The International Criminal Court (ICC)

The roundtable on international criminal justice would be a great way to introduce students to issues facing the International Criminal Court (ICC).  The ICC is located in The Hague, Netherlands.  While most, if not all, of your students will likely never get to see the ICC live, the ICC has several tools available that will make teaching about it more concrete.

First, the ICC provides live streaming of the proceedings in its two courtrooms (with a half-hour delay) in both English and French.  The ICC also has a youtube channel, where many court proceedings are publically available.  If you assign the roundtable as homework, one supplemental assignment could involve asking students to either watch live streaming of a case (depending on the date and time of available trials) or view several minutes of a trial on youtube.  This will help students visualize what takes place at the ICC.

In class, students could get into groups and discuss what they saw on youtube or the live stream.  What trial did they watch, and who was the defendant?  What was he (or she) accused of?  Was the ICC what they expected?  Did anything surprise them about the proceedings?

An alternate activity could  include further discussion regarding the types of crimes that the ICC has jurisdiction over.  For example, before reading the roundtable, students could discuss what crimes they think should be considered crimes of international law.  Then, they could read the roundtable, as well as the part of the Rome Statute (the treaty that constituted the ICC) dealing with jurisdiction of the ICC, found here.  This could be followed by a discussion of the crimes that are included in its jurisdiction and what students think should have been included.  Were they surprised by the inclusion of certain types of crimes or the exclusion of others?  Why are these particular crimes considered international crimes?

One of my favorite ways to teach about authority is to draw upon Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments.  As many (if not all) of you know, Milgram designed a series of experiments to see whether people would shock others up to lethal levels when instructed to do so by a scientist.  In most cases and depending on various situational characteristics, the majority of people complied, showing they would shock someone up to lethal levels.  You can read more about the experiments on a Backstage Sociologist post, found here.

A BBC documentary covered an effort to recreate the experiment a few years ago, which found similar results (with a small number of total participants, however).  The entire documentary is on Youtube, but if you’re worried about time, this 6-minute clip shows the actual experiment and includes brief discussions about authority.

I’ve used this clip generally to talk about authority as well as more specifically to illustrate how human rights violations may take place.  This clip is also a great introduction to a discussion about Weber’s types of authority.



If you’ve taught a class, you’ve likely struggled with getting all (or maybe even some!) students to complete required readings.  Sociology Source’s Nathan Palmer recently posted a great assignment to help with this issue, and we wanted to re-post it below.  Thanks, Nathan!


Question: Would you like it if most your students came to class having completed the assigned reading? Would you like it if they came to class with detailed notes so they could engage with their classmates better in discussions? Finally would you like to have a detailed outline of all of the reading you assign in your classes?

Well than do I have the assignment for you.

I have had amazing success with requiring my students to turn in notes covering the week’s reading (Download Direction Here)[1]. The notes have to be in outline form and, as I tell them, “need to be written as if the reader had never seen the text.” The notes are graded for their clarity and coverage of the topics in the text. Because these are weekly notes and I want to be able to grade them quickly, I created a check mark grading scheme that allows me to use a rubric with ease.

I incentivize the reading notes by allowing them to use them on both the essay midterm and final. “Think of your reading notes as a cheat sheet in a time capsule,” I tell my classes. I sign the front page of the students notes and then only allow notes that have my signature to be used on the test to try and dissuade students from creating other cheat sheets.

“How Long Should My Notes Be”

Reading notes are great because they teach students how to curate information. We live in a society that is awash with information. Consumption is often free or cheap, understanding is less available, but curation is the rarest of all. Our students will work in an information economy that pays people to shift through the haystack for needles. I stress the vocational value of this assignment to my students because they are likely to see reading notes as a “busy work” drudgery.

I tell my students that their challenge is to separate the hay from the needles. If they turn in notes that are so detailed and overfilled with information, I give them a grade similar to if they had turned in barely anything at all[2] Synthesizing information is a skill that students struggle with, this assignment fosters it.

Crowdsourced Class Notes

The by product of this assignment is a crowdsourced outline of your class texts. Last year it occurred to me that I could use my students’ reading notes to fill out my class notes. Each week I took the best reading notes and paired them with my class/lecture notes to create a top notch outline of what we read that week and what I wanted my students to learn. Now that I am teaching Social Change for the second time, I have found my class notes invaluable.

I’m not always able to reread all of the assigned readings for a given week, nor do I always need to (some of these texts I’ve read and taught more than a dozen times). Having a “CliffsNotes” guide on what we are reading and what I want my students to take from it, allows me to spend time thinking up new class activities and experiences. Put another way, my notes help me quickly re-remember WHAT I want my students to learn, so that I can spend most of my time focusing on HOW they will learn it.

(Psst… if you like this activity and want to hear more about it, check out The Sociological Source Podcast Ep 11. Chris & I talk about it in some depth.)

