Deviance Activities

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The following activities are designed to help your students delve deeper into the sociological concept of deviance, exploring this in active, creative, and personal ways.


In sociology, deviance is the concept of breaking or violating accepted social norms and behaviors. How and why people perform deviant behaviors, whether consciously or not, is an engaging field of study. For your students, this can help them think more about how societies make rules, as well as how we deal with concepts of conformity and deviance as a society. While these activities are intended for high school students, they can be easily adapted for other ages as well.

Deviance Activities

Rank Deviances

Divide the class into small groups, and provide each with a list of deviant behaviors. In their groups, students will discuss all of these and then rank them in order from least deviant (does the least to break social norms) to most deviant (does the most to violate social norms). This should get students talking about what they see as normal and abnormal, and how we define these things as a society. If you want, you can also ask groups to come up with five deviant behaviors and add those to the ranked list. When everyone has completed their ranking, come back together as a class and discuss where everyone ranked each behavior and why.

  • Materials: Lists of deviant behaviors, writing supplies if desired

Observational Report

Divide the class into pairs or small groups, and send them out into the school to observe their peers in social settings (such as the cafeteria). Students will observe the interactions between students, without participating themselves, and record the behaviors they observe. Ask students to think about how people greet each other, ideas about personal space, eye contact, physical contact, forms of communicating, and other common behaviors. Students will attempt to identify what this sample population sees as normal, and try to identify how they perform those behaviors and conform to this sense of normality.

Afterwards, ask students to come back and work in their small groups to create a list of things that would be seen as deviant in that setting. Ask students to think about subtle ways that people could break from the accepted normal patterns, and to predict what reactions that might provoke. When students are ready, discuss these as a class. As part of this discussion, ask students if they were being deviant and violating social norms by sitting apart from their peers and silently observing them in a public space.

  • Materials: Writing supplies

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