Common Ground: A Moderator’s Guide for Small Group Discussions on Ethnic Relations

Aims, objectives, and intended audience

This community dialogue series aims to help participants locate common ground across ethnic differences. With ethnically integrated groups in mind, this dialogue guide is designed to promote constructive dialogue related to “ethnic problems” and solutions. Participants identify numerous perspectives regarding “ethnic problems,” consider the values that undergird each viewpoint, and seek possible solutions to community problems based on the common ground uncovered in these sessions.

Broad structure and key educational methods

Common Ground uses a study circles format that encourages dialogue in small, integrated discussion groups of 5-20 participants. Broadly speaking, the Common Ground study circle has three main components: 1) the sharing of one’s own ethnic identity and experiences; 2) gaining a common vocabulary related to ethnic relations; and 3) assessing community problems and considering potential solutions.

Each session is approximately two hours long. Key educational methods include in-depth discussions, responding to hypothetical scenarios, and short reflection times for participants to gauge their emotions.

Key topics or themes by module

1. Breaking the Silence

Following brief introductions and the establishment of expectations and ground rules, this session opens with an exercise that asks participants to draw name shields for themselves that represent their history, ancestry, and values. After sharing, the ensuing discussion draws out the commonalities and differences of the experiences that are shared. The next segment focuses on prejudices and prompts participants to describe their first experience with prejudice (based on any of their identities), as well as their most recent encounter with prejudice, telling about their feelings and responses to each situation. A closing reflection gauges participants’ reactions to the session’s conversations and asks them to consider if any of their viewpoints were altered by the study circle experience.

2. Definitions

This session invites conversation on numerous terms that are often associated with intergroup relations, including prejudice, discrimination, stereotype, symbolic racism, and institutional racism, among others. Beyond simply providing concise definitions for discussion, the associated questions reveal underlying power dynamics and challenge participants to deepen their analysis through examining hypothetical situations.

3. Solutions

Four parts comprise this final session. Part I presents scenarios that contain prejudiced remarks and asks participants to brainstorm possible responses in light of the power dynamics that exist between the characters in the scenario. Part II is a visioning exercise that invites participants to imagine “an ethnically ideal society.” Part II focuses on how participants can build bridges across differences of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and other attributes. The question underlying this activity reflects the title of this curriculum: how do we find common ground? This session and curriculum closes with time for reflection on what participants have learned over the sessions and where they find their common ground.

Curriculum acquisition information

This curriculum is available at:

The Southern Institute for Education and Research
MR Box 1692
31 McAlister Drive
New Orleans, LA 70118
Phone: (504) 865-6100
Fax: (504) 862-8026