Language Justice Curriculum

Chapter 9: Race & Ethnic Identity


Welcome + Step-In/Step-Out – 25 minutes
Vocab Tree – 20 minutes
Discussion on Race, Identity, and Language – 45 minutes
Close – 15 minutes

  • To encourage conversation and reflection about the diversity of language in discussing race and ethnic identity
  • To practice interpreting conversations centered around race and identity
Materials needed
  • Flip chart paper and markers
  • Time-keeping device
  • Sticky notes
  • Optional: simultaneous interpretation equipment
¡OJO! Hosting guest speakers is one of the things we’ve found to be helpful during practice sessions. They bring new energy and stories, and give participants the opportunity to practice interpreting for a new group of people. For this practice session, we recommend inviting three to four guests to talk about race and ethnic identity. Possible topics could include internalized oppression and superiority, intersectional organizing, or anti-blackness in the Latinx community. If you can’t invite guests, you can also show videos that cover some of these, or similar, topics.


Notes for facilitators: The goal of this opening exercise is to get people in touch with some of their own identities. We’ve included some prompts that touch on race or ethnicity, but feel free to change or add statements that work for your group or community.

Step One:

  • Facilitators welcome participants to the practice session.
  • Facilitators review goals of the practice session: To encourage conversation and reflection about the diversity of language in discussing race and ethnic identity, and to practice interpreting conversations centered around race and identity.

Step Two:

  • Facilitators ask participants to stand in a circle.
  • Facilitators introduce the warm-up exercise. Facilitators may say something like: “This exercise is called Step-In/Step-Out. Some of you have done this exercise before, but it will be the first time we do it all together. We will read statements related to some of the identities we hold. If the statement is true for you, take a step into the circle, stay there for a few seconds, then step back. We’ll read another statement, and so on. Remember, only share what you feel comfortable.”
    • [Start with an easy test statement such as, ‘I like chocolate.’]
    • I interpreted for my parents as a child.
    • English is my first language/second language/third language.
    • It is confusing for me to complete forms that ask me about my race or ethnicity.
    • Growing up, my family used nicknames that described our skin color.
    • I identify as indigenous, first peoples, or native.
    • I identify as Black or being of African descent.
    • I identify as white, Anglo, or being of European descent.
    • I identify as mixed race, mestizo, or multiracial.
    • Growing up, I noticed that people with darker skin or Black people were treated differently than lighter-skinned or white people.
    • I feel more comfortable speaking English.
    • I feel more comfortable speaking [insert other language].
    • I don’t know which language I feel most comfortable speaking.
    • [Add other statements you think might be appropriate for your group.]
    • I enjoy participating in the interpreter practice sessions.
  • Facilitators thank participants for sharing and invite everyone to take a seat.
  • Facilitators lead participants through a small debrief.
    • How do you feel?
    • Any reflections or observations?
    • What did it feel like to disclose a privileged identity?
    • What did it feel like to disclose an oppressed identity?
    • When you stepped in, how did you feel about people who didn’t?
    • How did it feel when others stepped in when you didn’t?
    • How is this conversation connected to interpretation?
  • To close, facilitators may want to say something like: “Our own experiences, biases, and assumptions can inform our word choices when we are interpreting. Today, we’ll be talking about identity, ethnicity, race, and language. We have guests who will be joining us in conversation, and we will be interpreting that conversation. Before we get started, let’s prepare and work on what we call a “vocab tree”.

VOCAB TREE – 20 minutes

Notes for facilitators: The goal of this activity is not to create the definitive glossary on race and ethnicity. The objective is to start a conversation and give participants some interpreting tools for the future.
  • Facilitators divide participants into groups of three.
  • Each group is given flip chart paper and markers.
  • Facilitators explain how to complete a vocab tree by saying something like: “As interpreters, we know how important it is to be prepared, and creating a vocab tree is one way to do so. Imagine the trunk of the vocab tree is your topic – in this case, race and ethnic identity. Now, imagine that each branch of the tree is a sub-theme (like blackness, people of color, or Latinos) and each leaf is a word related to that sub-theme. So, if you had blackness as a branch, some leaves could be ‘people of African descent’, ‘African-Americans’, or ‘negro’. Or if your branch is Latinos, then some leaves could be ‘Hispanics’, ‘Black and Brown unity’, ‘mestizo’, etc.”
  • Participants should write a translation for every leaf or vocabulary word.
  • Facilitators may want to demonstrate an example for participants.
  • Participants have 10 minutes to complete their vocab tree.
  • Facilitators encourage participants to create as many branches and leaves as they can.
  • Participants can use the Internet, WordReference or facilitators for help.
  • After the 10 minutes, facilitators call time.
  • Facilitators ask participants to take a “walk in the woods” and look at other group’s vocab trees.


Step One:

  • Guest speakers sit together.
  • Participants form a circle around the guest speakers.
  • Guest speakers have a conversation. Prompts for the guest speakers could be:
    • Talk about your race and ethnic identity.
    • How or why has your perception or definition of your race or ethnic identity changed over time?
    • How do you see yourself? How do you think others see you?
    • How does language play a role in the way you or others view your race or ethnic identity?
  • Each interpreter will have several minutes on the mic depending on time and the size of the group. Other participants should be listening to the conversation using the interpretation equipment.

Step Two:

  • After everyone has had an opportunity to interpret on the mic, facilitators call time.
  • Facilitators thank guest speakers.
  • Facilitators ask participants to take a few minutes to write down some reflections.
    • What came up for you?
    • What words or concepts were difficult to interpret?
    • What word choices did you make?
    • What have you done when race or ethnic identity has come up while interpreting?
    • What do you need to work on to feel comfortable or capaz in the future?
  • Participants have 5 to 10 minutes to journal.

Step Three:

  • Facilitators ask guest speakers for feedback.
    • How was this experience?
    • How did it feel to be interpreted for?
    • Did you notice any interpretation you especially liked?
    • Did you hear anything that concerned you or that you have questions about?
  • Facilitators ask participants for feedback.
    • How was that experience?
    • How did it feel to interpret this conversation?
    • Did you use any vocabulary you especially liked?
    • Is there anything you aren’t sure of or have questions about?

CLOSE – 15 minutes

  • Facilitators explain the ‘Head, Heart, Feet’ activity.
  • Facilitators hand out sticky notes to participants and speakers.
  • Facilitators draw a person on flip chart paper.
  • Facilitators ask participants to think about one thing they either learned or felt, or an action they’d like to take because of the practice session.
  • Participants write these thoughts, feelings, or actions on a sticky note.
  • One-by-one, participants walk up to the drawing of the person, share their reflections and leave their sticky note on the drawing.
  • Facilitators thank participants and guest speakers for participating in the practice session.