  1. I want to thank Dr. Susan Wortmann at Nebraska Wesleyan University for giving me this idea. She used this assignment, in a different way, in her graduate social theory course that I took from her. She was one of my best teachers, so stealing from her only makes sense.  ↩
  2. Side Note: you should see the looks on my overachieving students when they get a low grade on their 16 page reading notes. They never think I’m actually going to down grade them until I do.  ↩




Photo by 401(K) 2013 via
Photo by 401(K) 2013 via

We want to take a moment to alert you to a fantastic new teaching tool: Recession Trends.  As the website’s “about us” explains, “The Recession Trends initiative, a collaboration between the Russell Sage Foundation and the Center on Poverty and Inequality, is dedicated to monitoring the social and economic fallout of the ongoing downturn.”

There are many ways you could use this informative website in the classroom.  For example, you could ask students to form a research question about the recession (e.g., Did crime rates rise during the recession?) and use the website to help answer it.  Specifically, the website includes a graphing utility with data on each of the 16 domains covered regarding the recession (housing, poverty, immigration, crime, health, etc.).  The graphing utility is found here, and the domains are listed on the right-hand side.  Note that students likely would need a few minutes to explore the domains before picking a research question that could be answered using the website.

This could also be paired with the Office Hours podcast with David Grusky, one of the creators of the website.  A teaching activity to accompany the podcast, which was posted earlier this year, is below.

In this episode of Office Hours, TSP’s Sarah Shannon speaks with Stanford University Sociology Professor David Grusky about the social and economic effects of the recession.  This entire podcast could be assigned to students, though you could also considering assigning part of it (the first 20 minutes, for example).

Grusky and Shannon cover many topics in this 50-minute conversation, so there are many avenues for discussion.  Here are a few basic questions that cover some of the main points.

1)   How does the most recent recession differ from past recessions?  In other words, what makes it a “great” recession?

2)   How does the recession affect inequality in the United States?

3)   What are some of the responses to the recession, and how do they differ from responses to the Great Depression?

4)   Why does Grusky see a danger in the focus on tax-based solutions to the current economic problems?

5)   Grusky and Shannon speak specifically about college students several times throughout the podcast?  How is the recession impacting students, and what is the bottleneck that they mention?

3D Judges Gavel

Below is an activity that will be included in an upcoming Norton volume on politics.   The activity could be modified to fit any discussion about power.   A few weeks ago, I used it in a human rights law course.  We were discussing power and authority as part of a unit on the causes of human rights violations.  Thus, the activity below is slightly modified for this discussion, though you could change the questions on power to reflect any class discussion.

We started the discussion about power with this activity.  Then, we defined power and talked about why it’s a loaded word.  We also talked about a few other assumptions that came up during the discussion, such as the idea that power is only an attribute of people (rather than something structural or institutional) and the idea that only some people have power.  This activity could be paired with the TSP Special on power, found here.

  1. Make four signs labeled “agree,” “strongly agree,” “disagree,” and “strongly disagree.”  Hang one sign in each corner of the room.
  2. Tell participants that you will be reading a series of statements about power.  After each statement, they should stand under the sign that most closely reflects their reaction to the statement (and that they must choose a sign).
  3. Read the first statement (listed below).  After participants have assembled under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that particular position and to choose a spokesperson to explain a few points of the discussion.
  4. Ask everyone to leave their group and go to the center of the room.  Then ask participants to stand under the sign that most closely reflects their own reaction to the statement again.  (This gives participants the opportunity to change their positions if they wish, though this is optional based on how discussion is going and the time you have allotted.)  Ask whether, after hearing the various arguments, any participants changed their position.  Then ask a few volunteers to explain why they decided to change their positions.
  5. Repeat this exercise for the following statements.  You can add or subtract statements to alter the length of the exercise.

*Power corrupts.

*Power causes human rights violations.

*You can’t get anything done without power.


Image via Daniel Oines,

As the holidays draw near, it seems fitting that several of this week’s citings were about toy stores.  One of the citings, found here, was about a Swedish company that is working to eliminate gendered toys. The other, found here, focused on class and toys.

Below is an expanded version of a related activity (that we posted about briefly in the past).  This activity focuses on gender and toys, but you could also include class and toys (or ask the class to read the second citing listed above as part of the discussion after the activity).

Go to a local toy store or department store, and bring something to take notes. While you are there, take detailed notes about the following:

*Can you tell if there is a boys’ section and a girls’ section? How do you know?
*If there are boys’ and girls’ sections, how do they differ? (Think about the number of toys, colors of toys, types of toys, etc.)
*If there are boys’ and girls’ sections, how are they similar?
*Do the toys seem to encourage different types of values?
*Do the toys seem to encourage different roles for boys and girls?
*What other differences or similarities do you see?

Students could bring their notes to class for group discussion and/or write a paper based on their findings. If they write a paper, be sure to ask them to give detailed descriptions as well as link their findings to material covered in class (and turn their notes in with the paper).

