Digital Seminar: What does it mean to be an "outsider"?


Everyone, especially adolescents, has at some point experienced feeling like an outsider and has struggled to find a way to build meaningful connections to the people around us. In the midst of our own feelings, we often forget that others have these same experiences, though perhaps for different reasons. Reading is known to increase empathy in readers as they explore the internal workings of the characters in the books they are reading,[1]  so it is important that students not only read for cognitive purposes, but for affective ones.  In addition, feelings of being an 'outsider' may be impacted by the cultures with which one identifies, so an exploration of defining culture as well as dominant and marginalized cultures in the Day 1 discussion activity will provide a framework, deepen the discussion, and increase understanding .  This series of discussions in breakout rooms, Flipgrid posts, and the seminar itself directly supports Standard NC.ELA.SL.9-10.1.

Background discussion for Day 1 of lesson: (breakout rooms jigsaw discussion activity)

1. How are we as a group defining "culture"? Can we generate a class definition based on all groups' definitions? 

2. How do we know a culture is dominant? How do we know a culture is marginalized? 

3. What does the setting of a book tell us as readers about cultures and people?

4. What is intersectionality, and how can we apply that concept to analyzing characters? 

Day 2: The following seminar questions could be used in a live seminar (e.g., Paideia, restorative circle) or a digital seminar using Flipgrid where students post 30-second to 1- minute responses to each of the seminar questions and then reply to two or more of their peers' responses. The teacher should provide sentence starters/stems as a model for appropriate discussion questioning/responses.

There are three main advantages to hosting a digital seminar over a live one in this case. First, students who might struggle to formulate extemporaneous responses will have time to create answers without the pressure of time. Second, although some students might be uncomfortable with being recorded, having the opportunity to review and revise their responses before publishing, having notes or a script available, etc. can lower their affective filter. The final, and perhaps most important reason, is that of equity of voice. We have all had students who dominate and those who disappear in seminars, and this is an effective way of adjusting for both behaviors. 


  • Optional: reading for teachers who have never engaged in digital discussions
  • Copies of the seminar questions shared below and the sentence starters linked above
  • Computers or tablets with camera/microphone and internet access OR
  • Flipgrid's free app that students can download and use on their phones
  • Rubric for seminar; it may be modified for digital Flipgrid discussion or live


  1.  Create a Flipgrid for each class and share the join code with students. [Click here for YouTube tutorials from Flipgrid.]
  2. Consider a test run of videos (e.g., simple introductions) to verify that students know how to post and respond to videos. 
  3. Post each of the following questions as a "topic" in the class Flipgrid. 
  4. Provide students with a hard copy of the questions and sentences starters/stems so that they can plan their responses prior to recording them. 

Seminar Questions

  • How does the setting determine which culture is dominant and which are marginalized?
  • Which character in the book do you identify with and why?
  • If you did not identify with any character in the book, what kind of character would you create?How would your character change the narrative or dynamic of the work? How would your character balance or promote a sense of equality and/or justice within the book?
  • Which situations/events/problems in the book do you identify with and why?
  • Did you agree or disagree with significant decisions of the main character(s)? Why, or why not?
  • What cultures might have been represented in this book?  Which cultures were marginalized? Which were dominant?
  • In what ways was the character an outsider (politically, culturally, socially, economically, etc.)? How did you identify that he or she was outsider ?
  • How, and in what ways did being an outsider impact the character's life? (in either positive and/or negative ways)
  • In your opinion, what were the messages the author was trying to send within this book? (Or: What do you think the author's purpose was for writing this book?)
  • In which ways did you agree or disagree with the author's message? Why?  
  • In what ways might your feelings about the message have been impacted by your culture?  
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