I could make each student role-play shouty/weird Steve Jobs anecdotes
September 11, 2012 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Anyone have good ideas for undergrad class discussion exercises?

I'm the teaching assistant for a class, and I'll be leading a reading review session (30 mins) for a class of 80 or so undergrads. I'll be covering a few chapters from a non-academic mass market biography of Steve Jobs (the Isaacson one - there is virtually no discussion of theory in the book, but there is some basic history. Mostly, it's Steve Jobs anecdotes and interview quotes though ). I don't intend to regurgitate or summarize information from the book in class presentation format. .And ideally there needs to be some element of evaluating the students on their level of participation in these weekly sessions (this is not meant to be strict).

Does anyone have some good, even fun, class discussion exercises they can suggest for these sessions? ( I can't break them out into groups)

posted by zresearch to Education (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Put an important quote on board/screen. Have them pair off to discuss it - with specific objectives (why does he think this) for 1.5 minute. Then come back to group to answer ?s. Rinse and repeat.
posted by k8t at 6:27 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I used to teach, and class participation was an important part of my class.

I kept a list of the students names with me on a clip board. I would ask direct questions about the reading or the lesson. I asked for examples a lot, and encourage students to speak up. I would employ leading questions when I needed. (eg. You want the class to connect the last point to Agatha Christie. Your question is: Did this make you think of Agatha Christie?)

I would rapidly, on-the-fly grade every response and every comment. I would make a snap judgement, and give a grade of 1,2,or3. 1 if you were wrong, lost, or clueless. 2 if you were close, on the right track, doing good, trying. 3 if you were on it, correct, substantially adding to the discusson.

Students would see that I was grading them if they were speaking. Sometimes, in hope of a grade, they would take over the conversation.

However, this required me to know my students. I did this with numbers in the mid-30s, but even that seemed like a lot. I don't know if you can do this with a class of 80 students. 80 students is a class size is set more for a lecture series than a classroom discussion.
posted by Flood at 6:30 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should note that I would take an average of my rapid grades - some volume is less important than quality.
posted by Flood at 6:31 PM on September 11, 2012

Yeah, like k8t says, think pair share is a great exercise. Give them a minute to think alone, two minutes to discuss with their seatmate, and then another 5-10 mins for the big group discussion.

If they really can't pair off (you say no breaking out into groups) do a freewriting exercise (I call these "minute papers"). Same thing, except no pairing off - they just write their thoughts for a minute about the quotes/concepts you've thrown on the board, and then some of them have to share.

You can also have them make up their own questions during the freewriting session if you want, and then they can pose these questions to the class for another freewrite.

I really recommend grabbing a copy of McKeachie's Teaching Tips; it's a great book for general teaching issues such as this. I got my copy for really cheap on Amazon (it's a slightly older edition but it's still great).
posted by k8lin at 6:52 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Eeek, 80 students for 30 minutes?! I would think really carefully about how you want to evaluate students, since it is clearly not reasonable to expect every student to speak every session (that's less than 30 seconds per student, even if you said nothing as the leader). I'm not sure why you think students can't break off in groups during the discussion sections, but can they do group work out of class? One option might be having groups of students give short 5 minute presentations that would end with 1-2 discussion questions that the class as a whole would then discuss. I honestly don't love student presentations in discussion sections, but if you're truly meant to be grading them, it seems like everyone at least needs a legitimate opportunity to contribute something over the course of the semester.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:14 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find yourself a copy of Classroom Assessment Techniques. In addition to the "think-pair-share" and "minute paper" exercises above, it is FULL of quick methods for getting your students to participate and to give you something that allows you to assess their understanding. It's got suggestions for quick written response techniques and discussion techniques. It's got suggestions on how to tailor each to particular disciplines. And 95% of what's in there is fabulous for rough assessments of students in big classes like this. None of the exercises take long to "grade."

I would expect that you can borrow a copy from any member of your department's faculty who has the slightest interest in pedagogy - I can't think of a faculty member under about 60 years old in my own department without a copy on their shelf.
posted by amelioration at 7:24 PM on September 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, and from the book I mentioned above, the Concept Map adapts brilliantly to discussions for review sections. Start with one main idea from the reading, and have the students call out connections to other ideas, building one giant concept map on the board/overhead projector. They have to explain the other ideas, and how those ideas are related to whichever idea they are connecting to, and decide whether the idea they propose is related to one or more of the ideas already on the map. Difficult to describe in brief; take a look at the link.
posted by amelioration at 7:29 PM on September 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

I had a professor in college who started every class period by calling on 2-3 people to ask questions or talk about something they thought was interesting from the text. He told us he would do this on the first day, and if you weren't ready with something to say, you lost your discussion points for that day. It was a good way to make sure people actually did the reading and formed some kind of opinion on something in it.
posted by nakedmolerats at 7:41 PM on September 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Thanks everyone, that's very helpful. I have 12 chapters (1/4+ of the book; the chapters are heavy on anecdote and light on academic details but still... ) to cover in 30 minutes, so I think I'll go with one of the quick general topic exercises.
posted by zresearch at 8:12 PM on September 11, 2012

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