Fun Being “Board” in the Classroom

Every semester, I have my ESL students do fun learning activities on the whiteboards. It allows them to do some fun tangible activities and gets them out of their seats.

Vase Auction

For this activity, I have several students go to the whiteboard and draw a vase. 

Then, we hold a vase auction. The other students get to bid on the vases. Invariably, bidding starts at two or three dollars and jumps to thousands, millions, sometimes even zillions of dollars. During the fun, students learn vocabulary (vase, auction, bid). Afterwards, we discuss it so they can practice using past tense verbs (so difficult but important for ESL students!): “I bought a purple vase.” “We had an auction.”

Ambidextrous Drawings

In another activity, I begin with the question “Are you right-handed or left-handed?” We have a brief discussion about it. One student told us that, as a child in her native country, the teacher forced her to be right-handed by smacking her left hand with a stick.

I then demonstrate how to draw two things simultaneously with both hands (I first saw someone do it on TV in the 90’s, and it blew me away!).

Then, I have several volunteers go to the board and do their own “ambidextrous drawings.” Afterwards, they again get to practice using past tense verbs : “I drew two fish.” “I drew houses.”

Drawing in the Present Continuous Tense

Another activity I have them do is draw something and describe it with a sentence using the present continuous tense. Here are some examples:

This last one stands out – because it’s me (wearing my Henley shirt and cardigan sweater)! I think I just found a fun profile picture…!


Strategies to Open the Door

How do you talk to students about current events? Or do you avoid these discussions? Is there a place for these discussions in our work on campus? If so, what strategies can we use to open the door to these sometimes difficult conversations with students?

In the classes I teach, it would be a Herculean feat to attempt to escape discussing current events. One of the tenets of my teaching philosophy is engaging students in content which affects and impacts the issues in their lives, so in ENG101 and ENG102, they will typically write about issues of importance to them and their communities, with parameters. In ENH295, the core content of the class pulses to and through the heart of banning, challenging, or censoring literature. In that class, discussing the current landscape and groundbreaking onslaught of book challenges is simply unavoidable.

To build classroom community and create a space where inquiry is encouraged and all perspectives are respected, I use a norm setting activity on meeting day one or two. These student led norms guide the way students interact with each other and me during our class time together. Typically, through consensus, students will decide to use a norm like “Be respectful to peers and instructor.” Then, if a conversation about a controversial issue transpires, we know the steadfast norm works to balance the group and maintain collegiality.

Another strategy I have found success with is using a Four Corners activity with signs of Agree, Strongly Agree, Disagree, and Strongly Disagree posted in each corner of the classroom. I will read a statement pertaining to the content, and students will move to the corner which best represents their position on the statement. Then, as a collective, we look at the trends. Did the whole class move to one side? Is it split equally? Are there more people who feel strongly agree or strongly disagree about the topic? Usually, I ask students from both perspectives to explain their stance. Then, to stir it up more, I ask if anyone has changed their mind after hearing the other side’s perspective.

These strategies are useful when we discuss current events to help students see multiple perspectives and to realize that even if we disagree, we can still respect each other. I do have to say, though, if there is a current event which strikes us all with its enormity, then I may just say, “Did you see this?” or “I know we are all feeling…” to give them space/time to think and discuss before we move onto content. For example, when the pandemic shifted us into a parallel universe, I found it necessary to allow space for students to express grief, complexity, sudden transition, and subsequent trauma. I think the more authentic we are with recognizing how these external events may affect us helps support our students in validating their own feelings and navigating complex issues.


A Little Vulnerability

Little did I know when we crafted the Write 6x6 prompts that, during the week where we would
explore how we talk about current events, America would be struggling, once again, with grief and
anger after the 129th school shooting of 2023.

As I write this, my fifth grader is across town taking the state science test, and my high schooler
is conjugating verbs in French class. They are engaged in tasks that they probably won’t
remember–moments experienced by a million kids before them, nothing that should cause me
any worry. However, every time there is (yet another) school shooting, I spend suffocating under
the weight of anxiety and sadness until I can gather them home again.

Though it is statistically unlikely that one of my kids would be involved in a school shooting, gun violence
is now the number one cause of death in America for children ages 1 to 18. This is an important issue,
and one I know my kids and I should be talking about, but I am ashamed to say that I feel
unequipped to talk about it. Do I bring it up? Do I wait for an invitation to talk about it? Is there
a “right” thing to say or a way to help them make sense of the tragedy? How strong should I appear
when inside I am sad and angry?

It feels like there are more ways to mess it up than there are to get it “right.” My heart tells me that the best approach is to be honest and open. I know that I don’t have to have the answers, because what answers are there in the face of such senseless terror and loss?

