Exercise in definitions – what does it all mean?


    Discuss and reflect on different interpretations of words and terms. Practise how to change opinion in light of new information.

  • TIME:

    30 mins


    A3 paper, Post-its, pens



Misunderstandings can occur when we use a term and there is no universal agreement on what it actually means. This exercise is designed to clarify what certain terms actually mean and to practise how to adjust our point of view by interacting with others and discovering new information.

The exercise can be used as preparation for a given topic or to tackle inappropriate language in the classroom. We are using the term racism to illustrate how to carry out the exercise.

Main part

Divide the students into groups of four and give them Post-it notes and a sheet of A3 paper each.

Explain the term

Work individually to begin with: Explain the term racism. Write down three things to help explain the word (one on each Post-it).

Draw lines on the piece of paper to make it look like this:

Leave the middle field empty. Divide up the four outermost fields, one for each student. Place the Post-its in your respective fields.

  • Read out loud to the group what you have written.
  • Have you written down similar or different things?
  • Try to agree on three Post-itsto help explain the term racism. Place the three notes in the middle field.



Discuss and share within the group:

  • Were there any interpretations of the word that you did not expect?
  • Did you disagree with any of the other interpretations?
  • How did you settle on the final three things? Did you miss out anything important?
  • Has your interpretation of the word changed?


Broaden the perspectives

The teacher hands out different definitions/interpretations of the term racism.


Definition/interpretation 1: Racism is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. (Oxford Living Dictionaries 2018)


Definition/interpretation 2: “Although I’m anti-Islamist (opposed to Islamification), I’m not racist. Religion has nothing to do with race or skin colour.” (kontrovers.no 2012)


Definition/interpretation 3: It is racism if the following happens, regardless of whether it is because of someone’s skin colour, religion, language or culture: Dividing a population into different categories whereby some are ascribed negative immutable traits. Reducing the rights of an individual to the given negative traits of a category. Using the negative traits as an argument for subordination and discrimination. (What is racism? Bangstad and Døving, 2015)

Read the new definitions.

  • Are they similar or different to the way you described the term?
  • Is there something here that you would include in your own definition?
  • Do you feel that any of the definitions are particularly bad or problematic? Please elaborate.


Source criticism

The teacher explains the context of the different definitions to the students. (When were they created? Who created them?) The idea is to be open to adjusting your own interpretations, but not uncritically!


Definition/interpretation 1 = Oxford (narrow definition)

Definition/interpretation 2 = somebody’s blog entry (narrow definition like the Oxford)

Definition/interpretation 3 = a book written by two researchers (broad definition)


Talk about how the term may have changed meaning over time. Why is the term used in different ways today?


This module has been taken from the CLEAR project. You can read more about the project here: