Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

2009 Action Teaching Award Recipients

SPN Action Teaching Award    In 2009, the Social Psychology Network Action Teaching Award was won by Steven A. Meyers of Roosevelt University for his entry "Students Reducing Youth Violence." The award comes with $1,000 in prize money and a one-year Sustaining Membership in Social Psychology Network.

For details on the winning entry as well as other excellent entries that received Honorable Mention, please see below. Instructors are welcome to use or adapt these teaching ideas for their own classes, provided the use is noncommercial and appropriate credit is given to the individuals below. To see other award-winning entries, please use the pulldown menu below.

Winning Entry
Title: Students Reducing Youth Violence
Submitted by: Steven A. Meyers (Roosevelt University)
Category: Student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college
Objective(s): To (1) increase students' understanding of youth violence and its impact on individuals and communities, (2) strengthen students' civic engagement and ability to advocate effectively for child well-being


In this action teaching activity, students spent 25 hours in city neighborhoods conducting interviews to explore the psychology of youth violence, and used the information they gathered to heighten awareness and promote social change. In the initial phase of this activity, students interviewed neighborhood residents, community leaders, and government officials; met with prosecutors and detention facility officers; and listened to parents whose children had been murdered. After learning about the issue from as many perspectives as possible, students then contacted their legislators to call for action, wrote letters to newspapers, developed Internet resources on youth violence, and organized a campus symposium with speakers they had met during their field work. Through these activities, students deepened their understanding of youth violence and learned how to use this understanding to create positive social change.

Honorable Mention
Title: Reducing Conflict by Avoiding Attribution Errors
Submitted by: Daniel R. Stalder (University of Wisconsin-Whitewater)
Category: Student assignment
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school
Objective(s): To (1) learn about the fundamental attribution error, and (2) avoid committing the error in daily life


When explaining the behavior of others, people often underestimate the power of situational factors and overestimate the power of dispositional factors such as personality and temperament. This common tendency, known as "the fundamental attribution error," can lead to social conflict when people unfairly blame others for negative behaviors that were caused by situational factors. Accordingly, an action teaching assignment was developed to help students avoid the fundamental attribution error. In the assignment, students kept a journal in which they considered situational as well as dispositional factors when other people behaved negatively toward them. After a 10-day period, students reported being less judgmental of others and less upset or defensive when others treated them poorly. In the words of one student, the assignment "has helped me to become more compassionate and self-aware."

Honorable Mention
Title: Humane Education Resource Center
Submitted by: Zoe Weil (Institute for Humane Education)
Category: Web-based resource
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school, grade school
Objective(s): To help students understand issues related to peace, social justice, and sustainable living in ways that involve critical and creative thinking, a respect for other people and cultures, and a reverence for life


The Humane Education Resource Center is an Internet-based clearinghouse of free downloadable activities that instructors can use to teach students of all ages about social justice, human rights, environmental preservation, animal protection, culture and change, and the links between these issues. The format of these activities enables teachers to meet learning objectives in their subjects while incorporating action teaching to enliven their classes; bring relevant global issues into their curricula; engage students in ways that build character, compassion, and generosity; and contribute to the growth of humane education action teaching. In addition, the Humane Education Resource Center includes book and film recommendations, web links, student internship opportunities, and a wide variety of other resources related to humane education.

Honorable Mention
Title: The MPG Illusion: Psychology and Climate Change
Submitted by: Richard Larrick (Duke University)
Category: Classroom activity, web-based resource
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school
Objective(s): To (1) facilitate a discussion of the link between psychology and climate change, and (2) offer a specific example of how reframing a problem can help consumers make more environmentally sustainable choices


Which improvement in fuel efficiency saves more gas over the same distance driven: replacing a vehicle that gets 10 MPG (miles per gallon) with one that gets 11 MPG, or replacing a vehicle that gets 35 MPG with one that gets 50 MPG? Most people fall prey to the "MPG illusion" and guess that upgrading a 35 MPG vehicle to 50 MPG will save more gas, but in reality the upgrade from 10 MPG to 11 MPG has more impact. In an action teaching activity that explores the link between psychology and climate change, students are first asked to rank the impact of different MPG upgrades in fuel efficiency, and they then learn (1) how the MPG illusion works, and (2) what can be done to avoid the illusion and make more environmentally sustainable choices.

Honorable Mention
Title: The Social Privilege Scavenger Hunt
Submitted by: Jill M. Coleman (Ohio State University)
Category: Student assignment, field experience
For students/learners in: College, high school
Objective(s): To (1) increase students' awareness of the privilege that people in majority status groups experience in daily life; and (2) offer an engaging and non-threatening way for students to discuss the consequences of group-based differences in privilege


The Social Privilege Scavenger Hunt is an assignment designed to increase students' awareness of the privilege experienced by people in majority status groups (white, male, heterosexual, physically able, etc.). In the first part of the assignment, students are given a short list of items to find in a local superstore or shopping mall. This list includes products such as Barbie dolls of different races, greeting cards for various religious holidays, Valentine's Day cards for heterosexual and LGBT couples, and so forth. Students are also asked to observe certain features of the store they've chosen, such as whether it has a separate clothing section for women who are large. After this field experience, students submit a written report of their findings and hold a class discussion to talk about forms of privilege that are often unrecognized in everyday life.

Honorable Mention
Title: Assessing Assumptions About Gender
Submitted by: Amy Taylor (Duquesne University)
Category: Classroom activity
For students/learners in: Graduate school, college, high school, grade school, work settings
Objective(s): To (1) illustrate how subtle gender biases can influence social perceptions, (2) help students recognize their own implicit assumptions about gender, and (3) explore the implications these biases may have for gender equality


In this classroom activity, the instructor divides students into small groups and gives each group some pages with dialogue between a female and male. Unbeknownst to the students, two versions of this dialogue are distributed: one with the text as originally published, and another with the character genders reversed. Groups then read the dialogue and discuss their impressions of the two characters, after which the class holds a discussion to share these impressions. Typically, this discussion reveals very different impressions depending on which dialogue students read. Next, the instructor reveals that two gender versions of the dialogue were distributed and asks students to take some time with their group to consider how gender affected their impressions of the characters. Finally, the activity ends with a class discussion about gender bias and effective ways to reduce it.

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