This is not exactly a trick – but it does involve withholding information. Be ready to praise any student who unravels the secret before you explain it. The serious purpose is to encourage the habit of questioning the assumptions we make about people when we hear a brief description.
The exercise is based on contrasting pairs of people. You could set it as written homework – there are some specific ideas below. Or ask students to think about it overnight and come prepared to contribute to a class discussion.
Age range: 11–14
Curriculum links: Citizenship, PSHE
A simple, light way in is to ask – who would you rather spend the day with...
1. a celebrity millionaire football player OR a fundraiser for a United Nations children's charity?
2. an active member of the British Islamic community and founder of a Muslim school in London OR an award winning singer-songwriter who recently shared a stage with Bono, Beyoncé and the Eurythmics.
3. a 13-year-old girl OR a soldier fighting in a rebel army?
4. an expert economist recently elected president of an African country OR a 68-year-old grandmother?
5. a woman who was born with spina bifida, a severe disability OR an elite athlete with a string of world records and Olympic golds.
For written work, students could be asked to:
- Imagine and write a conversation between one of the two pairings. For example, what might a 13-year-old girl say to a soldier? What questions might each ask so they can find out about each other's lives?
- Take one of the pairings and just using the information given, expand it into a list of each person's characteristics – their likes and dislikes, their personality, their physical appearance, their attitudes and behaviour. Imagine you are making notes for a character in a novel. Compare the two lists. Be prepared to talk about the differences.
When students have completed the task – whether written or just being prepared to say which character they would rather spend an evening with – reveal the ruse.
Both halves of each pairing refer to the same person.
Talk about the power of prejudice, that stops us seeing that immediately. Why cannot a grandmother be an economist or a disabled person an athlete? Go through each pairing explaining who is who:
1. David Beckham has been a supporter of UNICEF for many years. In January 2005 he became a Goodwill Ambassador with a special focus on UNICEF's Sports for Development programme.
2. Yusuf Islam was recently voted Songwriter of the year. He performed at the Nelson Mandela tribute concert and last year dueted on a recording with Ronan Keating. He was known as Cat Stevens until he converted to Islam in 1977 when he became an active British Muslim.
3. Accurate figures on child soldiers are not available – but tens of thousands of teenagers, including girls, have fought in conflicts around the globe.
4. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became Liberia's president in 2006, making her Africa's first elected female leader. She is a former World Bank economist.
5. Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson was born with spina bifida. She is a highly successful wheelchair athlete, who has won 14 medals, nine of which are gold, countless European titles, six London Marathons and has over 30 world records.
Perhaps as a follow-up, invite students to devise their own "misleading pairings". See how easily we can be fooled by our own assumptions or prejudices.
This resource was written by P. J. White.