Four young adults stand in a circle facing each other. They are all smiling. One is holding a piece of paper.
Photo by US Coast Guard Academy, Flickr CC

As a sociology instructor, I have
been thinking about how ice breakers can be used for students to get to know
each other and to seamlessly move
into course content. There are a lot of good ideas for ice breakers online,
including some that do a great job of building community in the classroom. However,
I find myself moving away from them because they seem to be a one-trick pony.

Here are three examples of ice breakers that could be used to
connect students with each other, as well as slide right into sociological content.

The Machine by Viola Spolin of Hull-House

Hull-House educators, Viola Spolin and Neva Boyd, used improvisation and theater games to help their students, who were often immigrants, become “fuller participants in democratic society.” The games created new ways to for immigrants to connect with each other, even if they had different cultures and backgrounds.

One of Viola Spolin’s activities was to have a team of people create a “machine.” Each person in the activity is a single “part” of the machine. It starts with one person making any motion and accompanying sound. It must be something that they can repeat over a few minutes. Then someone else adds another part to the machine, specifically, a motion and sound that works in reaction to the first motion and sound. Then someone else adds in another part and then another. The machine can speed up or slow down, adding a level of silliness.

Postcard image shows a large brick building with many windows on a street corner. The top corner of the postcard reads, The Hull House, Chicago.
Postcard of Hull House in the early 20th century. Wikipedia, public domain

With the right class, this would be a great way to break the ice during the beginning of class. In addition to being fun, this activity can be used to introduce a variety of topics. For instance, I might use this at the start of a Juvenile Delinquency class as a way to introduce the history of the juvenile justice system. Jane Addams and the entire Progressive Era are important because they reacted to the brutality found in the Houses of Refuge — all covered in my Juvenile Delinquency course. This activity could also be used in social work classes to introduce Jane Addams and various perspectives on helping people, or in a Methods class that uses the “Maps and Papers Nationality Map” to talk about early scholarly studies. Lastly, you could use this activity in an Introduction to Sociology course to illustrate the interconnectedness of society and its institutions.

Deviant Behavior Notecards

In this activity, I write down ten
different deviant and criminal behaviors that range in seriousness from leaving
a dog in a closed car to physical assault to using someone else’s Netflix
account when you aren’t paying for it. Depending on the size of the class, I divide
the students into small groups of three to six and give each group the same set
of ten cards and ask them to place them in order from most to least serious. All
group members must agree on the order. It gets the groups talking, and they
always laugh about certain behaviors and how they think that they aren’t
serious even though they know that they are.

After they have organized their list, I ask the students to identify three themes that they used to organize the list. Usually, they include things like the punishment that would come with the behavior, the harm done to the possible victim, and the moral consequences of the behavior. This leads me into a discussion about the social construction of deviance and how we determine what is deviant and what is criminal. I also use this as a way to teach students about the difference between deviance and criminality. You could use this second activity after the first, or on its own. In small groups, students separate the behaviors into a Venn diagram with sections for criminal behaviors, deviant behaviors, and then behaviors that are both. This activity could also be used in a Juvenile Delinquency, Criminology, or Deviance course.

Zoom Puzzles

This activity draws on children’s books called Zoom and Re-Zoom. These books have also been used as a form of team building by Launch Leadership and Andrea Johnson. In order to prepare for this ice breaker, you need to create the sequential pieces based off of the children’s books. Each piece should include one image. The next piece then consists of the previous image within another image. You can see an example with the roosters from the book below. You could also create your own Zoom puzzle. Once your puzzle is created, depending on your class size, you could split the class into small groups of four to six people. Give each group the same puzzle and simply ask them to solve the puzzle. They will need to piece together the story from the puzzle pieces.

At first, students look at the pieces and think that it’s a jigsaw puzzle so they start to move the pieces around. Eventually, someone notices that there is a similar image in multiple puzzle pieces. For example, as seen above, in Zoom, there is a rooster that shows up on numerous puzzle pieces from different vantage points. At that point, they start to realize that it is the same scene across all of the pieces; it is just further and further zoomed in. In order to complete the activity, students have to arrange the images from the farthest out to the closest in.

