Topic: Affirmative Action (Upper-Intermediate ESL Lesson Plan)

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

A child helping another

Affirmative Action ESL News Lesson Plan : Warm-up

1) How did you get your current job? Did you compete against many others?
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? How so?

  • 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 discrimination. 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 affirmative action in 1961 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 excluding whites.


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 hindered economic growth. In France, females will be required to make up 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. (247)

[Research sources: ,, ,]

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Comprehension Questions

1)    True or False: affirmative action is known as employment equity in Canada.

2)    What’s the difference between equal opportunity and affirmative action policies?

3)    What is one 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)
level playing field
zero-sum game
hinder (verb)
devalue (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
representation / women / government
redress / slavery
remedy / problem
establish / level playing field
minorities / exclude
segregation / Malaysia
hinder / growth
make up / women
devalue / achievement
asset / 20 billion
policy / counterproductive
Possible Answers:
  • The new plan was designed to increase representation of women in the government.
  • African Americans demanded redress for over a hundred years of slavery.
  • Financial assistance was given to Greece as a remedy for their economic problems.
  • Kennedy’s policy was established to create a level playing field.
  • Minorities felt like they were excluded from the political process.
  • Affirmative action policies have caused segregation in Malaysia.
  • The policies have also hindered the growth of the economy.
  • Women make up 35% of the population in my town.
  • Critics worried that the policy would devalue the achievements of minorities.
  • The company’s assets were worth 20 billion dollars.
  • The government’s policy 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, however, that other applicants with lower grades were admitted because the program reserves 16 out of 100 places for minorities. You think this is 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 minorities who were accepted. Bakke has taken you to court for this. Think of reasons to defend your program’s rules. Bakke will present his case first.

(Debate source)

Affirmative Action ESL Lesson Plan: Role-Play

You and your partners are members of government. In your country, the local native people are not doing well. Education levels are extremely low and unemployment rates extremely high. Discuss a plan 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 negatively affect 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, would stay level?

Lesson plan copyright Matthew Barton of

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5 comments on “Topic: Affirmative Action (Upper-Intermediate ESL Lesson Plan)

  1. Brett Leonard (Posted on 3-11-2012 at 00:40) Reply

    The genius of the good leader is to avoid him a predicament which sound judgment, devoid of the grace of genius, can handle successfully.
    When the career you’ve chosen has some unexpected inconvenience, console yourself by reflecting that no career is with out them.

  2. Jessica (Posted on 3-24-2012 at 03:20) Reply

    As English is my second language, this site is really helpful to me . I would like to say thank you very much

  3. mb (Posted on 3-24-2012 at 09:52) Reply

    Jessica: You are very welcome. Thank you for visiting.

  4. A. Rahman (Posted on 5-9-2015 at 06:29) Reply

    very nice and appropriate. needed more questions to practise in language classes.
    Developing it can be fruitful of teachers n students.

  5. kathy (Posted on 6-23-2018 at 18:29) Reply

    Very good. Combining reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking

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