Photo courtesy Mary Chayko

Our Community Page Cyborgology recently posted about guest tweeters. That’s right, guest tweeters. As explained here, Mary Chayko invited Cyborgoloy’s Nathan Jurgenson to spend an hour live-tweeting with her class.

The class would be gathered physically in the classroom and he would join in from his own remote location. Afterward, the students and I would review and reflect on the experience fairly thoroughly—our engagement with Nathan and his ideas, our engagement with one another, what we learned, what we didn’t, and why. My goal was to wring as much as possible, intellectually and socially, from the exercise.

Based on course content and Jurgenson’s expertise, students were asked to think of one question that they wanted to ask Jurgenson. As Chayko explains thoroughly (be sure to read it!), this takes a bit of planning. Explaining just some of the preparations, she notes,

I always survey each of my classes at the start to determine the level of interest and willingness of the students to use social media for class-related activities. I offer students an opportunity to opt out of social media use, to use pseudonyms online, and I require those that wish to use it to abide by a strict set of social media use policies which we discuss at great length (and which I am happy to share). I also teach all my students, ad infinitum, ad nauseum I’m sure, to use social media responsibly and professionally.

Her planning, and the willingness of her students, resulted in a great conversation and learning experience.

Enter Ellis IslandDuring the 2012 election, immigration was not nearly as big of an issue as it has been in previous elections.  In the newest TSP Roundtable, leading scholars of immigration address why this might be the case and, more broadly, why immigration has long been a divisive political issue in the United States.  This is a great reading for any number of sociology classes.  A few questions for students to ponder after the reading include:


1)   How has immigration to the U.S. changed over time?

2)   According to Massey, when did the most recent cycle of xenophobia start, and why?

3)   How do immigration and race intersect?

The quiz, How Much Do You Know about U.S. Immigration, would also be a nice complement, though some of the figures may need to be updated slightly.

Bad News on the Doorstep

The TSP blog, Citings & Sightings, tracks sociologists and other social scientists whose work makes it into the news.   This activity draws upon this concept and gets students thinking about the public impact of sociology. 

1) Browse to and read several examples of citings.

2) Then, search for a news story that cites a sociologist.  If you get stuck, try google news and search for the terms “sociologist” or “sociology.”

3) Using the Citings & Sightings blog as a model, write your own “citing” for the article you found.

Students could bring their citings to class and share them in groups or as a class.  Then, the groups or your class could discuss the following questions:

1) In your opinion, what makes the article, or the research cited, newsworthy?

2)  Why was a sociologist particularly suited to comment on the article?

3)  What unique contribution did sociology bring to the article?

4) Do you see many sociologists in the news?  Why do you think this is the case?


With Halloween right around the corner, University of Minnesota sociology graduate student Meghan Krausch took the opportunity to talk with her students about Halloween costumes that are racist or that perpetuate stereotypes.  She was gracious enough to share the activity with us, which is below.

The goal of this lesson plan is to encourage students to consider how Halloween costumes reinforce hurtful stereotypes and white racial dominance in contemporary US society. It also serves a good case study of contemporary debates around race and representation in popular culture.

My course is on US Race Relations, and students were largely familiar with the premise of the discussion already, so I began with the following images and videos. Other courses may need to modify the activity to provide more introduction or basis for the lesson.

I showed a few images of “Indian” costumes, some racial/ethnic costumes for dogs, and a video of a comedy sketch involving blackface from the 1950s. I warned them that the blackface video was very offensive and hurtful, but that I felt it was important for us all to know what “blackface” actually refers to—a specific kind of racist performance that was at one time very common in the US. Examples of such costumes and videos are easy to find on the internet—these are just the ones I happened to use:

I then passed out the following 4 short readings/blog posts on cultural appropriation and Halloween costumes:

I asked students to choose one of the readings to read all the way through and to get into groups of 4. The majority of students seemed to find the first reading from Native Appropriations most useful. Based on our class conversation, I would recommend the first two blog posts (the open letter from Native Appropriations and the commentary from Autostraddle), and maybe scratch the other two.

I asked the students to answer the following questions in their groups:

  1. List at least 3 reasons why dressing up as a member of another racial or ethnic group is hurtful and/or offensive.
  2. List at least 3 reasons why people continue to wear these costumes.
  3. Has anyone in the group had any personal experience (with friends or family, for example) with this situation?
  4. How does the larger social context matter when we think about this issue?
  5. Design and draw a costume that is not offensive.

We then used this small group discussion to launch us into a larger discussion, which especially focused on dilemmas and debates about how can do what. I focused the students on a few questions, including the role that power, domination, and the larger social context play in determining the difference between when whites dress up as others and when people of color do the same thing.

Finally, I strongly suggest bringing Halloween candy if you are going to discuss Halloween in the classroom!

Meghan Krausch is an instructor and PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. She is currently finishing her dissertation on utopian social movements and “people’s education” in Buenos Aires.  She enjoys exploring the liberatory potential of education in and out of the university classroom.