This is a fun activity for students because it gets them out of their seats and because there is something tangible for them to move around on their desks. They talk with each other and laugh once they realize how to solve the puzzle. This activity could be used in an Introduction to Sociology course to introduce the Sociological Imagination and the idea that students need to “zoom out” and look at the structural influences on their lives and behaviors. Personally, I would use this in a Juvenile Delinquency class to talk about the differences between macro- and micro-level theories. This would help students understand the differences in theories of crime and what these theories focus on as reasons for criminal behavior. I think it would work in a similar way in a sociological theory course.

We, as sociology instructors, often rely on ice breakers as a way to lay the foundation for active learning or future discussions, and I think that we could make them even more useful. I hope that one of these ideas may be helpful for you, not only to help students connect, but to help you to move directly into course content too.


Dr. Andrea Krieg is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Elmhurst College. She earned her PhD from Bowling Green State University in Sociology. She teaches a variety of courses and loves her time in the classroom.

Photo looking down on a person climbing up the side of a rock face. The person is wearing a blue helmet and a long sleeve shirt and is holding onto the rock with two hands.
Photo by Laurel F, Flickr CC

With the recent Oscar
win for Free Solo
, many students
are likely to be interested in rock climbing. Jennifer
Wigglesworth’s research and recent post on Engaging Sports
about the sexism in rock climbing route names
provides a perfect way to think about established concepts using popular
culture phenomenon.

This is an interactive activity designed to get students out into their own communities and seeing them with new eyes. During this three-part activity, students will think about history and specifically how naming practices privilege or marginalize certain groups and histories. The activity begins with a critical examination of a pop culture concept — rock climbing — and then asks students to broaden that idea by examining the geography they circulate every day. The lesson concludes with an academic reading on the broader history of imperial naming practices in the United States. This activity would be good for Introduction to Sociology, Sociology of Gender, Race and Ethnicity, Sociology of Sport, Sociology of Culture, Theory, and Urban Sociology.

Materials:

You bring:

  • copies of the two suggested readings
  • white board and markers for report back and
    discussion
  • physical or virtual map

Students bring:

  • copies of the two suggested readings
  • notes on what sources they consulted and what they found

The Activity

  1. Assign Jennifer Wigglesworth’s “What’s in a
    name? Sexism in rock climbing route names” to be read by students in advance.  
  2. Discuss the reading in class. Focus on students’
    reactions. Were they surprised? Upset? Do they feel like there is something
    about the rock climbing environment that lends itself to these sexist naming
    practices or have they had similar experiences elsewhere? The discussion does
    not need to be long but should give students a chance to talk through their
    feelings about the piece.
  3. Place students into groups of 4 and assign each
    group to find 3 local place/site names to research: at least one should be on
    campus, and at least one should be off campus. You may want to divide up a map.
    This activity could be done either between class periods, students could leave
    class during a long class period, or they could do it virtually over the
    internet. It is ideal if students physically walk or drive around and find the
    place names to research however so that they are seeing their environment with
    new eyes.

For each place/site name, each group should answer the following:

  • What is the name?
    • Who named it? When? What is the history of the name?
    • What does the name mean?
    • Note: you may want to discuss in advance what
      sources of information are appropriate for this activity in advance. Because of
      the local nature of this activity, I would suggest that any source that
      students can find would be OK (for example, Wikipedia will probably be very
      helpful) but they should be encouraged to keep track of what sources they
      consult.
  • In class, have each group report back their
    findings. Probe the groups for any thoughts or reactions. What surprised them? Do
    not be disappointed at this point if most groups did not notice anything
    surprising or problematic. Part of the exercise is to discuss why we might not
    initially find a place name problematic, but as we dig deeper we may find
    troubling roots.
  • Assign students to read C. Richard King’s
    chapter “De/Scribing Sq*aw: Indigenous Women and Imperial Idioms in the United
    States,” from Unsettling America,
    2013, Rowman and Littlefield, pp 93-106. 
  • After students have read King’s chapter, use it
    to revisit the previous two discussions with them. What might the group have
    missed, and why? Looking at King’s examples, are there local examples that seem
    less innocuous now? Is there anything in Wigglesworth’s research that parallels
    the history that King describes? In this discussion, using King’s helpful
    example of people’s differing awareness and reaction to sq*aw, focus on
    exploring with students how racism and sexism become embedded in place.

Possible modifications

For methods or other upper level
courses, students could be assigned to mimic Wigglesworth’s research and
conduct interviews or surveys to understand how people negotiate the meaning of
problematic place names in their community.

