Monday, February 18, 2013

Playing Cards and Structured Participation

Inspired by this post over at Faculty Focus on using playing cards to divide students up into groups, I decided to get myself a set of playing cards. Instead of using them for group work, however, I use them to make sure that everyone in class participates. I give each student a card at the beginning of class. The first time a student participates they hand in their card. I keep track of the ones I'm missing, so, as the end of class approaches, I start softly pushing the students who haven't participated by saying things like "My three of spades is still missing." or "Where did my four of hearts go?" This is a great activity to run on the first few days of class as it allows most students to feel comfortable participating and it creates an open class environment.

The new twist I took on this recently was to use it to have every student practice distinguishing their own ideas from their reading of the author. I had encountered difficulty with this in many papers. Following the philosophy of They Say, I Say, a very useful book to teach first year students college writing, I came up with a list of templates such as:

  • X argues that… but I disagree because…
  • X proposes that … but X overlooks the assumption that…
  • Philosopher X doesn't explicitly say that P, but it seems to me that he's assuming …..because...
  • X’s point that …. connects to the larger issue….
  • X’s example that …. also shows that…
I first discussed with students the importance of paraphrasing charitably, of making their own contribution, and of distinguishing between the two.I then asked students to participate using some version of the "X argues... I think..." structure.  I gave them a handout with a list of templates, though I encouraged students to use their own as long as they clearly paraphrased someone else's position first and distinguished it from their own contribution. Somebody else could be either the philosopher we read or a student in the class. This led to some nice back and forth between students in which they had to paraphrase each others contributions in order to make their own contribution. Some students had difficulty doing this at first and I would help them out as they talked. Student had also written a one page reading response for that day. I had students use the last 5 minutes of class to reread their responses before handing them into me, and underlining the parts of it in which they could have done a better job of distinguishing their own position from their interpretation of the author we read. By the end of the class, I think the point of the lesson was clear to almost everyone and I'm hoping to see some improvement in their papers.


  1. Thank you for this. I use They Say/I Say to teach writing and your suggestions are useful.


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