Using Pop Culture to Inspire Group Collaboration

Supercharge Your Teamwork! InfographicWhen students are asked to work in groups, they may not know what good teamwork looks like. Like anything in the writing classroom, models can help them understand how to collaborate effectively. The challenge is modeling the process for them. I can demo any number of writing strategies as well as provide step-by-step instructions on technology questions. Modeling group work, however, is not a one-person job.

 

Pop culture to the rescue! The infographic to the right analyzes the teamwork strategies of six pop culture teams. It describes the team, identifies the team members, outlines their strategies, and suggests some debriefing notes. It is long and detailed, so you need to click the image to read the full-sized image or view the original on the Inloox site.

 

As students begin working together in their writing groups, I share the infographic above and ask them to compare their own teams to those in the infographic. I invite them to respond to these discussion questions:

 

  • How accurate are the characterizations of the teams in the infographic? Would you change them?
  • Does your team match any of those in the infographic? How well does the infographic team compare to your team? Tell us how.
  • How do the characteristics of teams in the infographic relate to those in the readings for this week?

 

After discussing the infographic, I ask students to brainstorm a class list of other pop culture groups that they are familiar with. If they have trouble getting started, I offer some examples of television shows that feature a team of characters that works together to meet a goal, like NCIS, S.W.A.T, or SEAL Team. If students need additional inspiration, I throw out some categories like teams in anime, teams in movies, and teams in literature.

 

With a list compiled, the class can talk about how the various teams compare to those in the infographic and hypothesize why some groups are more successful than others. The ultimate goal is to find teamwork strategies that students can use as they work together, so I close the discussion by asking students to create a list of techniques to use in their own groups.

 

As an extension activity, students can apply their list of strategies by working in groups to choose a team from the class list and collaboratively design an image that presents the team, modeled on the infographic.

 

Do you have an activity to improve student group work? Please share your ideas in a comment below. I’d love to try your strategies in the classroom.

 

 

 

Infographic from InLoox

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Online Trip Report Assignment

null by Beryl Chan on Flickr, used under public domainIn the workplace, employees write trip reports to document what happened during a business trip. Some companies use those reports to show how the goals for the trip were met. Others use them to share what happened with the rest of the organization. I use a Trip Report assignment in my Business Writing and in my Technical Writing classes, and it can be adapted into a website analysis assignment for a first-year composition or digital literacy course.

The trick to transforming the assignment is to rethink the idea of trips, making the excursion the writer takes into a visit to an online site, rather than a geographical destination or event. With those changes, the rest of the assignment needs only some minor phrasing adjustments.

The Assignment

This assignment is modeled on trip reports, which are used in the workplace to tell coworkers what happened or was achieved on a business trip. For this assignment, you will choose a website that you will share with everyone in the class and then report on your visit to that site by writing an online trip report.

You’ll begin the activity by deciding on a website and choosing a specific reason(s) to visit it. Think of your reason(s) to visit as your research question(s). Next, you will visit the site, looking for the information you identified as the reason for your visit. After you explore the site, you will write a trip report that explains how well the site is likely to meet the needs of people who visit it for the same reason(s) you did. You will share your trip report with the entire class. Your report will provide an analytical review or recommendation.

Step 1: Identify your search questions.

Brainstorm a series of questions related to your online visit. These questions will guide your project. Your research questions do not have to be complicated, but they should require more than a simple answer. You should be able to break the guiding question down into a series of sub-questions. Here is an example:

Instead of This Try This
Guiding Question
How much is admission to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?
Guiding Question
How much should I budget for a trip to Disneyland during the first weekend of June?

Sub-Questions

  • How much does it cost for admission?
  • How much does it cost to stay at a Disney resort? Are gratuities included?
  • How much should I budget for meals?
  • What special events will be taking place during the time I am thinking of visiting?
  • How much should I budget for special events?
  • How much should I budget for other expenses?

Step 2: Choose a website for your project.

Once you have your search questions ready, choose a site where you believe you will find the answers. You can choose any website that includes both visual and text content. Your site must meet the following criteria:

  • Appropriate for the classroom.
  • Free and open (no login required).
  • Professional (not a personal site).

Good choices for this assignment include these kinds of sites:

  • an official university site.
  • a university-related site (such as a club site).
  • a professional association’s site.
  • a nonprofit organization’s site.
  • a corporate site for a company you might work for.
  • a news media or journal site.

If you are unsure whether the site fits the questions that you have identified, skim through the site to determine whether it includes the kind of information that you are looking for.

Step 3: Familiarize yourself with the characteristics and format for your report.

Read the following resources for information on writing trip reports:

Additionally, read the details on memo format, since your project should look like a trip report from the workplace. You can also read about memo format in The Business Writer’s Handbook or The Handbook of Technical Writing.