Additional resources

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Lit-up sign by the road that reads, US Border Patrol.
Photo by Jonathan McIntosh, Flickr CC

Teaching about immigration can be tough because students come to our classrooms with the battle lines already drawn and believing their minds are already made up. We know, for example, that “the border” occupies a large conceptual space in our collective minds and that certain racialized populations suffer from perceptions of illegality. I have successfully re-centered my classroom conversation in a more constructive direction by starting with something most students seem to have a complete lack of information about: how the U.S. immigration system actually works.

Below I share some resources and
ideas for leading an hour long discussion on “everything you wanted to know
about the immigration system but were afraid to ask.” The activity below would
be a great fit for any course where you are going to spend several class days
on migration in the United States: Global Sociology, Social Problems, Migration,
Race & Ethnicity, or Crime & Deviance. This activity is intended to take
advantage of the fact that a classroom is a special place designated for
learning, where everyone (including the instructor) can always learn something
new without feeling embarrassed of our ignorance.

Materials:

You bring:

  • White board and marker
  • Projector/internet/resources to look at a
    website in class
  • Links to resources on immigration you want to
    show (suggested below)
  • You’ll probably want a printed copy of the
    immigration preferences and especially yearly numerical limits
    handy for
    your own reference (you may also want a few extra copies to pass around)

Students bring:

In-Class Activity

  1. Ask students what questions they have about the immigration system. Write the questions on the white board as students say them out loud.
  2. When you have a good number of questions on the board, including some basic ones, start with the most basic questions and begin answering them. Do this based on your own knowledge and, when helpful or necessary, show the students the immigration preference system and yearly numerical limits. Other resources for answering the questions can be found at the American Immigration Council Immigration 101 and, of course, the Department of Homeland Security. The fact that the DHS website is a bit complex and it may be hard to find the answer to many of the students’ questions is OK; that will be educational and make the larger point about the immigration system.
  3. Ask if anyone has ever traveled to another country. Ask the student(s) who answers where it was, what happened when they entered that country, whether they needed a passport, etc. Prompt the group to think about what would happen in the converse situation if a person from that country came into the United States. Would the same kind of situation occur? (It is important at some point in this conversation to encourage students to get at the fact that the U.S. has more power internationally than anyone else; we can go almost anywhere without applying for a visa in advance but the opposite is not true. This fact is invisible to most of us.)
  4. If there are other questions that seem essential to you, prompt the students to ask them or ask the students yourself to see if anyone knows the answer. It is essential to this exercise that your class understands that for the vast majority of migrants to the United States, there is not only no “legal path to citizenship,” there is no legal path to entry. I have found by having these discussions that most of my students did not understand the difference between citizenship and visas.

Discussion Tip

As you are standing in front of the room fielding questions, be sure to remember to acknowledge that some folks in the room may have more knowledge of the system (e.g., international or immigrant students), but do not make anyone feel as if they need to speak about their experiences or act as though they are experts. I think it is enough to say that of course some of us may have experienced this first hand. Some migrant or international faculty may talk about their own experiences while others may want to avoid that. It is my own belief that those of us who are white and U.S. born should take on the task of teaching these lessons so that others are not put in the awkward position of fielding these potentially hostile or awkward questions on their own.

Possible Variations

One way to vary this activity
would be to assign the questions to different groups in the class and have each
group research the answers on the Department of Homeland Security website. A
possible pitfall of this is that many of the answers can be a little detailed,
confusing, and interrelated, so the instructor would need to keep an eye on
making sure there is plenty of time for debriefing and not too much time spent
in the groups.

It is also a great idea to spend a little time either at the beginning or end of this class period simply learning about the experiences of undocumented migrants in the United States. This can be done through a video like this one or assigning a reading; if done in advance, a video or reading could be a great way to get the questions for this activity started with some curiosity toward learning more about what we don’t understand about immigration status.

Additional Resources

“Drop the I Word”
resources for help discussing why “illegal” is not an appropriate term in a
sociology classroom (or journalism)

Visual
example of the Latinx experience
from SocImages

Contexts “in brief” on the additional stresses experienced by undocumented parents

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of
marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots
communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more
of Meg’s writing at
The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Photo by Heather, Flickr CC

If you’re anything like me, when you need a break from your work, you spend some time binge watching TV. Of course, I only watch the most intellectually stimulating shows — which brings me to The Great British Baking Show. Over my holiday break, I watched all six seasons and the holiday special. While this isn’t my proudest accomplishment, it did get me thinking about student feedback and The Great British Baking Show as a pedagogical model.

