Topic: Affirmative Action (Advanced ESL Lesson Plan)

With Answers! | Download the ESL Lesson plan here: Topic-Affirmative-Action-advanced.doc

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Affirmative Action ESL News Lesson Plan: Warm-up

1) How did you get your current job? Was the process competitive?

2) What type of social group dominates your field or area of study?

3) If you were a homosexual minority of the opposite sex, would your professional life be different?

4) Are the below minority groups discriminated against in your country? To what extent?

  • Women (Yes/No)
  • The disabled   (Yes/No)
  • Visible minorities  (Yes/No)
  • Gays (Yes/No)
  • Religious groups (Yes/No)
  • Other: ________

Topic: Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is defined as positive steps taken to increase the representation of women and minorities in the areas of employment, education, and business. These steps are taken as redress for past exclusion and persecution. Affirmative action is known as positive discrimination in the U.K. and employment equity in Canada. When adopted as a policy requiring preferential selection, affirmative action generates intense controversy.
American President John F. Kennedy introduced the term in 1961. At its inception, affirmative action was envisioned as a temporary remedy that would end once a “level playing field” was established for all Americans. The policy has faced opposition by conservatives who see the system as a zero-sum game that opens doors for minorities by shutting whites out.
Affirmative action practices have been adopted in China, Japan, and South Korea to assist minorities pursuing higher education. In Malaysia, preferential treatment policies for ethnic Malays have led to segregation between Malays and non-Malay minorities. Furthermore, a requirement for 30% of corporate assets to be Malay-owned has inhibited economic growth. In France, females will have to comprise 20% of the boards of all stock exchange listed or state-owned companies by 2014. In Slovakia, affirmative action has been declared unconstitutional.
One identified drawback of affirmative action is a phenomenon called mismatching. This occurs when students are placed in academic programs that are too difficult for them, resulting in higher dropout rates. Critics also argue that affirmative action devalues the accomplishments of those who belong to groups it is intended to help, therefore making it counterproductive. (255)

[Research sources: ,, ,]

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Comprehension Questions

1)    True or False: affirmative action is known as employment equity in Canada.
2)    What differentiates equal opportunity and affirmative action policies?
3)    What is a criticism American conservatives have of affirmative action?
4)    True or False: Preferential treatment policies in Malaysia have strengthened the economy.
5)    What is mismatching?
6)    Why do some critics believe affirmative action policies are counterproductive?

1 – True
2 – Equal opportunity policies treat everyone fairly, equally, across the board. Affirmative action policies give some groups more privileges than others.
3 – They believe it hurts the white majority.
4 – False.
5 – Students being matched with (or accepted into) schools that are too difficult for them.
6 – They believe so because it makes the efforts of minorities who do achieve seem less important because it focuses on their social group and not their hard work.

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson.
redress (noun)
envision (verb)
level playing field
zero-sum game
inhibit (verb)
comprise (verb)
  • redress – compensation, reparation, repayment
  • persecution – cruel and unfair treatment
  • inception – establishment, start
  • envision – imagine, intend
  • level playing field – situation in which one person’s gain is another’s loss
  • segregation – separation of people based on race, religion, or sex
  • inhibit – hinder, impede
  • comprise – make up, constitute
  • counterproductive – having the opposite effect than intended

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
redress / slavery
persecution / level playing field
inception / United Nations
envision / future / society
segregation / Malaysia
inhibit / growth
men / comprise / percent
government / plan / counterproductive
Possible Answers:
  • African Americans demanded redress for over a hundred years of slavery.
  • Minorities who face persecution hope the new policy will create a level playing field.
  • The inception of the United Nations was in 1945.
  • Marx envisioned a future society free of religion.
  • Affirmative action policies have caused segregation in Malaysia.
  • The policies have also inhibited the growth of the economy.
  • Men comprise a large proportion of beer consumers.
  • The government’s plan to save money by stopping its recycling programs was counterproductive.

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Debate: Bakke v. California

Student A: You are Allan Bakke, a white male. You have been rejected for two years in a row by the medical school of the University of California. You have heard that other applicants with lower grades were admitted however because the program reserves 16 out of 100 places for minorities. You consider this unfair. Think of reasons to support your argument, and then present your case to the Supreme Court.

Student B: You represent the medical program at the University of California. Your program reserves 16 of its 100 places for minority students. A white man, Allan Bakke, has applied to your program and been rejected twice, despite having higher scores than some minority applicants who were accepted. Bakke has taken you to court for this. Think of reasons to defend your program’s quotas. Bakke will present his case first.

(Debate source)

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Role-Play

You and your partners are members of the government. In your country, the local native people are not doing well. Education levels are extremely low and unemployment rates extremely high. Discuss a strategy to assist these people then present your ideas to the class.

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Discussion Questions

(Write your answers in the Comments section below if you wish).

  1. What affirmative action programs does your school, employer, or country have?
  2. What does the election of President Barack Obama say about affirmative action, if anything?
  3. Is affirmative action a zero-sum game (in other words, must the preferential treatment of one group be detrimental to another)?
  4. Was the situation for Europeans who settled in North America a hundred years ago different from that of immigrants who arrive nowadays?
  5. Level playing field: do you think a level playing field, if achieved, will stay level?

Lesson plan on affirmative action copyright Matthew Barton of

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