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Maniac Magee, Lesson 3

Grades 5-9

The residents of Two Mills accepted the line dividing their town, because the town had always been that way. It took a new person coming to town who didn’t know the rules to make people think differently. When we hear the same thing over and over, we believe that thing is the truth, until someone tells us differently.

1.To demonstrate how easily we all go on “automatic pilot” when responding to others.
2.To demonstrate how we can begin to control our responses to stereotypes.


1.Tell participants that you grew up on the stories about the dog, Spot.

2.Ask participants to repeat “SPOT” loudly 10 times, and then answer the question you ask them.

3.Ask participants, "What do you do when you come to a green light?" They will immediately respond with “STOP,” when in fact the correct answer is “GO.”

4.Debrief by saying that while this is a simulated exercise, mental conditioning occurs very easily. When messages are repeated over and over again, we tend to go on automatic.

5.Continue this exercise by saying that you will not "trick" them again. This time ask the participants to repeat with you “R O A S T”, as you did with “SPOT.

6.Ask participants, “What do you put in a toaster?” Once again, the response will be “TOAST” rather than “BREAD.”

7.You can do this one last time by asking participants what color the newsprint is and repeating with you 10 times “WHITE”.

8.Then ask them what do cows drink and they will say “MILK” when the right answer is “WATER.”

Learning Points

1.Conditioning is very easy.

2.Repeated messages will put our reaction on automatic and we respond without thinking over the quality of our reaction.

3.Despite knowledge to the contrary, many participants gave incorrect answers after conditioning of only a few seconds.

4.Conditioning over a number of years is very powerful.

5.Those who slowed down and thought about their responses were more likely to have an accurate response.

6.Transition to Iceberg Analogy: Explain to students that now we’re going to talk more about looking deeply at who we are and what we can miss by making quick assumptions about other people.

Facilitator Tips

1.This is a light and fun way to introduce conditioning and lead to other workshop material.

2.The facilitator should rehearse this exercise so that it can be performed fluidly. You do not have to use exactly these three conditioning exercises. Other variations may be to repeat “FOLK” and ask “What do you call the white part of an egg?” Most will say yolk.

3.Do not use the white and “what do cows drink” example first as it can potentially make this activity high-risk. If used after the SPOT and ROAST, the activity remains low-risk.


1. To understand that culture is comprised of many dimensions
2. To begin to understand that assumptions about people based on appearance can often result in misjudgments.


10-15 minutes


1. Sheet of newsprint
2. Markers


1.Draw a large iceberg on the newsprint with a water line so it appears that about 1/10 of the iceberg (the tip) is above the water line.

2.Ask students to call out words that describe those characteristics of people that are immediately apparent and set us apart from one another (e.g., “hair color,” “clothing,” etc.) Write these words in the top portion of the iceberg on the flipchart, above the water line. Challenge participants if you disagree with any of their suggestions. For example, if someone says “race,” ask “why?” Suggest that while skin color is apparent, it does not necessarily indicate race. Therefore, race is not immediately apparent and should go below the water line. There may be characteristics that fall just at the water line, like religion (e.g., some individuals’ clothing indicated their religion, but others don’t).

3.Now ask participants to call out ways in which we are different from each other that are not immediately apparent. (e.g., “values,” “national origin,” “family life,” “likes/dislikes,” etc.) Write these words in the lower portion of the iceberg, below the water line.


1. Ask students where most of the differences between people are. Are they immediately apparent or not?

2. Ask them what this analogy suggests.

3. Ask them what attributes we have control over?

4.Ask them which attributes we react to?

Learning Points

1.Like the iceberg, we can only see 10% of a person’s cultural attributes. We cannot see the most important dimensions of a person’s culture, including values, attitudes, and beliefs.

2.Although most of who we are is below the surface, we tend to make assumptions based on the tip of the iceberg, the visible portion, which often results in misjudgments.

3. If we want to get to really know someone, we need to look below the surface. This will lead to better communication and stronger relationships.

4.We have most control over the attributes under the waterline, and yet we respond to others based on the tip.

5. Diversity has many dimensions, not just race. However, not all dimensions are equally important in getting to know an individual.

6. While diversity is very complex, we tend to associate a person’s behavior with a single obvious factor — e.g., “It’s because she’s a girl.”

7. Culture clash is often triggered by the attributes on the tip of the iceberg. This prevents us from going any deeper and checking out whether despite surface differences, there are similarities in the fundamental attributes.

Risk rating