Photo of Paul Hollywood by helen, Flickr CC

If you haven’t seen the show, the set-up is that in each episode, the bakers have three baked goods that are judged before one of the contestants is eliminated. The bakers know about and plan for two of the challenges, but the third is a surprise. As you can imagine, each week there is a range of success, and therefore a range of feedback given.

Over the course of the episodes, I began to notice that judge Paul Hollywood stood out — not just for his icy, blue eyes but also for the comments he made and the advice he gave the contestants each week. Paul is especially efficient and concrete in his feedback to contestants. Paul and Mary Berry, the other judge, follow many of the tactics that research shows to be best practices in providing effective feedback. I want to highlight a few of them.

  • Be specific. Research shows that specific feedback is more effective than general feedback in helping students reach certain goals (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Locke & Latham, 1984). Specific feedback encourages the student to really focus on that specific task for future assignments. This is something that I noticed immediately on the Great British Baking Show. For example, if a baker presents a four-tiered cake with three different cake batters, two types of icing, and various other flavored decorations, the judges don’t just say “good job.” Instead, they comment on each individual flavor, texture, and aspect of the visual presentation, letting the baker know that his or her cake was moist but the flavor left something to be desired or that the decorations were pretty but had an off-putting texture.
  • Give weight to what is most important. As faculty, we try to do this with our rubrics. We need to make sure that we allocate more points to the aspects that we think are most important. This gives our students information about what they should focus on when completing their assignments. The judges in the show also do this. Throughout all of the seasons, they focus on flavor. While the appearance of each baked good matters, they are more concerned with what it tastes like. On numerous occasions, Paul mentions that some bakers are concerned more with “style over substance.” This shows that the judges prioritize the taste and flavor of the food. As faculty, we need to do decide what the most important learning outcome is and focus on it within our rubrics and grading.
  • Help students advance. Hattie and Timperley (2007) also encourage faculty to provide specific feedback that helps students work toward their ultimate goal. We need to use proactive language to help students further their work. Paul and Mary do this with each of the contestants. After tasting their food and giving specific feedback on each aspect, they provide information about how to improve. For example, if Paul notices that a cake is “too close-textured” or has cracked, he may advise the baker to knead the dough less or prove the dough more. (I say this like I have any idea what that means)
  • Ask pointed questions. Throughout the seasons, the judges ask specific questions of the contestants. For example, Paul may notice the bakers rolling the dough or braiding their plaited bread in a non-traditional way. He is known to stop and ask the contestants about the benefits of their method. In order to answer the questions, the baker is forced to think through their knowledge of baking basics. The same goes for our students. By including specific questions in our feedback, we encourage students to think and formulate ideas for themselves.

I know we all get crunched for time and fall back on our go-to grading phrases. But as our semester progresses and the papers start rolling in, I plan to think about The Great British Baking Show. Paul and Mary really do offer great examples of specific, proactive feedback — much better than a simple “good job.”

 

Dr. Andrea Krieg is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Elmhurst College. She earned her PhD from Bowling Green State University in Sociology. She teaches a variety of courses and loves her time in the classroom.

Photo of a sign depicting a stick figure in a dress outside of a women’s restroom. Photo by Brendan Riley, Flickr CC

Like many instructors of the sociology of gender and feminist theory, I teach Simone de Beauvoir’s foundational text, “Introduction to the Second Sex.” Not only is Beauvoir part of the feminist cannon, but in some ways it seems even more relevant in today’s sociology classroom as Beauvoir deconstructs the very category of “woman.” She provides fertile groundwork for anyone looking to teach about sex and gender beyond the constructed gender binary. Unfortunately the reading can be a little difficult for undergraduate students to digest; this is where Sociological Images comes to the rescue! In this activity the instructor will show students contemporary, everyday examples of Beauvoir’s concept of women as “other” and engage them in a discussion about its continued relevance. This active and visual engagement is designed to incorporate Beauvoir into students’ working vocabulary.

This activity is ideal for Sociology of Gender and classes that teach feminist theory, but it could be modified for use in classes that explore gender in smaller doses like Family or Introduction to Sociology.

