discussions

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 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 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.

Note: At the time this post was written, The Society Pages’ Discoveries were called The Reading List.

DISC clippedFindings 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)

 

The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via nonviolence.com.
The NonViolence Project takes its symbol from a sculpture inspired by the shooting death of John Lennon. Photo via nonviolence.com.

Horrible events, such as mass shootings, typically gain a lot of media attention, with fear and political outrage not far behind. Social scientific knowledge about topics like violence, gun control, and mental illness, however, is often obscured or excluded from these reports and calls for action. This activity, which can be done as a group or individually, helps readers think about how social scientific evidence can influence policy:

  1. Browse the Internet to gather two or three news stories from the weeks following a recent mass shooting in the United States.
  2. What claims are made in these stories about the causes of mass shootings?
  3. What calls for change are made by victims’ families, politicians, experts, or others?
  4. What policies are suggested to address mass shootings?

Next, read “A Broader-Based Response to Shootings” by Chis Uggen and think about how social science evidence compares to media reports. What does the evidence suggest we should be doing to address these crimes?

A still from the Public Enemy video for "Fight the Power." Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.
A still from the Public Enemy video for “Fight the Power.” Chuck D, holding the bullhorn, has since become an outspoken agitator and public figure working toward equality and political participation.

In our volume The Social Side of Politics, Vincent J. Roscigno’s article, “Power, Sociologically Speaking,” serves as the lead essay. In it, we learn that you can’t discuss politics without discussing power. This activity helps highlight the point for students and instructors alike.

Guidelines for the facilitator:

  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 read a statement about power (listed below). After you read the first, participants should move to stand under the sign that most closely reflects their reaction to the statement.
  3. After participants have assembled under the signs, ask each group to discuss why they picked that position and choose a spokesperson to explain their rationale to the entire group.
  4. After each group presents its opinion, as participants to return to the center of the room, then disperse, again, to the sign that most closely represents their reaction to the same statement. If they choose, participants can change their position. Ask a few to explain whether and why they changed—or did not change—their position after hearing out the other groups.
  5. Repeat for each statement, adding or subtracting to alter the length of the exercise.

Statements about Power:

  • Power corrupts.
  • You can’t get anything done without power.
  • Power is connected to race (class/gender/etc.).
  • People or organizations that want to change things in their community should seek power.

A scene from "The Road from Crime"
A scene from “The Road from Crime”

In our volume Crime and the Punished, we featured our interview with sociologist-filmmakers Shadd Maruna and Fergus McNeill. This activity builds from their film:

How and why people stop committing crime is an important question. “Discovering Desistance,” by Sarah Lageson and Sarah Shannon describes how two social scientists “co-created” “The Road from Crime,” a film about desistance from the perspective of former prisoners and the practitioners who work with them. Watch the 50-minute film as you consider these discussion questions:

  1. In what ways might the criminal justice system promote reoffending?
  2. According to the filmmakers, desistance is both an “internal” and an “external” process. Where do you see internal and external processes in the film.
  3. What punishment policies might be changed, added, or abandoned to better promote desistance?
  4. Most people who work in the criminal justice system have never been convicted of serious crimes. How might the system be different if it incorporated more input from people who had been punished under it?

After watching the film, imagine that you are a social worker in a community to which many ex-prisoners return. What resources do you think you’d need to address community needs and help former inmates desist from crime? What community leaders or organizations would you need to enlist for support? Discuss your thoughts in a group and draw up a list of the “stakeholders” whose voices are critical for designing your policy.