First Impressions

Overview | Procedures | Extensions

• Subject(s): Cross-Cultural Understanding
• Grade Level(s): 3 - 5
• Related Publication: Looking at Ourselves and Others
• Duration: 40 minutes
Overview Students will experience the risks of making assumptions from first impressions.


"The Emperor has no Clothes" - image source

Background Information

Young children often make assumptions and judgments about people based on quick impressions.
For example, a little girl noticing a house with peeling paint and an unkempt yard told her aunt, "I bet the people who live in that house are ugly." The girl had somehow learned to make assumptions about people she had never met based on her perception of their possessions. Given our tendency to link appearances to personality or cultural traits, the little girl's comment is not surprising.
Each of us, regardless of age, has probably experienced the embarrassment of making a faulty assumption based on scant evidence.
This exercise can be used to point out the importance of making careful observations and of avoiding judgment. It also serves as a community-building activity.
• Students will recognize that a single observation can be misleading.
• Students will get to know one another.
  1. To begin the activity, have students make lists of their favorite things.
    Tell them to keep these lists as they will be referring to them later.
  2. Divide the students into groups of two. If possible, pair students who do not know each other well. Give each student a copy of the "First Impressions" worksheet.
  3. Assign the following tasks.
  4. • Without speaking to your partner, think of at least five things you believe he or she likes (e.g., favorite color, activities, music, food).
    Base your ideas only on what you can learn about your partner from what you can see. List your ideas in the first column on your paper.
    • In the second column, write down the evidence that supports each of your ideas.
  5. Once students have completed their lists, ask them to interview each other to find out if their observations are accurate.
    You may want to model the following dialogue.
  6. Student A: I see you have a Pittsburgh Steelers sticker on your notebook. You must like football.
  7. Student B: No, you're wrong. My brother is the football fan. He put these stickers on everything in the house after his favorite team won the Super Bowl.
  8. Student A: But you must like to read. You have two library books with you.
  9. Student B: You're right about that. I read a lot in my spare time. Since you're a girl, I'll bet you like to shop.
  10. Student A: Shopping is fun, but I didn't list it as one of my favorite activities. I'd rather play computer games.
  11. As students conduct their interviews, they should use the third column to note corrections and to add more information about their initial observations.
After students have completed their interviews, bring the full class together to discuss the activity.
following questions can be used to focus the discussion.
  1. How did it feel to know that someone was making guesses about the things you like without talking to you?
  2. What happened when you talked with your partners about your observations? Were your original conclusions mostly right or mostly wrong? Did you find that you like similar things or different things?
  3. What would you say are the important things to remember about first impressions?
  4. What are some problems that can occur when people make assumptions without very much evidence?
  5. What if you did this activity with someone much older than yourself or with someone from another country?
    How would you make accurate guesses about their favorite things?
  6. What are some things you can do to make sure that your ideas about people and places are fair?
  1. Ask students to use the information gathered during their interviews to introduce their partners to other members of the class.
  2. Have students design posters that illustrate their partners' lists of favorite things. Displayed in the classroom, these would serve as a visual reminder of individual traits and shared interests.
    These displays could be updated throughout the school year as students get to know each other better.
  3. Invite international exchange students or returned Peace Corps Volunteers to the class to talk about their first impressions of people in their host countries.
    Did their perspective change over time?
  4. If your class is writing to a Peace Corps Volunteer, try to find out how experience in the host country changed his or her initial impressions.
  5. Ask the newest students in the class to share their first impressions of your school and the class.
    Have your class then brainstorm ideas to help new students have a positive beginning in your school.
    If there is a need to assist new students in their adjustment, this could be developed into a service-learning project.
    See the "Introduction" to Looking at Ourselves and Others for a service-learning rubric.

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