Materials:

You bring:

  • Projector/internet/resources to look at a website in class
  • Links to the Sociological Images posts you want to show

Students bring:

  • Copy of Beauvoir’s “Introduction to the Second Sex,” assigned in advance

Instructions

  1. Assign Simone de Beauvoir’s “Introduction to the Second Sex” to be read by students in advance.
  2. Open the class by discussing the reading a little bit so that the main questions and topics are in the foreground of students’ minds. This could also be done by lecturing for the first section of class if that better suits your teaching style. For example, I ask the students to identify some of the key sentences of the reading, and what they think Beauvoir’s key question is. There are of course many important concepts in this reading, and in order to stimulate a comfortable discussion, it’s important to just let students nominate any and all sentences and ideas.
    The ideas that I’ll focus on in the next steps are Beauvoir’s concept of woman as “other,” or, as she says, “A man is in the right in being a man; it is the woman who is in the wrong” (xxi); and “thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him” (xxii). Keep going until someone comes up with this; you can leave other questions and concepts that come up here on the backburner to come back to later in this class to see how the reading fits together as a whole.
  3. Once you have students puzzling over this idea of women as other, pull up this post from Sociological Images for your class. The SocImages team refers to this same concept as “women versus people.”
  4. Expand each image in the post one at a time by clicking on it and ask the students “what do you see?” I do not show my students the pre-written analysis on the post but ask them to do the analytic work together in our discussion. Allow the students to start to discussing and problematizing each image out loud as a group as you go through each one by one.
  5. At the bottom of the post there are links to more; two of my favorites are scientists and females scientists and Body Worlds, although that example is not visual and will have to be read in advance and explained.
  6. Throughout this discussion it is important to clarify that the problem is not necessarily the segregation of the items or that there are separate women’s items (t-shirts are a great example here); it’s that, just as Beauvoir describes, one item is for “everybody,” while another item is specifically for women. Are women not part of everybody? You can draw the students back into a discussion of Beauvoir and her continued relevance today by engaging the question of what is hidden under these universal categories. How does one dominant group remain unmarked while others end up marked?

Possible modifications

  • You could also give an assignment to students after this exercise to find their own local examples. (I have often had students come back and tell me in later class periods that they couldn’t stop seeing this concept at work in the world.) This could work well for discussion board posts, or an extra credit assignment, especially if coupled with a short paragraph explaining how the visual/example they found illustrates the concept with citations from the reading.

Additional resources

TROT on the Social Construction of Gender and Sex

A list of 5 reasons why pointlessly gendered products are a problem (even if they aren’t “women vs people”) from Sociological Images

A different example to illustrate the broader concept of how privilege operates for those in the “unmarked” group from Sociological Images

 

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Photo of a sign marking the historical site of the Stewart Indian School (1890-1980). Photo by Ken Lund, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Winner, 2018 *~*

One of the ways that The Society Pages can be really useful for teaching is for finding ways to connect recent events in the news to larger sociological conversations in the classroom. Today’s suggestion shows one way to use “There’s Research on That!” to do just that: without necessarily assigning any of the readings to the students, the instructor can find a topic of relevance and use the academic resources included in the TROTs post to quickly catch themselves up to speed on the recent sociological literature in order to facilitate a stronger class discussion. This is a great way to keep classes relevant and to keep ourselves current in the field.

Recently a Texas court ruled the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) unconstitutional. This topic would be of interest in a variety of sociology courses: Family, Law and Society, Race and Ethnicity, Social Problems, and Intro to Sociology units on institutions.

Materials:

You bring:

  • Projector/internet/resources to show a streaming film in class
  • Link to the documentary
  • Read the TROTs resources ahead of time
  • Prepare and print copies of a worksheet with some questions (suggestions below) connecting the ICWA with contemporary and historical experiences on Native people in the United States
  • Paper copies of a news article about the Texas court decision striking down the ICWA (unless you want to assign it in advance or have students read together in class)

Students bring:

  • Any reading you want to assign in advance

Instructions:

