Activities and Exercises

Class Closing or Checkout (link to activity)

This is a closing procedure I use in many classes. 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. 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 direct question can be focused, like an exit ticket question. The closing is extremely useful for a number of reasons.

1. First, it gives 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 to ponder before saying something in class.

3. It also creates a sense of openness that promotes community and discussion. It helps students learn each others’ names and feelings about class.

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

5. One rule is no crosstalk, meaning no side conversations, but also no commenting on other students’ closings. This is essential to creating a non-judgmental, open community.

6. The first one or two closings require modeling, students to develop comfort with the activity, and time for students to process their thoughts. Afterward, closing takes about five to ten minutes in a class of twenty five students depending on how talkative students are.

Note: It is very important that students do not disrespect each other by packing up their books during closing, which interrupts the process and prevents 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 exercise is particularly helpful in WGS classes or any class that might be risky or uncertain for students such as public speaking. The activity allows students to discuss their concerns in small groups 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 activity is to encourage students to process the syllabus in groups. When students immerse themselves individually in the syllabus, they listen and process selfishly. They screen out other students’ questions and then repeat each others’ questions. By working in groups, peers usually answer questions about the syllabus for each other. By the time groups are done with discussion, most of the questions are answered, and the remaining questions are genuinely confusing.

The last part of the activity is to collect everyone’s answers and discuss select points with 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 cooperative learning 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)

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, benchmarks during the semester indicate 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. The example provided is for an Interpersonal Communication class at a community college and the assignment explanations are detailed. Obviously, assignments and their descriptions and weights are tailored to the course.