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White future


Group 3 – specific subject – tool for native language teachers


pupils from 14 to 18


  • To think of the way we speak and listen
  • To be aware that language is not value-free
  • To learn to appreciate the importance of using non-discriminatory language


1 period


  • one large sheet of paper and marker per group


Divide the group into sub-groups of 6 to 8 pupils

Ask each group to find a place to work in the room.

Give a piece of paper and a marker/ pen to each group and ask them to copy the following table:


Explain that this activity is about the language we use and that they must think of expressions which include words such as white, black, Indian, Roma, Jew, Arab, Russian, etc. As they come up with an expression, think about how the word is used.  If the phrase has a positive connotation write the phrase in the first column, if it has a neutral connotation write it in the second and if it has a negative connotation in third.  For example, the expression “the future looks black” refers to an uncertain and troubled future so put it in the third column.  When we talk about “an Indian summer”, it is when the weather is good in the early autumn.  Indian would go in the first column.  Allow about 15 minutes for this part of the activity.

Now ask the groups to look at the phrases in the third column, the ones with negative connotations, and suggest alternative expressions. Write them down in the fourth column which can be titled “alternative language”.

When the groups are finished display the worksheets and ask each group to read out the different expressions they have found.

The evaluation of the activity should be centred around the expressions found:

  • Which column was the fullest?
  • What kinds of words do we find in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd columns?
  • Since language is not neutral, what values does our language reflect about our own culture and about other cultures?
  • Is it important to use a language which does not carry negative connotations about other cultures? Why?
  • If so, how should we change our language?


If there are pupils in the group with another mother tongue than the one taught at school, it may be interesting to ask them to do the exercise in their own mother tongue in order to make a comparative analysis.

The debate that occurs after this activity can turn into the discussion about “politically correct” language or into a reflection on why it is more common to give positive connotations to the word “white”, than to the word “black” or “gipsy”.

Often pupils argue that when they use expressions such as “She’s in a black mood”, meaning a bad mood, they are not thinking about black people and they are not discriminating against anybody.  In this case it is important to differentiate personal attitudes from the values transmitted by the language.  Very often we use phrases without being aware of their origins and therefore the values implicit in them.  This is a similar debate to the discussion about sexist language in many idioms.


“All different – All equal, Education Pack”, European Youth Centre, 1995

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