  1. Ask students to read a news article about the Texas court ruling that the ICWA is unconstitutional. You can either have everyone do this together at the start of class or assign this to be read in advance, but in all cases ask students to take written notes on anything they don’t understand or have further questions about.
  2. Ask students if they have any immediate comprehension questions about the news article. For example: if they didn’t understand a word or basic concept, then those questions should be answered. Otherwise, tell students to keep their questions in mind during the documentary. The questions should help the students connect the contemporary to the historical.
  3. Show the first 40 minutes of the PBS Documentary “Unspoken: America’s Native American Boarding Schools.” The documentary streams for free online. Its full length is 56 minutes but I don’t recommend the last 16 minutes for this activity as it is not focused on boarding schools and will probably distract class discussion. Ask the students to complete the worksheet while they watch the documentary, which will again help make broader sociological connections between the historical experience of boarding schools and contemporary foster care systems and schooling. Actively using the worksheet also teaches students to be more active watchers of content.
  4. Use the answers on the worksheet AND the questions students wrote on the news article to launch a discussion. A good prompt for starting a discussion after an emotional video like this one can sometimes be to first let students just react to the content (ex: “how did it make you feel?” or “what did you think?”) before trying to get them to think too analytically.

Worksheet Question Suggestions

  • Did the documentary answer any of the questions you wrote beforehand?
  • What is the Dawes Act?
  • List 3 dates you heard and what happened on those dates. (You as the instructor can use these to have students construct a timeline later for a more extensive activity if you want. These can be a really useful for active learning and to really have students visualize how long certain periods lasted in relation to how little time has passed since then.)
  • How long did American Indian boarding schools run? When were they closed?
  • Give one example of resilience from the documentary.
  • What surprised you?
  • What does assimilation mean? How does it relate to American Indian boarding schools? To the Indian Child Welfare Act?
  • There are more ideas for discussion on the PBS website of the documentary.

Additional Resources

 

 A special thank you to Bret Evered for her invaluable pedagogical knowledge and assistance with this activity.

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.

Photo of laptop and papers on a bed. Photo by allnightavenue, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Honorable Mention, 2018 *~*

I am committed to teaching students how to translate and disseminate sociological knowledge beyond the classroom. This semester, I taught a new course titled “Femininities and Masculinities.” At Skidmore College, this is a gateway course to the major. One of the challenges of teaching this course is getting students to understand complex theories about gender and sex at an introductory level. Most of my students have not taken a sociology course, or are concurrently taking Introduction to Sociology. On top of that, the course is designated writing intensive, so I face the daunting task of teaching students how to become better writers.

To tackle these intersecting issues, I assign The Society Pages’ book, Assigned: Life With Gender, and require students to write a blog post about a topic of their choice. The text serves as a benchmark for sociological blogging and helps students digest complex sociological theories about gender and sex through accessible prose. The three objectives of this assignment are to illustrate comprehension of theories and concepts through application, advance analytical writing using sociological prose, and to use an accessible platform (blogging) to enrich their college writing experience.

In this class, we read classic texts such as West and Zimmerman’s “Doing Gender,” and Judith Lorber’s “Seeing is Believing.” To unpack these works, I concurrently assign articles from Assigned: Life with Gender. For example, Tristen Bridges’, “Doing Gender with Wallets and Purses,” complemented West and Zimmerman’s classic text, while Markus Gerke’s piece on gay male athletes helped students grasp Connell’s complex typology of masculinities.

Teaching students how to write well is challenging, and many obstacles stand in the way. Procrastination, confusion or partial understanding of fundamental theories and concepts, and lack of practice writing sociologically are a few among many. Over the years, I have noted that one of the biggest challenges students face in sociology writing courses is interpreting and analyzing theories and translating this knowledge into accessible prose. A short blog post allows students to focus on understanding a concept or theory well while improving their writing.

Over the years I have learned to incorporate a scaffolding approach in assignments. Students focus on one assignment — in this case, the blog post — and submit tasks throughout the semester (see assignment guide below). The benefits of this are numerous, and teach students essential skills such as time management. For writing assignments, a scaffolding approach teaches students that starting early and re-writing are essential skills for solid academic writing.

Student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. During a recent meeting with a student who is writing a blog post on transgender men’s experiences of ballet dancing he told me, “I appreciate this assignment because we can work on something that we are passionate about.” His blog post, which is inspired by his observations (he is a ballet dancer), reveals how transgender men are ostracized when they challenge classical ballet dress code. Other topics include; the gendering of beer pong, sexual racism perpetuated in gay dating apps such as Grindr, expressions of masculinity and femininity among female aircraft pilots, how haircare regiments among African American women reinforce emphasized femininity, and how the DSM-5’s lack of criteria for diagnosing EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) reinforces dangerous body image ideals.

