Introductory exercise



Aim: In this introductory exercise the students are to experience how and why categorisation occurs, and how notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ can be constructed.

Requirements: Small paper dots with glue on one side to place on each participant’s forehead. The dots must be in at least five different colours. The best number of participants for doing this exercise is between 15 and 30.

The exercise prepares the students for topics addressed later in the session, such as questions connected to the minority/majority, stereotypes and prejudice, ‘othering’, discrimination and others.

  1. The session leader asks the participants to place themselves in a circle facing the session leader who stands in the middle. He/she says to the participants: I will soon ask you to close your eyes. You are not allowed to open your eyes until I say so. While you have your eyes closed, you will feel a soft touch against your forehead. Close your eyes please.       
  2. While the participants have their eyes closed, the session leader places a paper dot on their foreheads. The dots must be in different colours and some of the participants (e.g. 4-6) will receive the same colours. Two of the participants will be given dots with colours that nobody else has. NB: The persons chosen for this must have enough self-confidence to be able to stand alone outside the groups, which will be the result of the exercise. They must also be ready to talk a little bit about what they experienced during the exercise.  
  3. When everyone has been given a dot (still with their eyes closed) the session leader will say to them: When I say, “Open your eyes”, your task is to make groups. Open your eyes please.       

Usually the participants, after opening their eyes, will be unsure of what to do. However, after a short while, they will gather into groups. In 99 per cent of the cases, the participants with the same “dot colour” will go together. In a group of 25 participants, there will be a “blue”, a “red”, a “yellow” group and so on. Very often, the two persons with dot colours that differ from the rest will end up outside the groups or come together.

The session leader should take note of what happens while the participants are making groups. The observations may be useful in the discussion afterwards. Is anybody directing the others and taking the lead? Are the participants talking? [Often, they believe they are not allowed to speak, even if the session leader has said nothing about that]. What about the two people who have their own colour? Do they try to join some of the groups? What are the reactions? 

When the participants have formed their groups, the session leader opens for reflections. Often individual participants might be addressed with some short questions to start the reflection. The discussion and summing up can take place while all are the participants are standing on the floor.

  • Addressed to participants in one of the coloured groups: Can you tell me how you ended up in this group? Was it difficult to find “your” group? Did you find out what colour you had? How?
  • Addressed to the persons who stand alone: Why are you standing alone? (Did you ask some of the other groups to join? What was their reaction? Did someone invite you into their group?

  • To all: What are positive aspects of belonging to a group? (The participants will often mention that people are stronger together, they need to be social, have fun, feel safe, are more powerful and so on)

  • Can there be negative aspects? Why?

  • How does it feel to stand alone? Is the feeling of loneliness something we all can relate to and have experienced?

 Usually the participants find the exercise and the questions interesting and have many comments. 


Remarks to conclude with:

  • Establishing groups is a human trait. Throughout history, in all cultures and civilizations, human beings have established groups. We are social creatures: an infant will die without others around it, and we cannot learn how to speak without interacting with others. Forming groups is a natural thing.

  • One aspect that we seldom reflect on is that this ability of ours to categorise and “to think in groups” makes the world easier to understand. By using just one characteristic, e.g. children, nurses, refugees, girls, Russians, Norwegians and so on, we are able to think about many people at the same time. Our orientation in the world becomes easier.

  • It is important, however, to remember that when we categorise, we simplify. We often tend to think that the people in the group are more similar than they really are. Often the differences within one group will be larger than between the groups.

  • It is also important to be aware that at the same time that we establish groups, we establish borders against ‘the others’. The result can be the ‘us’ and ‘them’ dichotomy.

  • We create groups and they function for good and bad. As the exercise showed, it can feel lonely to be left outside.

  • These psychological mechanisms can be sources of conflict in society. To get support, politicians and other leaders often tend to define some groups as ‘the others’. In all wars and conflicts the ‘us and them’ dichotomy has been used for political purposes. Often ‘the others’ have been ‘labelled’ to influence what ‘we’ think about them. Stereotypes and prejudices, discrimination and human-rights abuses can be the obvious next steps.

  • It is important to be aware of these mechanisms. Even if we share some characteristics, all human beings are complex and unique with a mixture of characteristics, features, qualities and experiences. Always try to see the individual instead of only the group.

  • Next time you find yourself in a group: maybe you should invite the others in?


This exercise can be used as an introduction to such topics as stereotypes and prejudices, minorities, ‘othering’ and discrimination. It will function well as a starting point for a lecture on the challenges and possibilities in multicultural societies, and the role of journalism and journalists in this context.

  •       To make a smooth transition to the lecture, the session leader asks the students why reflecting on these topics is especially important for journalists. 



Gunn Bjørnsen, Head of Department, Faculty of Education and International Studies, Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences (Norway)

An online manual on intercultural understanding, ethics and human rights to be used by teachers and students in journalism education. Read more.

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