Tapestry of Faith: Sharing the Journey: A Small Group Ministry Program with Youth

10. Nerds


  • Chalice or LED/battery-operated candle
  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • Optional: Nametags and markers
  • Optional: A copy of the episode "Witch Lady" from the TV show My Name Is Earl, and player



Use your established opening ritual. Or, light the chalice and ask participants to create a nametag with their preferred name for this session. It can be a nickname or a word that describes how they view themselves. They can decorate the nametag appropriately. Invite them to work in silence or play background music.


Invite youth to share about their nametags.


Share this history of the word "nerd" from the American Heritage (R) Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright (C) 2009 Houghton Mifflin Company, published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved, accessed via Yahoo! in November, 2009.

The word nerd, undefined but illustrated, first appeared in 1950 in Dr. Seuss's If I Ran the Zoo: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Troo And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" (The nerd is a small humanoid creature looking comically angry, like a thin, cross Chester A. Arthur.) Nerd next appears, with a gloss, in the February 10, 1957, issue of the Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday Mail in a regular column entitled "ABC for SQUARES:" "Nerd—a square, any explanation needed?" Many of the terms defined in this "ABC" are unmistakable Americanisms, such as hep, ick, and jazzy, as is the gloss "square," the current meaning of nerd. The third appearance of nerd in print is back in the United States in 1970 in Current Slang: "Nurd [sic], someone with objectionable habits or traits... . An uninteresting person, a 'dud.'" Authorities disagree on whether the two nerds—Dr. Seuss's small creature and the teenage slang term in the Glasgow Sunday Mail—are the same word. Some experts claim there is no semantic connection and the identity of the words is fortuitous. Others maintain that Dr. Seuss is the true originator of nerd and that the word nerd ("comically unpleasant creature") was picked up by the five- and six-year-olds of 1950 and passed on to their older siblings, who by 1957, as teenagers, had restricted and specified the meaning to the most comically obnoxious creature of their own class, a "square."


  • What, if anything, does the term "nerd" mean to you? Does knowing it might have originally been one of Dr. Seuss's made-up words change your feelings about "nerd?"
  • Have you ever been labeled? What was that like? It is common among children today to label someone as "gay" and mean it as a derogatory term. Have you witnessed this? How did it make you feel? What other derogatory labels are being used today?
  • We make assumptions about people all the time, frequently even before we meet them. The book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, talks about how and why we make these snap judgments and label each other. Why do you think we do this?

Deeper Questions

  • Have you ever made a snap judgment that hurt you or the other person? Have you ever labeled someone with a label you thought was a compliment but they did not?
  • Sometimes people try to diffuse derogatory names by embracing them and using them in new ways. Some people would say they are proud to be a nerd! Have you ever tried this? Were you successful?

Optional Activity

  • Watch the Season 4 episode, "Witch Lady," of the TV show My Name Is Earl which uses comedy to explore how harmful labeling can be and the universal desire to not be pigeonholed.
  • Play a variation of King Frog. In this game, players gather in a circle and choose an animal to represent, each deciding on a simple movement or symbol to represent their animal. For example, if you are a cow, you might imitate milking. The challenge is that each player must remember all the actions. One player is picked to be King or Queen Frog. The King/Queen Frog position designates the beginning of the line. Play begins when King/Queen Frog does their action, followed by the action of another player. That player then repeats their own action and follows it with the action of another player. And so it goes. If a player hesitates or misses a cue, they must move to the left of the King/Queen Frog (the end of the line). The player to the right of the old King/Queen Frog is now the new King/Queen Frog. As an alternative, you can rotate the position of King/Queen Frog to the right every time someone misses, instead of having the player who missed move. In this variation, say that stereotypes are not allowed. How then will you represent your animal? Perhaps the cow has lovely, long eyelashes and your action is to flutter your eyes. Using actions that are non-stereotypical makes the game harder, but more fun.



Use your established closing ritual.