cultures, and things.



Ask the students to select a racial/ethnic group to observe in the media. Find images, songs, words, etc. that reflect this identity and note how it is represented. Record the sources of each observation and complete the questions below.

  • How are members of this racial or ethnic group portrayed? List 5-7 characteristics.
  • Do any of these characteristics seem unrealistic or stereotypical? Why?
  • Was information on this group easy to obtain or difficult and why?


Follow up: During the next class or session, have students share their findings. Guide the discussion with these questions:

  • How did they feel as an “outsider” (a member outside of the selected racial/ethnic community) or as an “insider” (a member of the selected racial/ethnic community) about these media portrayals?
  • What biases were triggered?
  • What stereotypes were made?
  • How does “mainstream media” influence our thinking about race/ethnicity?
  • Who is “mainstream media”?



Extension Activity: Population and Demographic Statistics

Have students look up census information on the Internet. You can find information on what foreign languages are being spoken at home in the United States, what ethnic groups have the highest number of immigrants to the U.S., and where the different ethnic and racial groups are located throughout the United States. Have students compare these statistics with what is being portrayed in popular media today. Some questions that students can also consider might be:

  • Why have Asian immigrants become so visible in comparison to the immigrants coming from Europe and Latin America?
  • Why are some racial groups seen as forever foreign and not completely American?
  • What do you think the percentages were for immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Europe and Africa in 1970? 1950? 1900?


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