We all know each other’s names, but do we know the stories of our names?
Grade Level

To begin this activity I give students a piece of paper and have them write their name on it in big, bold letters. Have each student tell the story of how they received their name. After this, I ask students, “How important is language?” Most of us would agree that language is important in our society. The ways we communicate and speak are ways for others to know a little bit about who we are. But how accurate are our perceptions when language is all we have?

Next, I break students into small groups and tell them that they are to create a skit that reveals their answers to the following questions:
Q: What does a smart person sound like?
Q: What does an unintelligent person sound like?
Q: What does a villain sound like?
Q: What does a hero sound like?

After the skits, students reflect and discuss the following questions:
Q: What patterns do you notice in the way each group described its person?
Q: How important is language in determining someone’s intelligence?
Q: Where do we get our perceptions about intelligence and language?
Q: What if someone doesn’t speak a language “correctly?” Does that mean they are not smart?
Q: What about accents? What does it mean to have a Southern accent, a New York accent or a foreign accent?

Use relevant video clips from the Internet or TV shows to explore linguicism further, along with a few discussion questions. Here are a few examples:

Q: What type of discrimination did the person on the video suffer?
Q: How do you think the person feels?
Q: Why does he have to change his accent?
Q: In what ways is linguistic profiling harmful?

Q: Can you tell a person’s race by the sound of their voice?
Q: Have you ever experienced discrimination based on the sound of your voice?

Q: What television shows can you think of that perpetuate linguistic stereotypes?
Q: What do these stereotypes do to the people who are being stereotyped?

As a final project, have students come up with a definition about linguicism based on all the information they’ve learned. Ask them to create a skit that combats linguicism.

Tanya Madrid-Campbell and Julianne Hughes
The Berkeley School
Berkeley, California