Compulsive Selective Participation


How to sit.
How to stay awake while sort of listening.
How to organize a few thoughts impressively enough to get decent test grades.
How to talk with people my own age about sex, drugs, games, parents, weather, and nothing.”

This was the first comment I saw after reading Mark Carnes’ Setting Students’ Minds on Fire. My initial thought was “Huh, pretty funny” and then I really thought about it. If I were given a test based on these four “objectives,” I’d ace that thing. When did education
become less about learning and more about participating? Can we even call what our students are doing as participation? Let’s call it “passive participation.” The author of the comment is right. Every day students step into classrooms, sit down, stare blankly, occasionally comprehend a few words, and then wait till test time rolls around to cram as much information into their minds for a 36-hour period. Sounds like a roller-coaster ride but this cycle is apparent in classrooms across the nation.

So how do we take “passive participation” and turn it into, what I like to call, “passionate play?” It’s transforming perceptions of learning into a two-way interaction with engagement and an exchanging of ideas and opinions. Sounds fun, huh? BUT HOW???

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-2-19-24-pmI think it’s important to meet students in the middle. You’ve got to relate to them in some manner just to get the conversation going. Talk about life, love, the pursuit of happiness. Whatever you need to do to get people talking, do it (as long as it’s professional). I open every class by playing music. Sometimes I’ll ask my students if there’s anything in particular they want to listen to and if not I throw on some 90’s Alternative Rock. This gets them at least out of that awkward silence before class and talking with their classmates.

As my class is already structured for me, it’s difficult to customize it to some extent. I’m using powerpoint to explain the speeches themselves but adding memes or short videos to keep things interesting. Luckily, on the days students aren’t giving speeches, there’s typically an activity of some sort. As this is a public speaking class, it’s hard to move away from talking “at people” rather than talking “with people.”

All the examples Carnes uses about learning through gaming are all related to history. It’s difficult to incorporate games into other fields. If anyone has any suggestions on how to incorporate it into Public Speaking or Communication, I’d love to hear them.


P.S. I will not accept the game “telephone” as an answer 😉


3 thoughts on “Compulsive Selective Participation

  1. I agree that you have to meet your students where they are — and just recognizing that (and figuring out where they REALLY are) is big. Working within the framework you’re given for the public speaking course is tough — I remember thinking last week that we should think about some specific strategies to help you all feel like you have a bit of agency and flexibility within that set curriculum. Are there any of the presentation assignments that could be re-imagined as a game? Not telephone :-|. Maybe a reality TV show? We should let the hive mind work on this…. THoughts?


    1. We do “impromptu speeches” throughout the semester where students get up in front of the class randomly and answer questions. It’s kind of like a game show but the students only answer one question. The questions are fairly easy going, none of them are intentionally made to stump people. An example is asking the students to choose from “Friends” and “How I Met Your Mother” and explain why they chose that show.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You could try doing a “Trade Off” speech game. Give them a topic or prompt to respond to and then have them pair up with another classmate. Their goal will be to, based on their knowledge of speech structure, give a live impromptu speech on the prompt. The kicker: they each can only contribute one sentence at a time. This makes them think on their feet and construct a speech together as they go. It can challenge them to a construct a proper speech on the fly, which is a useful skill to have. Lol worse comes to worse, it should prove entertaining to watch!


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