Step 4: Go on your trip: visit the website, and gather information for your report.

With the preliminary work taken care of, you can begin work researching the questions you identified above in Step 1 on the website. Check out the pages linked to the site’s main navigation. Browse the information on the site, looking for the answers to your question and paying attention to the supporting details and other related information.

To provide evidence of the answers to your search questions in your trip report, you identify specific details. Take notes on what you find and gather any materials that you can use as you write your report. For instance, you might take some screenshots, copy important passages, and note important page links. Remember to keep track of where your information comes from so you can cite your sources in your report.

Step 5: Write your Trip Report.

Write your trip report in your word processor, using memo format. The length of your report will vary, according to your search questions and the information you found on the website. There is not a minimum or maximum page length. Write as much as you need to, but be sure to include all of the required information.

Your trip report should include the following information:

  • the goals for the trip (your website visit).
  • what you actually found during your visit.
  • the lessons learned from your visit:
    • What made the site a good (or bad) resource for your search questions?
    • What features on the site indicated that the creators were thinking of you as an audience?
    • What about the site worked well?
    • Would you recommend the site to someone with similar questions? Why, or why not?

Include concrete details from the notes you took during your website visit to support the information in your trip report. You can quote or paraphrase information from the site. Insert the screenshots you took to illustrate your points (be sure to crop out irrelevant information in the images).

Once you have a complete draft, check the information in your report to determine whether you have included the answers to your search questions and the information required for the report, listed above. When you are sure you have met the requirements, proofread your report and turn it in.

                                                                                                                                                                                               

Closing Thoughts

This trip report assignment upgrades the basic analytical essay. Students will still complete an analysis project, but the trip report format adds interest for students already looking ahead to the workplace. Further, by asking them to work with a different genre, students necessarily get beyond the comfort of the five-paragraph theme.

You can further adapt this assignment if you ask students to take online field trips. For instance, you might ask students to explore a genre or period of art on an art museum website. They can report their findings in a trip report.

Do you have unusual writing assignments that work well for you? I would love to hear about what you have tried and what’s worked for you. Just leave me a comment below!

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Remembering Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou visits YCP! 2/4/13Poet and author Maya Angelou died Wednesday, May 28, in her home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Angelou is considered one of the finest poets of her generation. In addition, she authored several books chronicling her youth and adolescence, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Find related web resources and lesson plans on Angelou on the ReadWriteThink calendar entry for her birthday. For excerpts from an interview with Angelou, consider sharing ‘Fresh Air’ Remembers Poet And Memoirist Maya Angelou with students.

A simple way to remember Angelou in your classroom this week is to ask students to explore some resources about the author and then use one of ReadWriteThink’s interactives or mobile apps to write about her:

 

[Photo: Maya Angelou visits YCP! 2/4/13 by York College ISLGP, on Flickr]

Finding Persuasion in Unexpected Places

SLC2As I did last summer, I spent twelve days this month with my sister on a road trip from Virginia to Utah, with a stay in Salt Lake City for the Stampin’ Up convention in the middle. I learned a number of interesting ideas at the convention, both for my hobby of scrapbooking and cardmaking and for teaching and creativity in general. The most interesting thing that I came upon, however, was the garbage and recycling bins (shown right) in the Salt Palace Convention Center where the event was held.

Read my full post on the Bedford Bits site.

A Definition Assignment from a Super Bowl Commercial

I wasn’t blown away by the Super Bowl commercials this year. There were a couple that seemed cute to me. The GoDaddy commercials, as usual, annoyed me. WWE fan that I am, I enjoyed The Rock’s Milk commercial, and like several of my friends, I teared up over the Clydesdale commercial.

The most immediately useful commercial however was this farmer commercial for Ram Trucks, which uses Paul Harvey’s “So God Made a Farmer” speech as its text:

Play this commercial in the classroom and talk about writing extended definitions. It’s a wonderful example and can inspire students to create their own video definitions.

Easy Ways for Kids and Teens to Make Greeting Cards

Group work on cardsNo matter what holiday you are celebrating this month, nothing is quite as precious as a handmade card—especially when it comes from a family member or friend.

We’ve collected some easy ways that you can help the students you teach make cards in class as well as instructions that you can send home for families to use together during the Winter holidays.

The resources do not refer to any particular holiday, so they work whether students and their families want to make cards for Hanukkah, Yule, Christmas, or Kwanzaa. The materials can even be used to celebrate the first snowfall or wish someone a Happy New Year. And, of course, the same instructions work for Thank You cards too. So read on, and get ready to make some fun greeting cards!

