Jonamay Lambert and Selma Myers on Diversity Building Activities

The following guest post is from Jonamay Lambert and Selma Myers, authors of The Diversity Training Handbook: 50 Activities for Promoting Communication and Understanding at Work. They share some diversity building activities for the workplace.

Who Do You Know?

The purpose of this activity is to begin exploring what participants know about people from differing groups.

15 minutes

-Papers and pencils
-Flipchart and marker

1. On the flipchart list these four categories: “Author,” “Artist,” “Musician,” “Politician.” Prepare the flipchart in advance of the session.

2. Ask participants to quickly write down on their own paper five persons (living or dead) that they are familiar with for each category. Allow 5 to 10 minutes.

3. Then ask the participants to place an asterisk next to those names of the five in each category who represent someone from their own ethnic and racial group, or country they were born in.

4. Place the participants into small groups and ask them to compare their lists, the names they wrote and the number of people they starred. Ask them to discuss whether race, ethnicity or country or origin played a role in their choices. If so, why? If not, why not?

5. Reconvene and ask them to orally report the results of their discussions.

6. Discuss what conclusions can be drawn from this exercise. Were women or people of color listed? If so, by whom? Did the categories themselves make a difference?


Close by saying that often we’re more comfortable with similarities and known more about people we have been exposed to. Much of our comfort level is based on when and where we grew up, as well as other personal influences such as parents, schools, churches, the media, etc.

Head in the Clouds, Nose to the Grindstone

The purpose of this activity is to help participants become aware of the tremendous amount of slang used regularly in the English conversation and to realize that communicating with non-native speakers of English may take extra effort.


15-20 minutes


-Paper and pencils
-Flipchart and marker

1. Introduce the topic of slang by explaining it’s always present in normal conversation. Ask participants to jot down all the “socially acceptable” slang terms they use or have heard others use in the following categories, as shown on the flipchart (which the trainer prepares in advance).

-Western or Cowboy Talk
-Parts of the body

2. If the group needs help getting started you might give examples such as:
-Sports – “Ballpark figure,” “a knockout”
-Western or Cowboy Talk – “shoot from the hip,” “ride herd on”
-Clothing – “given the boot,” “shirt off his back”
-Parts of the body – “elbow grease,” shake a leg”

3. Divide participants into small groups and have them compare the phrases they wrote. Ask them to think about and discuss the amount of slang they use in everyday conversation and where some of these expressions came from. They can also share any experiences they have had either not understanding slang or not being understood when they used it.

4. Reconvene and ask participants to orally report on the category that had the most slang phrases. Record the number on the prepared flipchart that lists the categories.

5. Ask the group to call out some of the most commonly used expressions as well as those they felt were the most difficult for someone who did not grow up speaking English. (You may want to add these to the flipchart.)

6. Open the discussion to the possible problems using too much slang and gather some ideas about what people can do to help a non-native speaker.

Summarize with the fact that it is difficult to realize how much slang Americans use. Point out that theuse of slang can be a serious barrier to good communication in general. In fact, often any listener may not have the same slang vocabulary that the speaker has and consequently will not fully understand.

It is important to be sensitive to the fact people who grew up speaking another language and may not understand a conversation when there is a lot of slang. Often they are too embarrassed to ask and so go along as if they understand. (As for what people can do, perhaps monitoring their own use of slang and checking for understanding is the best solution.)

Slang also differs in various parts of the United States, and during different time periods.

Trainer’s Notes
In the case of non-native English speaking participants, they can contribute by citing English slang expressions where the meanings were difficult to understand, or were misinterpreted.

In this activity, we have used the word “slang” to refer to both slang (which changes over time) and to idioms (which become embedded in the language).

Jonamay Lambert is Founder and President of Lambert & Associates, Inc., and has designed and implemented training programs in diversity, leadership, and change management for both Fortune 100 companies and smaller organizations alike. She is co-author of The Diversity Training Activity Book.

Selma Myers is a trained mediator and has been an Intercultural Consultant for over 15 years for small and large companies (including Fortune 500), non-profit and educational institutions, government agencies, and professional associations. She has lived and worked abroad, directed intercultural education programs, and designed and presented a variety of customized programs for clients who deal with cultural diversity in a business setting. Myers is co-author of The Diversity Training Activity Book and Conflict Resolution Across Cultures.

Together Lambert and Myers have written 13 trainer’s guides in the Diversity at Work training series.

And now for the giveaway! The first five commenters on this post win a copy of 101 Tough Conversations to Have with Employees by Paul Falcone


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