Blog Post Assignment (pdf)

Ruth M. Hernández is a sociologist whose research and teaching interests lie in the intersection of gender, international migration, and Latinx communities. Currently, she is a Lecturer in the Sociology Department at Skidmore College where she teaches courses on gender and Latinx communities. In addition to her scholarship, Ruth is an activist involved in various community projects that address issues affecting temporary and permanent Latinx migrants in the Northeast. You can reach Ruth by email at rhernand@skidmore.edu 

Photo of a backpack, a pair of shoes, and a book lying on the grass. Photo by Josué Goge, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Honorable Mention, 2018 *~*

I’ve always loved Tristan Bridges’ Sociological Images piece about how we can readily see the ways that we “do gender” by analyzing what we carry around with us every day. Bridges focuses on wallets and purses, telling the story of a transgender women who struggled to learn the norms of purse-carrying during the process of socially transitioning to being recognized as a woman – remembering to bring it, knowing what to put in it, how to carry it, etc.  Aside from the fact that wallets and purses themselves are gendered, Bridges shows how what we put in those wallets and purses is also gendered. I’ve found the four-by-four schema presented in the piece to be a great model for getting students to analyze the contents of their own wallets and purses and to reflect on the ways that gender norms influence their choices.

In this activity, I build directly from Bridges’ piece to get students thinking about whether and how gender norms influence the kinds of things they carry around with them. While Bridges focuses on wallets and purses, I’ve found that students are most likely to be carrying backpacks. So I complicated Bridges’ piece a bit to get students thinking about not only how wallets and purses are gendered, but also how what might seem like a gender-neutral bag – backpacks – may or may not conform to some of the same gendered norms found among wallet and purse carriers.

I’ve used this activity in an Introduction to Gender Studies class and an Introduction to Sociology class. It’s worked great in both contexts. I usually run this activity during a week/day that’s devoted to understanding concepts like socialization and the social construction of gender. I have students read the Bridges piece, either as part of the week’s readings or as part of the activity itself, and then hand them the attached handout with a four-by-four schema and some discussion questions. Then we talk as a class about their analysis. Students enjoy the interactive and tactile aspect of the activity (I ask them to dig through their bags), and it gets them talking about sociological concepts like gender norms, socialization, and “doing gender.”

Activity Materials

Doing Gender with Backpacks – Handout Lab 8

Jacqui Frost is a PhD candidate in sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include non-religion and religion, culture, and civic engagement, and her dissertation project is an ethnographic study of a non-religious community.

Photo of a health app on smartphone. Photo by Jason Howie, Flickr CC

*~* “Teach with TSP” Contest Honorable Mention, 2018 *~*

I use this in-class activity in the “Health, Medicine, & Illness” week in my Introduction to Sociology class to engage my students in critical thinking about small changes that can be made to address people’s micro experiences with health issues and inequalities.

I give each of my students a copy of “The Rise of Health-Tracking Technology,” an article from The Society Pages blog, “There’s Research on That!” 

Students are asked to read the article and then are put into groups of three to discuss the following questions:

  • How can we understand health-tracking technologies as part of medicalization?
  • What are some of the benefits of health tracking technologies?
  • What are some of the social problems associated with these technologies?
    • What are some problems these technologies are intended to help?
    • What potential problems might evolve from these technologies?

Then, students are asked to work in their groups to brainstorm ideas for how they would design their own health-tracking or health/wellness oriented app to address some of the social problems of health and illness we have learned about that week.

Student groups are then asked to present their app designs to the rest of the class, emphasizing how use of that app would address social inequalities associated with health, illness, and wellbeing.

An example of one proposed app from my student groups was the following:

An app that would address some of the health inequalities in food deserts through a GPS based system that would let users know where places to buy food are in their near vicinity. The app would be connected with store employees so that users would know when fresh produce and other fresh food items were available in the stores.

The take away discussion after this activity involves talking with the students about how small changes can make a difference in the way that people experience health inequalities in their daily lives, but that we must also be working in an ongoing way to address these inequalities at the macro level too.

 

Lydia Hou is an advanced graduate student in the Sociology Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago studying international students and Higher Ed diversity projects. Her work broadly focuses on race, gender, qualitative methods, critical higher education, and pedagogy.

