Tuesday Teaching Question

I always hated the old “What did you do this summer?” assignment when I was a student, and usually tried to subvert or resist it some way (big surprise, right?), but now, here on the other side, I am perpetually tempted to throw it at my students, even while recognizing that most of them don’t have proper summers in the sense of being free of work responsibilities. It’s this last fact that makes the question even more tempting to ask, I think.

When I was 8 the answers were less interesting and far less varied–I think I played Wiffle Ball every day that summer–than they are coming from people with real lives. I recognize, too, now, the utility of the question for getting people to reveal a little something about themselves to a room full of strangers in order to begin the delicate and difficult work of building a nascent trust among the students and create a social, functional learning environment. I hesitate to throw it out there at the beginning of the fall semester, though, because I always wonder if it crosses the line from playful and fun to infantilizing–I don’t want to start out the semester giving the impression that I’m patronizing them. Consequently, I usually resist the temptation and throw something out there like, “Tell the rest of us about something that happened to you in the last six months,” and I’m never really happy with it.

So I’m looking for some great first day/week questions that you ask when you’re taking attendance or to get a writing sample or something–questions you use to get your students talking about themselves so you can get to know them a little bit (and/or they each other). What have you got?