  • Make a simple card: Make a funny or thoughtful greeting card with photos of family or friends and a poem, joke, or riddle. Find simple step-by-step instructions on how to Send a Smile! For a full lesson plan for early elementary students, check out Using Greeting Cards to Motivate Students and Enhance Literacy Skills.
  • Draw a cartoon: Use the Comic Creator to make a one-of-a-kind greeting card. Kids and teens can illustrate scenes that show how they celebrate with family and friends or create scenes that show what would happen if a dinosaur showed up to celebrate at their home.
  • Write a poem: Help a Child Write a Poem for the inside of a card, or frame it for a special piece of art. Use one of our online tools to write an Acrostic Poem, a Diamante Poem, or a Theme Poem.
  • Create a folded card: Use the Stapleless Book to make an 8-page card for a special family member or friend—and it all fits on one sheet of paper!
  • Design a postcard: Write a postcard with the Postcard Creator then print it out and illustrate the front in a variety of ways, like drawing a picture, creating a collage of images, or printing and pasting clipart in place.
  • Publish a greeting: Make a nontraditional greeting card with the Book Cover Creator. Kids and teens can imagine what a book about a Winter day with their family would be like and create front and back cover as a greeting card.
  • Compose a year-end letter: Help a child or teen write a letter to friends and family that sums up all the things they have done in 2012 with the Letter Generator.

Whatever you do, hope you have a fantastic December. Leave us a note in the comments on how you spent your time together!

—Traci Gardner

 

[[This entry cross-posted in the Community Hub on the Thinkfinity Community site. Photo: Group work on cards by San José Library, on Flickr]

Bits November Blog Flashback

The first word is the hardestBedford/St. Martin’s Bits bloggers posted on topics ranging from our work as writing program administrators to how we teach digital natives. Be sure that you check out all the great ideas for talking about politics and how writing fits into general education requirements—and don’t miss Andrea Lunsford’s praise for short writing assignments in the Classroom Strategies and Resources section:

Writing Program Administration

About Writing and Being a Teacher of Writers

Classroom Strategies and Resources

Analyzing Popular Culture and Current Events

Teaching with Technology

For regular updates from Bedford Bits, be sure to sign up for the Ink’d In newsletter (and other resources), like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter.

—Traci Gardner

[This entry cross-posted as a Note on Bedford/St. Martin’s page on Facebook. Photo: The first word is the hardest by APM Alex, on Flickr]

 

Ten Winter Activities with ReadWriteThink Interactives

Chinstrap Penguin with snow in its mouthThe last days of 2011 are counting down, and it’s likely that your days in the classroom for 2011 are even fewer! As you’re planning for the last days of the calendar year, consider using ReadWriteThink interactives for one of these fun, winter activities:

  1. Choose an animal you think about during the winter (like penguins, polar bears, or snowshoe rabbit), and explore its habits and life cycle with the Animal Inquiry interactive.
  2. Use the Resume Generator to create a resume for a character from a favorite story or song. What would Scrooge list on his resume?
  3. Compose Shape Poems with the bus for the last day of school. Students can talk about all the things they hope to do during the winter break—after they ride home on the school bus for the last time in 2011.
  4. Have students map significant personal events they remember from previous winter holidays with the Graphic Map.
  5. Write a class alphabet book of activities to try during the winter holidays with the Alphabet Organizer.
  6. Ask students to think of a favorite event that happens during the winter break, and compose Acrostic Poems about it.
  7. Create Character Trading Cards for characters from winter-themed or holiday-themed books or songs. Imagine a trading card for the Baby New Year!
  8. Reflect on all that has happened since the start of the school year in a class newspaper, created with the ReadWriteThink Printing Press.
  9. Explore school days and winter vacation in a Diamante Poem that unites the two opposing topics.
  10. Use the Profile Publisher to mock up social networking profiles, yearbook profiles, or newspaper or magazine profiles for characters from winter-themed or holiday-themed books or songs. What would Frosty the Snowman list on his Facebook profile?

 


This list also posted in the Reading & Language Arts Group in the Thinkfinity Community.

Which Books Would You Ban?

polaroid_banned booksWhat do Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, and Ann Coulter have in common? How do they differ from Adolf Hitler, Ayn Rand, Michael Moore, Andrew Breitbart, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Michael Savage? A Rebel Pundit survey last month asked, “Which of these books would you be interested in having banned, if you could have books banned?”

The results were overwhelmingly in favor of banning the books of Palin, Beck and Coulter, though the math of the survey is a little confusing since the results don’t add up to 100%. That said, what’s going on here?

Rebel Pundit’s reporter set up on the street in Chicago, during the Printers Row Literary Festival. As these alleged book lovers passed by the reporter, he asked them which books they’d like banned, telling them they could ban up to three, and handing them a Sharpie so they could make tick marks under their choices. Before I go on, watch the Rebel Pundit video of folks participating in the survey:

Sadly, people take the marker and willingly step up to the poster. The editing of the video suggests the participants aren’t really thinking much. They don’t even interact much with the reporter, other than taking the Sharpie from his hand.

