Learning Across Generations – Table of Contents

Lesson 6.5: What is Structural Racism? Fish-Lake-Groundwater

Teachers: access the online lesson plan for this section by clicking here!




To help students delver deeper into the concept of systematic racism by introducing them to a model and engaging them in a practical exercise in which students experience what it feels like when the rules are fair, but the game isn’t.


  • To provide students with a model for critical thinking based on the Fish-Lake-Groundwater Model developed by the Racial Equity Institute.


  • To help students understand the idea of white privilege and “affirmative action” through a simulation of a game of Monopoly with a set of rules that give advantages to some (white people) and not others ( People of Color, Black and Indigenous people).


  • To encourage students to record reflections on the role on how race and racism shapes a current civil rights issue of interest to them.


  • To give students an opportunity to consider what a “groundwater” solution (systemic change) requires.


  • Fish-Lake-Groundwater handbook (REI)— for instructors



  • Paper for recording notes in small group discussion.


  • Notecards for recording ideas and evaluating workshop (exit pass).



  1. Introduction of Fish-Lake_Groundwater Model.
  2. Small-group brainstorming:Apply the model to a current problem.
  3. Shifting gears: Workshop leaders divide class into 3 groups–A,B,C. They explain the rules of the game, then ask groups to discuss the following questions:
    • How do they feel about the game?
    • How do they feel about your group assignment?
    • What do you think the outcome of the game will be? Why?
  4. Group leaders read # 4 on handouts, summarizing students’ reactions to game in experiment.
  5. Individual responses (notecards): How can you relate what you’ve learned today to civil rights struggles now?
  6. Wrap-up?
  7. Students asked to briefly evaluate workshop on exit passes (notecard).



Bayard Love and Deena Hayes-Greene, The Groundwater Approach: Building a Practical Understanding of Structural Racism. Racial Equity Institute.


Jost, Whitfield, and Jost, “When the Rules are Fair, but the Game Isn’t” Multicultural Education, v13, n1, p14, Fall 2005. Available online at www.eric.ed.gov.