Photo of a sign that says, “polling place” in three languages. Photo by Andrew Mager, Flickr CC

With so many concerns about voter suppression in the 2018 midterm elections, now is an excellent time to highlight the important role that social science can play in public debate and in our classrooms. Today’s suggestion for Teaching with TSP is a group exercise using King and Roscigno’s special feature on the 50th anniversary of the voting rights act that can be done during class followed by a discussion with the whole class. I used this exercise in my lower division Race & Ethnicity class, but it could easily be used in other lower division classes like Introduction to Sociology or Social Problems, or in an upper division Political Sociology class with some additions and modifications (which I’ll explain below). This exercise is ideal for a course in a general education curriculum that meets a social sciences requirement where instructors are often tasked with teaching students how to assess different kinds of information, evaluate evidence, and understand biases. I like this exercise because it leaves room for students with differing levels of ability, and because it directly and constructively engages students who hold the belief that everything taught in Race & Ethnicity or other sociology classes is “biased” or based on “differing opinions” without attacking them.

Materials:

You bring:

  • Printed copies of the article (1-4 copies per group)
  • Whiteboard and a bunch of markers

Students bring:

  • A copy of the book or other text you have recently read in your class
  • Pen and paper

Instructions

  1. Place the students in groups of 4-5 and give each group at least one copy of the article. Make a section on your white board for each of the different terms: 1) an opinion, 2) an empirical fact, and 3) a social scientific claim. Ask students to read through the entire article and, as they go, to identify two of each: an opinion, a fact, and a claim. They will need to write each of these on the board as they find them. You may want to make the rule that no repeats are allowed since that sometimes helps people work a little more quickly in groups (but this may not work if you have a larger class and a lot of groups).
  2. As students fill the board and work through the exercise you can choose to either let incorrect answers stand or you can go talk to the groups and ask them to fix those answers in the moment, depending on the dynamic and size of your class.
  3. Students are likely to come up with good questions about the difference between these three terms for you and each other while they work through the exercise, keeping in mind that part of what may be new here for college students is the addition of the “social scientific claim.” While K-12 does teach a related skill, it tends to focus on fact vs. opinion, which leaves evidence-based arguments in a confusing gray area for many new college students. Furthermore, many of us know that observable empirical facts in sociology are often nonetheless controversial. This exercise opens up that fact for conversation directly from an unexpected angle.
  4. Groups that finish early complete the same exercise using the most recent course reading, until all groups have at least finished the main exercise.
  5. Gently correct or clarify anything from the answers on the board. Transition from small group activity to large group discussion by asking “What do you notice when you look at the answers on the board? Does anything jump out at you? Anything surprise you? Confuse you?” This gives students a moment to reflect on what all the groups did. By asking students to choose the direction, you allow them to take ownership over the activity and lead the discussion in a direction that’s interesting to them, and the result is a more engaged, productive discussion that will allow students to tell you what they know and don’t know about the topic and what they want to know more about. More ideas for discussion are below, along with possible modifications to the exercise.

Discussion Guide

  • Is voter fraud a problem? (Establish that given this article and exercise the students understand that it is not a problem.) Why do you think so many people think it IS a problem? Did you think it was (more of) a problem before today?
  • Explore students’ reactions to why voter ID and other voting access laws are being changed, especially since voter fraud isn’t a problem. Do they agree with the authors? Are they unsure of the reasons? Can they develop their own sociological hypotheses?
  • Discuss the history of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Movement. What did students learn that was new? Do they have questions or reactions? Is there a reason these changes are happening now?
  • What is the role of social science and sociology in politics?

Possible Modifications

  • Students could be asked to update this piece or to make it local by researching the requirements to register and to vote in their own state.
  • If you are in a state with voter ID legislation, students could research who introduced and supported this legislation, what challenges have occurred to it, and the judicial opinions that have been issued.
  • Either of these could be done as part of a class activity or as a homework assignment.

Additional TSP Reading on Voter Suppression

How Voter Suppression Shapes Election Outcomes

Strict Voter Identification Laws Advantage Whites—And Skew American Democracy to the Right

Dr. Meghan Krausch studies race, gender, disability, and other forms of marginalization throughout the Americas and in particular how grassroots communities have developed ways to resist their own marginalization. Read more of Meg’s writing at The Rebel Professor or get in touch directly at meghan.krausch@gmail.com.