Classified: My Frought Journey Into Little Boxes

Now here is a great blog post. It really gets to the heart of what I’m struggling with now.

This view of  kind of describes the turmoil I put myself through in trying to create a lesson for students on describing family members. In order to say what our family members look like, we have to draw lines. Is he short, or is he tall?

To give our students the words they need to be able to use English to describe their friends in the cafeteria, we really have to draw those lines. If there are few choices, we are severely limited. The blog post above, A Simple Lesson on the Social Construction of Race, shows how limited choices lead to really harsh lines in many areas, not just height:

“Skin color is like height.  If we just look at three groups with very different skin colors, there appears to be a significant and categorical difference between those three groups of people. But, if we consider a wide range of people, it becomes clear that skin color comes in a spectrum, not in categories (such as the five from which U.S. citizens are forced to choose on the census).”

And therein lies my problem.

When I am asking students to describe how they look or how to compare themselves to a family member, it’s all so sticky when they don’t have much of an English word bank to go on. And giving them lots of choices is also not very productive.

Suzy did the lesson while I was off teaching Kevin’s class. But that’s a whole ‘nother story…

I avoided the skin tone issue on the word wall I put up, but students asked. Suzy tried to introduce the concept of “light skinned” to a Congolese student. The student ended up associating “light skinned,” a concept she was not familiar with, and “white skinned,”


Now to deal with this, we would have to try, in very simplistic terms, to get into skin color and what that means. So we’ll cross that bridge later.

Here is the amazing work that Suzy got our class to do:


  • I can say what I look like
  • I can say what someone looks like
  • Able to use basic descriptive words (pretty, ugly, tall, short, young, old, big, little)
  • I understand basic opposite terms
  • Able to identify family (father, mother and so on) and their relationship to me (older sister)and whether they are in school or no
  • I am able to sort items into categories

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