Label jars not people


Label jars not people

The labels which teachers give to pupils can influence the construction and development of students’ identities, or self-concepts: how they see and define themselves and how they interact with others. This in turn can affect their attitudes towards school, their behaviour, and ultimately their level of achievement in education.

Labelling refers to the process of defining a person or group in a simplified way – narrowing down the complexity of the whole person and fitting them into broad categories. At the simplest level labelling involves that first judgement you make about someone, often based on first-impressions – are they ‘worth making the effort to get to know more’, are you ‘indifferent to them’, or are they to ‘be avoided’.

According to labelling theory, teachers actively judge their pupils over a period of time, making judgments based on their behaviour in class, attitude to learning, previous school reports and interactions with them and their parents, and they eventually classifying their students according to whether they are ‘high’ or ‘low’ ability, ‘hard working’ or ‘lazy’, ‘naughty’ or ‘well-behaved’, ‘in need of support’ or ‘capable of just getting on with it’ (to give just a few possible categories, there are others!). (*See criticism one below).

How the teachers can use it in their classroom and as part of teaching practices: awareness raising.


Activity 1. Watching a video: The Power of Words

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hzgzim5m7oU  1’47”

Duration: 10’

Discussion on the video:

Q:Do words have power?

A:Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”

Q:Do words create reality?

A:Everything begins with a wordWords consist of vibration and sound. It is these vibrations that create the very reality that surrounds us. Words are the creator; the creator of our universe, our lives, our reality.

Q: How do words inspire change?

A: A word has the power to change your life. Think about that for a moment because it is literally an Earth-moving statement – to change your life. … Words can influence us, inspire us or just as easily bring us to tears. Words change our relationships, our demeanour, our entire system of beliefs.


Activity 2 Labelling


  • 5 min. Introducing shortly the activity steps
  • 20 min. Participants talk to each other, treating and behave according to their interlocutor’s label.
  • 10 min. Participants share their feeling with their labels on
  • 15 min. Debriefing

  Developing of the activity:

  1.  Attach a label on each participant’s forehead (or back) so that the label is not visible to the wearer. Make clear that these labels are being assigned randomly and have nothing to do with students’ actual attributes.
  2. Choose labels/features that are culturally attributed to male or female (like, overemotional, fragile, aggressive, strong, comprehensive, etc.)
  3. Then ask participants to spend 15 minutes talking with each other about “future career in STEM” (another general topic can be chosen but this one works well in eliciting responses to the labels). Tell participants that they should circulate in order to talk with several different people, and that they should treat one another according to the other person’s labelled attribute. For example, someone labelled “forgetful” might be repeatedly reminded of the instructions.
  4. After 20 minutes, reconvene the group and ask participants to leave their labels on for a little while longer. Then ask participants to share how they felt during the exercise, how they were treated by others, and how this treatment affected them. Participants will often mention their discomfort not only with being stereotyped but with treating others stereotypically.

Debriefing (Q&A)

When you finish the activity, use the questions below to start a discussion in plenary:

  • Was the label what you guessed, or were you surprised by it?
  • When people stereotyped you, were you able to disregard it?
  • Did you try to disprove the stereotype? If so, did it work?
  • How did you feel toward the person who was stereotyping you?
  • If your attribute was positive (e.g., “good at math”), how did you feel?
  • When stereotyping others, how easy was it to find confirming evidence?
  • When stereotyping others, how did you react to disconfirming evidence?
  • Do you think some of the labels are commonly associated to one gender (typically female or male)? Which ones? Why?

As a girl or boy, how do you feel with being associated to this label because of your gender?



Type of material



60 min

Level of gender-fairness

2. Intermediate

Teaching practice

Teaching preparation


Awareness raising

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February 27, 2020



Gender 4 STEM

No 2017-1-LU01-KA201-023926


Luxembourg Institute of Science and Technology (LIST)
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Tel: +352 275 888 – 1

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