In fairness, Rebel Pundit does explain that there were naysayers:

Nine people explicitly stated to us they thought banning books was wrong, including two individuals who voted on the board but later approached us to say, (paraphrasing) “I think I made a mistake, and wanted to take my votes back if I could, because after further reflection, I think banning any book is wrong.”

Only nine people of 147 protested the idea of banning books. Of course, the point of the survey isn’t really book banning. It’s to demonstrate that people make choices without thinking.

My hunch is that the reporter expected people to vote unthinkingly. Rebel Pundit is a conservative blog. According to their About page, they are “a beacon of truth, showing the unholy alliance of the local mainstream media and the progressive Democratic Party.” Since Chicago is a traditionally liberal town, the video and related article depict the people of Chicago as foolish lemmings:

While there were in fact less than two handfuls of individuals who did tell us they don’t think any books should be banned, unfortunately there were a shocking amount of guests at this book fair who were quite open to the idea, and in fact lined up quite excited for the opportunity to voice their opinion.

Given the audience of the Rebel Pundit site, the site likely guessed that their readers would draw the connections that the liberal democrats at the book festival were actually interested in limiting individual freedoms by stepping up happily to ban books. You don’t need to read many of the comments to see that it worked.

How to Use the Video in the Classroom

Because of the way that people blindly choose to ban books, the video can be a useful part of class discussion of censorship and book banning. Though it’s a tempting idea, I would not set up a classroom or school survey to trap students into similar behavior. I want students to think critically about censorship, and I don’t think labeling them as unthinking is a good way to do that.

Instead, I want to play the video for students and ask them what they think is happening. Why are the participants so willing to participate in this book banning activity? I want them to identify how much thought is going into the participants’ decisions and how much peer pressure and the public nature of the survey contribute to participation. I’ll also ask students to look at the setup of the survey. It’s just a simple tick mark on a piece of poster paper. Does that simplicity or the presence of the reporter influence them to participate?

I don’t think the decision to add a vote to the poster is part of some great political agenda, so I will downplay those connections at the beginning of the discussion. When the political aspect of the survey does come up, and I’m sure it will, I’ll ask students to think about how the choice of books and the setting for the survey were part of the reason people were eager to ban the books on the poster. What would happen if the same survey were set up in a conservative town or event?

There are also questions of graphic design to consider: does the layout of book covers on the poster play a part in the response? What would happen if the books are arranged differently on the poster or if the choices were shared only with words (without those very identifiable faces on the book covers)? If the survey itself were presented some other way, would the decision to participate be different?

After all this discussion, I’m thinking of introducing a research project on book banning. Students can research censorship events, like Nazi book burning to more recent censorship of bloggers in countries like China and Egypt. The focus can be widened to include films, songs, and other texts as well. Research questions like these could inspire papers or presentations:

  • How does peer pressure contribute to participation in book burnings?
  • What other persuasive devices were involved?
  • Are there political agendas at play in the choice of what has been banned?
  • Does the fact that just one book is banned simplify participation?
  • Who decided what was banned? What motives were at play?
  • How did people involved respond to censorship?

Supplement your discussion with resources on censorship on the American Library Association website.

If I decide not to go with a research activity, I may stick with the survey itself and ask students to write short responses that they’d give if they were asked, “Which books would you ban?” Answers can be anything from a 140-character Twitter posts to a video response or PowerPoint presentation. The resulting pieces can be part of public service announcement campaign during Banned Books Week.

 

[Photo: polaroid_banned books by karen horton, on Flickr]

 

Software, Teamwork, & Collaboration

Google DocsThis week in Inside Higher Ed, Joshua Kim asserts, “The world is divided into two types of people: those who prefer Track Changes in Word and those who prefer to write collaboratively in Google Docs.” Kim’s explanation of the two ways of working with text sparked conversation on the TechRhet discussion list. Some spoke to Kim’s explicit question: “Which one are you?” while others extended the focus to consider different ways to write HTML texts.

Naturally, there’s no correct answer to Kim’s question, and the situation is not as binary as it is presented in his article. That ambiguous quality makes the article and its overarching question perfect for a class discussion of collaboration and teamwork. Students can share their own alignment, and then move on to talk about how Kim’s article is defining writing and collaboration. They can widen the discussion of writing and collaboration to include more tools and kinds of composing. With that groundwork in place, they can then talk about their own teamwork in class. Focus their conversation on how different kinds of collaboration suit different projects and ask them to brainstorm strategies for working together when you have different preferences.

Kim’s article is short, but it touches on how software, teamwork, and how people collaborate—all valuable topics for the classroom.


This post is the introduction from the Bits Flashback for July 3. Read the rest of the post on Facebook.

 

[Photo: Google Docs by BobChao, on Flickr]