Tag Archives: methods

Intro to Sociological Methods Using Reading Lists

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 10.40.36 AMFindings about lifetime earnings, fertility, graduation rates, and gentrification are interesting all on their own, but how do sociologists go about studying these topics? To address this question for my Intro to Sociology class, I began with a 10-min. mini-lecture on “Methods” based on the info in Ch. 2 of Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself textbook. (The students had SQ3Red this chapter for homework.) To kick it off, I reviewed how sociology was different from the other disciplines—our topic from the previous class, and then got into the new material about variables, samples, qualitative and quantitative, methods, etc.

So that the students could develop a fuller sense of the new concepts they learned, I created this methods sheet for the class to practice applying them. First, as an example, we answered the questions from the sheet about the first article in the Reading List Packet together as a class. Students were able to ask questions about the procedure and I could clarify the directions before they tried one on their own.

Then, students were instructed to get into small groups of 2 or 3. Each group was directed to work on answering the questions about a different Reading List article. When all groups had finished, each reported back to the class what the question, findings and methods were.

Why I like this activity:

  • it’s easy to differentiate if you have a heterogeneous class. The Reading List articles vary in difficulty, so you could assign easier articles to groups that struggle and more difficult ones to groups that need a challenge. Alternatively, you could differentiate by interest by letting each group claim which article to begin with.
  • if one group gets done way ahead of the others, they can move on to a different article, so nobody’s stuck waiting around for groups that need more time. If the whole class picks up the skills quickly, you could set a time limit and reward the group that finishes the most articles before time is up.
  • it’s social—at the beginning of the semester, students can get to know one another, and get comfortable working together and sharing answers with the class
  • having groups report back to the whole class provides a low-stakes way for the teacher to correct students’ misunderstandings in a way that benefits the whole class
  • students learn about the breadth of sociological inquiry while practicing their skills of identifying parts of a research article (and—perhaps more importantly—the parts of a research study)


First Day of Class Activities 2

In keeping with the theme Hollie started about what to do on the first day of class, I’ll share two activities that worked well in my first class of Intro to Sociology:

1) I have a small class this summer (23 students), so I had the time this semester to do student introductions. I wanted to use these introductions as a way to get students to start thinking about their social location. After a short lecture on the basics of sociological framework and the importance of examining context, I had students first go around the room and introduce themselves by name. Then, I asked them to add a little “context” to their introductions. Who are they? What experiences have shaped how they see the world? Instructions to the students:

  • ›Introduce yourself!
  • First, tell us your name (what you would like to be called).
  • ›For all subsequent rounds, introduce yourself further by adding context. Tell us something about your context (what has shaped your view of the world):
  • Who you are, your background, your family, your interests, what you like to do, who and what you identify with, your heroes, activities you do or used to do, why you are in college, your goals, places you have worked, etc.

Go as many rounds as you’d like (I did two). If students start to simply name their interests, start asking them how that interest may influence how they see the world to direct their thinking back to their own social location.


2) Next, I reviewed the basics what sociologists study. Then, to get students to start working out their own sociological imaginations, I had them spend five minutes jotting down their own sociological questions and then had everyone share at least one of their questions with the class.

Activity: ›Sociologists attempt to answer questions we have about the social world. What are some questions you have about the social world?

In a Word Doc (hooked up to a projector so they could see it), I wrote down all of their questions so  that we could come back to them throughout the semester to see if they had gained the tools to know how to answer them. If they asked questions that weren’t particularly sociological (for example: one student posed a question about renewable energy), I asked them to think about the social dimensions of this problem (e.g., business interests, capitalism, funding for scientific discovery, etc.)


Latino: Race or Ethnicity?

Is “Latino” a race or an ethnicity? As sociologists, we are quick to refer to “Latino” as an ethnicity, but will just as easily include “Latino” as a racial category next to “White,” “Black,” and “Asian.” So, which is it? And why does it matter?obligation

Wendy D. Roth tackles this question in her recent special feature on The Society Pages “Creating a ‘Latino’ Race.” This feature would be a great addition to any discussion of race and ethnicity in the United States and how those categories have evolved over time for White, Asian and Latino immigrants and citizens. This topic would be ideal for the first weeks of a course on Race and Ethnicity or to introduce the topic in an Intro to Sociology class. This would also be a good topic for a Research Methods class when discussing how we classify racial categories and why this practice can be controversial.

Use the following activity in class to get a conversation going about race, ethnicity and Latino identity:

First, hand out an example of the Census questions on race and ethnicity. Have students fill them out on their own. Then ask:

1. Did you feel that the available categories on this form lined up with your own racial and ethnic identity? Why or why not?

2. Do you think that having “Hispanic” as an ethnicity and not a race makes sense? Why or why not?

3. What benefits do you see to having “Hispanic” listed as an ethnicity? What drawbacks?

4. What might you change about this form if you could? Do you believe there are better ways to classify people racially?


Then, start a conversation about Roth’s finding using these questions:

1. According to Roth’s research, how is the way that Puerto Rican and Dominican migrants understand race and ethnicity quite different from how Americans traditionally think of race and distinguish it from ethnicity?

