5 Favorite Classroom Suggestions That Can Be Adapted Anywhere

  • What Did You Learn Activity: 

When we are at a good stopping place as far as the topic of discussion or what I am lecturing about but there are just three or four minutes left rather than dismissing early I use those extra minutes to go around the room once or twice and have everyone name something they learned that day without repeating something that has already been said. This has proved to be a great way of quickly and easily seeing what people learned or really focused on that day and of realizing how much they really are listening, how alert they are, and how quickly they are processing information. Additionally, having each student say what they learned out-loud to the class has a greater effect than the “one minute paper” because students benefit from what every person learned. This “scaffolding technique” allows each student to learn and actually “know more” from the collective knowledge by hearing all the different statements and voices. 

  • Weekly Responses:

Every semester I try new techniques. One of the most successful experiments in the Spring 2016 semester was requiring weekly reflections and replies. The prompt was the same every week and was as follows:

How are you doing? What was most interesting, least interesting, new, and/or confusing and why about the topics and readings this past week? What other questions, comments, or ideas do you have? How did you “fail” in some way as far as an idea, question, or thought related to course material? Do you have any interesting pictures, video or music clips, or something else to share that would help our collective understandings? How does this material relate to the emotional demands of college? How does this material inform hopes, fears, and personal and social responsibility, as well as civil engagement in the 2010s, and why?

All semester students continued to surprise me with their outstanding and detailed responses. They never simply “copied” another response. They also used the reflections to support and encourage each other! The question about “how did you ‘fail’ in some way” was inspired by this excellent article in Inside Higher Ed. Students regularly discussed what they wanted to do differently. These were mostly graded based on completion but students worked hard and earned high grades on these! 

  • World Map Activity:

Powerful discussions always result when I ask students to draw a quick world map. Students make the same mistakes that most maps make. They draw the continents of Africa and South American too small and draw the various continents in the wrong place. We use this to talk about bias, privilege, and perception. 

  • Draw a Typical [fill in the blank] Activity:

This activity started in my Texas History class. I adapted the activity after hearing about it from someone who heard about it from someone else! When drawing the “typical Texan,” my students–regardless of sex–draw a man with some combination of cowboy boots, a cowboy hat, a truck, a gun, etc. Everything that is stereotypically Texan. I then ask: women aren’t Texans? lawyers aren’t Texans? etc. This activity could be used in any class. Ask students to draw a typical United Statesian, a typical scientist, a typical mathematician, and so on.

Today I came across this awesome video that does the same thing with a group of children! Check out the results. 🙂 

  • Deconstructing Textbooks Activity:

For some of the classes I teach, especially Texas History and Mexican American History, I really like to use a textbook because there is so much students don’t already have some prior knowledge of. Because I want students to realize that textbooks are far from comprehensive and have agendas of their own, we take time during the first or second week to quickly skim through the entire book and make lists of topics the book does and does not cover. I also regularly remind students when we discuss events in class that there are hundreds of others we could discuss and that we could spend weeks on any given topic. 

Andrew Joseph Pegoda