Terrorism and Tolerance

Terrorism and Tolerance
Laura Bush: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


Terrorism is a frightening topic that is heard every day on the news and is much discussed  by people in our society.   One concept that is often used as a moderating influence to terrorism by Laura Bush is tolerance.  What do these two concepts really mean?  How can we begin to think about terrorism in a less fearsome and more useful way?


Students will define the concepts of terrorism and tolerance using various resources; in addition, they will examine the concept of stereotype, consider stereotypes often applied to Arabs, Middle Easterners, and Muslims, and attempt to discredit these stereotypes.

Materials Required:

Computer with Internet access, paper, pen or pencil, about 2 dozen small balloons, blown up and stored in a large plastic bag in a closet, about 2 dozen strips of paper, about 2” by 12”, some thumbtacks, and a large map of the Middle East posted on a wall or bulletin board.


1.  Introduce this lesson by discussion with students their perceptions of terrorism and tolerance:

  • What do these two terms mean?
  • Can the idea of terrorism be mediated by the idea of tolerance? How?

2.  After the discussion begins to “run out of steam,” divide students into three groups, and, using websites 1-4, below, assign each group one of the following sets of questions:

  • What are some definitions of terrorism?
  • Which elements of a definition of terrorism appear most often?
  • How can a new definition be crafted from the most often-used themes?
  • What are some definitions of tolerance?        
  • Which elements of a definition of tolerance appear most often?
  • How can a new definition be crafted from the most often-used themes?
  • What are some definitions of stereotype?
  • Which elements of a definition of stereotype appear most often?
  • How can a new definition be crafted from the most often-used themes? 

Ask each group to write out its new definition of terrorism, tolerance, and stereotype on the board. Discuss.
3.  Have students describe where they learn about terrorism, where they think it occurs, who “terrorists” are, and why some people use terrorist acts to achieve their goals. Note how many times “Arab,” “Middle East,” or “Muslim” are mentioned in response to the question, “Who are terrorists?” 
4.  Following this thread, make three columns on the chalkboard, with the following headings: Arab American, Middle Easterner, Muslim.  Ask students for words describing each of these kinds of people and note them in the appropriate column.  When the lists are complete, get out the balloons and, using a black marker, write one descriptor on each balloon (up to 8 balloons for each category).
5.  Then, using the websites on Arab Americans, Middle Easterners, and Islam (below), divide students into several groups and ask them to find information about these three groups.  Go back to the board lists and discuss the accuracy of the descriptions there.
6.  Divide the class into six groups, hand each group four paper strips, and ask the students in each group to write a fair statement about Arab Americans, Middle Easterners, and Muslims.  Ask each student to bring one statement to the front of the room, read it aloud, and, as it contradicts the “stereotype” written on a balloon, pop the balloon with the thumbtack. 
7.  Tack all the fair, or non-stereotypical, statements on a large map of the Middle East.  Wind up the lesson with a discussion of what students have learned and whether their new learning has changed how they think about the question, “Who are terrorists?”

Extending the Lesson:

Students might extend this lesson by sharing what they have learned with other students, or with parents and community members.  Similarly, the lesson could be extended by inviting at least one local Arab American and/or Muslim to the classroom to talk about his or her life experiences.

Sources & Resources:


What is Terrorism?

What is Tolerance?

What is a Stereotype?

Stereotype from Wikipedia

Who Are the Arab-Americans?

Who Are Middle Easterners?

What Is Islam?


This lesson was developed by Marian Maxfield, Kent State University.