Age Level:
Middle through High School, 12-18 years


Objective: To analyze how culture influences vocational and career decisions.

Materials: Blackboard or other large recording area Prepared notecards for all students. Half read, "John just graduated first in his class from medical school. Describe him." The rest read, "Jane just graduated first in her class from medical school. Describe her." (Use male and female names that your students will recognize.)

Activity: Divide the class into two groups. Give everyone in the first group one of the "John" cards and everyone in the second group one of the "Jane" cards, but do not let the groups know that their cards are different. Ask students to complete their cards. They may use full sentences or just list adjectives and phrases. Collect the cards as they are completed. (Note: This lesson is similar to the research done by Matina Horner at the University of Michigan more than two decades ago.)

On the blackboard, list the key descriptions of Jane, then make a separate list for John. Do not add headings that identify the gender. Ask the students to identify differences between the two lists. Discuss these differences and see if the students can determine the validity of the reasons behind the differences. Then tell them what the card instructions said and add the headings "Jane" and "John" to the lists.

Discussion questions:

  1. How many adjectives related to appearance are listed for Jane/John?
  2. How many negative qualities are listed for Jane/John?
  3. How many positive qualities are listed for Jane/John?
  4. Who has more descriptive adjectives, Jane or John?
  5. Who has more nurturing adjectives, Jane or John?
  6. Which person appears to be more dynamic?
  7. Were areas of medical specialization listed? If so, are there differences in the fields described for Jane/John?
  8. Were family connections listed? If so, who has more family support? Is Jane/John married? Do they have children?

Closure: To wrap up the discussion, ask students to consider what assumptions society makes about people's personalities, abilities, and careers based on gender. Ask the students if they make similar assumptions? What things help to change or eliminate stereotypes? Discuss strategies for widening their work and personal futures.

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