2. When Latino immigrants come to the United States, how do they fit into the racial classifications already in place (now and in the past)? How do these classifications not line up with how they identify themselves?

3. According to Roth’s finding, how does the experience of Latinos in the United States differ based on skin color? What does this say about race and racism in the United States?

4. Why have many Latino immigrants seen it as advantageous to remain “bicultural” instead of “passing” for (non-Hispanic) white?

5. Why is the Latino race/ethnicity question a controversial topic? Why does it matter if Latino people are understood as an “ethnicity” or as a “race” by the US government? What might this potential change mean for Latino Americans? How would such a change disrupt notions of strict racial categories held by many Americans?


Whiteness, Sport, and NASCAR Nation

As we all scramble to wrap up syllabus planning for the Spring semester, I wanted to share a great podcast I’m adding to mine!

Last week, Office Hours sat down with Joshua I. Newman and Michael Giardina to talk about their recent book Sport, Spectacle, and NASCAR Nation: Consumption and the Cultural Politics of Neoliberalism. Their conversation covered topics including the whiteness of stock car racing, religion and rebellion at the race track, and the production and consumption of Southern identity. 

I’m using this for an American Race Relations class, but it would also work great in a Methods course, as the authors talk about the ethics of conducting ethnographic research with groups of people who are very different from themselves.

The following are some questions to have them answer at home or to get the discussion started in class:

1. Which political party has incorporated NASCAR and NASCAR fans into their campaign strategy? How do the author explain this tactical choice? What do you think about this campaign strategy?

2. The authors point out that NASCAR has attempted to increase the diversity of its fan base. According to the authors’ research, how have some fans responded to this move?

3. What does it mean to “perform whiteness” and what are a few examples given by the authors? Why, according to the authors was this type of performance perhaps more prevalent at racetracks not located in the South?

4. Describe the methods used in this research. Why do the authors stress that this method was essential to address their research questions? Why was this method also challenging for the authors? Explain.

5. What applications might this research have for today’s political climate? How might NASCAR nation have changed under an Obama presidency versus a Bush presidency?



It's survey season

The roundtable “Polling, Politics, and the Populace” is a great overview of the insights sociologists can provide to polling.  While there are several aspects you could discuss the classroom, one of the key points highlights the difficulty of asking questions.  To illustrate this, students could create a few survey questions in class after reading the roundtable.

Have the entire class brainstorm a topic and audience for a fictitious survey.  Then, have students break into groups.  Each group should develop three questions about the topic.  After 10 minutes, ask each group to write their questions on the board.  Then, discuss the questions as a class.  Are they closed or open-ended (you could also specify this in the directions so all are closed-ended), and why might this matter?  What do they measure?  How are they different?  Are there ambiguous words, jargon, or other confusing aspects?  Would there be difficulties with in-person polling?  Etc.

Teaching Statistics

MuseScore passes 40.000 downloads in June 2010

If undergrads were asked to create a list of the most terrifying things at college, statistics would surely be near the top.  Many students, even in sociology, dread taking any class that mentions the word “statistics” in the title.

But, statistical methodology is an invaluable tool that can be used to explore the social world, and finding ways to illuminate complex concepts and connect the math to students’ daily lives is key.

Sue Hodge recently shared some great resources with us that might make this task a little easier:

ICPSR and SSDAN are partners on two projects to improve the quantitative literacy of students. One of the projects is TeachingWithData.org, a website of resources for faculty and instructors to teach social science concepts through the use of data. It is not exclusive to sociology, but there are many resources for sociologists.  In addition to classroom resources, the site has current news articles that use data to explain a happening or some other news, such as the recent growth enjoyed by Netflix. Very often these articles are accompanied by a chart or table which can be helpful for faculty looking for easy ways to have students practice these skills, and sometimes, they illustrate the incorrect use of data.

Survey Methods

Please welcome Guest Blogger, Nathan Palmer. Nathan is faculty in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Georgia Southern University, where he teaches Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems, and Environmental Sociology. Nathan’s research interests are focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, inequality, education, and environmental sociology.

Nathan is also the editor of the teaching sociology focused blog SociologySource.com.  The post below is the first in a series of 3 posts by Nathan.

2010 Census

Teaching students how to design a survey can be tricky because the process is deceptively easy. Students think, “Hey, I have taken tons of surveys before. How hard can it be?” They then proceed to break every rule of good design that you discussed in class.

A simple, quick, yet effective activity to teach good survey design is to have your students take a survey that is horribly designed. I tell my students that I want no talking and then pass out a survey about internet usage (download it here). Every question on the survey is either double barreled, leading, biased, or has response options that make no sense or overlap. After a few minutes I tell them to stop and ask what they think of the survey. They uniformly say it’s awful.

Students really like this activity. Typically they laugh out loud when reading the questions. I have them pair up and identify everything that is wrong with the questions. As a class we go through each question picking it apart. We then formulate new questions that don’t violate any of the basic survey design rules.

The activity is also beneficial because students get to take home an example of what not to do that they can compare their work against when creating their own survey. Pedagogically I really like this activity because it has the students playing an active role in their education. Also, the “bad survey” is formatted well so you can tell your students that their survey should look like the example you gave them, but with much better questions.

Download the Survey (pdf Version)