Question of the day: How do you engage your class?

To kick off the coming week, here’s another question (or set of questions) from Michael Laser:

“What activities have you done with your students that yielded the most interest, the most engagement? How do you get them talking, and even enjoying the class? Are there activities that you can share that have accomplished all this? If so, please reply with a description!”

Please weigh in below…


5 thoughts on “Question of the day: How do you engage your class?

  1. Student choice, student choice, student choice.

    That, and personal connection. If we’re doing poetry, I have the write their own poems. For our proposal argument, I scale the problem down to a small community (50 people or fewer) and then they usually wind up choosing groups they belong to and feel more invested/connected in the research/work.

  2. I’m in total favor on interrupting students during their proofreading/editing process. this let’s them know I’m monitoring them, and at the same time, they can ask me questions. I usually ask each one to show me an “area” of their writing, usually a paragraph, that needs my attention. This way I can give “real time” feedback and coaching.

    In addition, students need an instruction sheet with a check list of all the areas they need to check.
    Topic and transitional sentences, paragraph development, sequence, quotes, etc. If we only ask them to “proofread” they only check mechanics–rarely do they check content, or even know how to check content. Therefore, perhaps one full class session needs to dedicated to training the students with a writing sample.

    John Soriano

  3. I sort of read two questions here: 1) The eternal question of getting students to TALK! Always a good one to kick around. And 2) a question of best practices – activities that encourage active student engagement, “even enjoy[ment]” of class/learning.

    My answer to question one: I shut up. Yes, those who know me might be shocked, but this is one thing I strive to do in my classrooms (sure, with varying degrees of success). When I open the floor for “open” conversation on a topic, say about what we’re reading, then I have to do just that – open it. Get out of the way. Avoid the very strong temptation to ‘fill the silence’ with my voice. It’s what they’re waiting for. What they expect. And usually is what they get for most of their education K – college. The teacher’s voice.

    When possible, I have my students move desks into a semi-circle. Facing each other facilitates conversation. I TELL them what I’m going to do. That I expect them to talk – to each other. To look AT – each other, not me. I tell them that I will remain quiet and just take notes on the board. And then that’s what I do. I turn my back on them. I let the silence fill the room if necessary. If no one speaks or if just one or two students speak and then the air goes dead, I will actually leave the room. Does this always work? No. Do I think it works much more often than not. Definitely.

    There’s more to this methodology, but this is a significant part of it.

    My answer to the second question is a wide expansion of John’s note about using students samples. I constantly use student samples – small and large, whole drafts, paragraphs, sentences – for whole class work shopping. Such work shopping is a central part of sound composition pedagogy. I cannot “tell” anyone how to write. Writing is an action. Not a piece of information. It’s a practice. So, we practice – together.

    For example, one revision strategy I use a good deal is reverse outlining (what I also call glossing). At the beginning of the term, I explain to students that their work will be used for whole class work shopping. I pull a draft from online, reverse outline it myself beforehand, and then train them into doing this in class. I have them read the draft, either bringing copies for them or having them print a copy for class. I gloss the first paragraph or two on the board as a model. Then I ask them to gloss the next paragraph or two. After giving them 5 or so minutes (depending) to do this quietly (individually or in partnerships), I bring us back to the board and have them tell me their ‘glosses.’ I help them tweak their sense of what a gloss (a reverse outline) looks like and how to do them most effectively, like keeping the notes brief, using abbreviations, etc.

    I then have them gloss the remainder of the draft. Depending on time, I may finish up what is on the board with my pre-done one, telling them NOT to look. Then we review that together – looking for patterns, central claim, supporting ideas. This usually generates good conversation about organization, structure, development, cutting, etc. It helps them see that writing is about choices. We talk about those choices. It helps them see that writing is collaborative – a process that takes place between readers and writers.

    I have them practice glossing their own drafts or a peers – in class and for homework. I try to model it more than once during the semester.

  4. One of the conversation techniques I use is to say what I believe my students are thinking about a text we’ve read that I believe they are afraid to say. This breaks any tension, addresses the elephant in the room and places the focus on the goal of the course (argument/analysis over agenda). Students often think that our text selections convey our actual beliefs and preferences and giving voice to some thoughts they may have (eg. “Where does Steiner come off calling me, a meat-eater, self-righteous?!”) opens the door for conversation. Even giving voice to the thought that a text is boring can open up the dialogue about the text. From there, I proceed to play devil’s advocate with the claims that they produce so that they begin to actively practice their argumentation skills and expand their thinking on the issue at hand. Students often ask me at the end of these class periods what I really and truly think/ believe which makes me feel pretty accomplished. To me, it’s a sign that I’ve created a space for them that is safe to think and voice.

    As for an example of an activity that engages students, one that we recently did which they enjoy and learn from is based on logical fallacies. We define logical fallacies and then I play them this clip from The Today Show (Tom Cruise & Matt Lauer’s infamous argument on anti-depressants)– Students get a kick out of locating the logical fallacies (of which there are many) and then addressing how the sheer number of fallacies affect the ethos, pathos, logos of Cruise’s overall argument. If time allows, I assign portions of Cruise’s argument for them to revise (mend the fallacy). At a later date we address the fallacies in their own drafts.

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