T.Y.B.O.T. Tuesday is a regular feature, highlighting a practically useful, active learning strategy that you can implement tomorrow. Any and all suggestions are welcome. T.Y.B.O.T. appears on the last Tuesday of each month.
THE STRATEGY: Cocktail Party Review
Necessities: Mood music (I prefer Jazz, usual Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue)
Options: Index Cards (or some other form of assigning roles), refreshments (juice or a box of coffee from Dunkin Donuts or just a few cookies or munchkins. Students are pretty appreciative of anything you provide, and the props help to set the mood (and coax participation).
The Pitch: This is a whole brain learning activity, particularly useful for moving conceptual understanding into long-term memory, especially when there is a high volume of material. It works best with six to 10 learning items, but you can do it with more if required. It’s a fun way for students to review, and it can provide them with a highly salient experience to associate the term(s) with. Students collaborate, construct their own understanding, challenge each other, and do so in ways that they are likely to recall (because its fun and memorable). I totally stole/adapted this from Gitte Maronde and Denise Maduli Williams, who demonstrated an icebreaker version of this at a Faculty Development Workshop a couple of years ago, and the first time I did it I couldn’t believe how well it went. Since then I’ve worked it into the regular rotation and it is a consistent winner–almost always showing up in the evaluations as one of the best things we did and not just because it was fun. Apparently, it’s helpful, too.
The Plan: Students are assigned some concept or idea or skill (randomly or by choice), and then given five to ten minutes to review the topic with instructions that they should think about how they would teach it and maybe come up with a few examples. While they’re doing that, I set up whatever music and refreshments I have.
When the time is up, I announce to students that they’re all invited to my cocktail party, but they must attend as their concept. So, for example, when I use this activity to review fallacies, each student has to come to the party as the fallacy that they were assigned–somebody comes as “ad hominem,” someone else as “post hoc, ergo propter hoc,” etc. Usually, I plan it so that three or four people get each of the concepts (to protect against someone misleading the rest of the class about one of the topics), and I tell them as much, suggesting that they may want to go find the others at the party who share their background–you know, birds of a feather, or, instead, hang out with people who are different than them and meet some new people. The main thing is that they have to role play, they have to be the concept (or theory or thinker or text) they’ve been assigned and ask and answer people’s questions accordingly.
I tell them that there are only three rules at my party–no anti-social behavior and no notes/books (telling them that it’s rude to read or write in front of others at a party). The goal here is to force them to rely on their understanding (and figure out what the limits of their understanding are) and spend their time interacting with the others as people (rather than simply strangers holding answers). It’s important to tell them at this point that doing this helps them use their whole brain and that they should actively try to associate the concept their hearing with the face or manner or story of the person telling them about it, that doing so will help them later when they try to recall it or need clarification on something. These conversations will help, but only as much as they listen and work hard to know the others at the party. Also, I tell them that the responsibility cuts both ways; the more interesting they are, the more interested (and interesting) others will be. So the “party” will only be as good as they make it.
Then I start the music and start the clock, and let them go. I stay completely out of it for the first few minutes to let them get over their self-consciousness and so they know I won’t be checking on them. Around ten minutes in, I walk the room with a platter of munchkins or cookies, acting as a waiter, which allows me to eavesdrop on the conversations, clarify as required (briefly), and encourage people to mingle/wander. I usually let the party go for about 30 to 45 minutes, and then cut the music, turn up the lights and send everybody “home.” Then I take questions for the last few minutes, and that’s it.
Give it a try sometime. You may be surprised how willing our students are to play when given the chance and how much they can learn when it doesn’t seem like school. They will be surprised, too.