Activities and Exercises

Class Closing or Checkout (link to activity)

This is a closing procedure I use in as many classes as I possibly can. I got the idea for this assignment from the check-in and check-out process of CR groups from the 60s and from something I read years ago. I find, as with most exercises, this exercise works best if you explain its value to the students. Sometimes for closing I ask a direct question (i.e., name one thing you learned today). The closing is extremely useful for a number of reasons.

1. First, it gives me immediate feedback about what the students are learning and how they are handling the class.

2. Second, it provides an opportunity for students who are reflective thinkers (students who need to ponder what they want to say before they say it) to say something in class.

3. It also creates a sense of openness in the class that promotes community and discussion. It helps students learn each others’ names and how they feel about class.

4. It gives a sense of closure especially for difficult class periods where there is conflict (friendly or unfriendly).

5. One of the rules is no crosstalk, meaning not only no side conversations, but also no commenting on other students’ closing comments. This is essential to creating a non-judgmental, open classroom community.

6. The first one or two closings will require some time for students to process and get comfortable with. Afterward, they take about five minutes in a class of twenty five students.

Note: It is very important that students do not disrespect each other by packing up their books during closing, which can interrupt the process and prevent others from hearing. For this reason, make sure that you leave enough time for closing so that students don’t feel the pressure of time constraints.

First Day of Class Activity (link to activity)

This is an exercise I use for the first day of class, particularly for women’s studies/WGS classes, but also for classes that might be risky or uncertain for students to take, such as public speaking classes. The assignment allows students to discuss in small groups their concerns about the class on the first day (do you have to be a feminist to pass this class, do you take off points if my voice shakes in my speeches).

The second purpose of this assignment is to encourage students to process the syllabus in groups. On the first day of class, students frequently immerse themselves in reading the syllabus individually and so they don’t hear when other students ask a question. Which means you get five different students asking the exact same question. By working in groups on this exercise, they usually answer the questions about the syllabus for each other. By the time the students are done with their group discussion, the questions they have are about genuinely confusing issues.

The last part of the activity is to collect everyone’s answers and read select responses to the class. Remind students that this part of the activity is anonymous so that no student feels singled out. This makes students more willing to share their concerns.

This activity is great because it gets students in groups on the first day of class, thereby setting a tone of cooperation and collaboration for the semester. I got the idea for this assignment from Jim Eison, who used to work at the Center for Teaching Enhancement at the University of South Florida.

Individualized Grade Contracts (link to activity)

I use grade contracts frequently in my classes. Grade contracts allow students to create their own individualized grading program by selecting from a predetermined set of options — like Chinese take-out. Two from column A and two from column B. The contract is complicated and sometimes overwhelms the students, so time is required to process it. Once they understand it, most students find it liberating and empowering.  In addition, I have benchmarks during the semester when percentages are due. So, for instance, by midterm, 30% of a student’s grade must be complete, and by 2/3 of the way through class, 60% must be complete. My example is for an Interpersonal Communication class at a community college so the assignment explanations are very detailed. Obviously, assignments and their descriptions and weights are tailored to the course.