I wrestle with similar feelings of inadequacy when I consider discussing current events in my
classroom. Though we have student-led discussion circles every other week, I do not purposefully
set aside time for discussing current events. When they arise organically, I make space for the
conversation. I try to rise to the occasion, again, with honesty, openness, and a little vulnerability.
I know I am doing my students no service by going on with business as usual when the world outside
our classroom door has been pitched into chaos. Everything from incidents of police violence to the
price of gas impacts their lives, and learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

Write 6x6 offers such a unique space for us to share with and learn from each other, and so I
am hopeful I might gather a few bits of wisdom or tools for my toolkit from the posts of others this week.
In the meantime, I prepare to fumble my way through a hard conversation with my own kids this evening.
I cannot tell them that everything will be okay, but we can sit together in our not-knowing.

Let’s Talk?

This week’s prompt is causing me to pause a bit. I find myself re-adjusting in my seat because I am uncomfortable with my answer. I don’t know if it will be popular, but it will be honest.

My interaction with our Veteran students consists of assisting with class selections; verifying that the students’ enrollment information is submitted to the VA in a timely manner, and also continuing to monitor each and every student to make sure any changes to his or her enrollment is reported in a timely manner to the VA so the student can avoid incurring lots of unnecessary debt.

So – do I or does my Team speak to students about current events? My first answer would be ‘No’ and this is why. Most of our students are working in addition to attending school. Some of them are also dealing with high anxiety and/or PTSD so mental health is of the forefront and current events can sometimes trigger their anxiety to heighten. Our approach is keeping our students comfortable and serving them efficiently and effortlessly so they do not have added stress to the all ready heavy load they are carrying. We don’t avoid current event conversations, but we do not volunteer to talk about them either.

On the flipside, I can also say we do sometimes talk about certain issues or situations if the need arises. Now, if we have a world event involving any military action then absolutely the office is a buzz, and we are working hard to ensure the students who receive Orders to be deployed are given permission to withdraw from classes due to mitigating circumstances. The atmosphere becomes quite serious and a blanket of empathy is felt like a thick fog. I have witnessed a conversation in which a couple of soldiers were speaking of a current military situation and one of them had shared that he had just received Orders to go overseas. He was in office trying to get things taken care of. I heard the other soldier share that he was jealous because the one received Orders. Their comfort level is higher putting on their military uniform and defending our freedom rather than sitting in a classroom with their Converse tennis shoes. They did a handshake in a fashion that caused them to hit their shoulders and on they went. The one basically skipping out of here because he “gets to go defend.”

I do advocate for open communication with our students. But I am cautious of the topics being discussed and very mindful of differing opinions remaining open and respectful of the array of viewpoints from others.

As always, thank you for reading ~ Jody


When the World Bursts Through the Classroom Door

by Mary Anne Duggan

Photo by Aidan Bartos on Unsplash

As a dutiful kindergarten teacher, I always wrote my lesson plans a week in advance. It just so happened on the schedule for September 11, 2001 was a class book the students would create entitled What a Wonderful World. The plan was to play a recording of Louis Armstrong’s song of the same name while the students each illustrated a sentence from the song.

I see trees of green
Red roses, too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world

This on a decidedly not-wonderful morning. Just a few hours prior I woke my husband from his post-night shift slumber to let him know he would be putting on his uniform again. I wrenched with whether I should drop off my daughter at middle school. Were we all in danger? Would school even be held? I dropped her off and brought my son to our school not knowing what would happen next.

In the faculty room before the first bell, we deliberated on how much to discuss with the students. In that moment, the kindergarten team decided to treat it like a normal day and gently answer any questions as they arise. (And cross fingers that they would not!)

Fast forward to Armstrong’s powerful voice playing in my classroom later that morning and me trying to stuff down the tears of the moment. Up to that point, no student had said a thing about the terrorist attack, except for Matthew who came running up to me at the start of the day. “Some planes flew into the Twin Towers!” he shared with me in his strong, 5-year old New York accent.

As the students each illustrated their page of the book, (a book I still have over 20 years later), pictures of blue skies and rainbows and people really saying I love you filled their pages. But Matthew made a different artistic choice. On his page was an airplane with two rising towers in its sights.

I learned then what I continue to believe now. Current events let themselves into our classrooms unbidden. And even if only some of my students are aware of them, as the teacher I, too, am affected. The question for me, then, is not if current events should be part of classroom dialogue, but how.

Acknowledging contagious ideas

On a brisk February day 18 years after 9/11, I again stood in front of a class – this time a college statistics class. I was trying to teach about z-scores that day, but the students were more interested in talking about this weird new virus that was going around. I remember one nursing student saying to the whole class, “Hold on, people – It’s coming!”

If I taught social psychology, we could have discussed the phenomenon of conspiracy theories or the sway of confirmation bias. If I was a nursing instructor, we could have focused on hand-washing and other ways to prevent germ spread. I could have espoused theories about how a pandemic should be handled, but I don’t teach public health. I could have gone all sorts of political, but I resisted.

Since I teach statistics, however, there was plenty to tie in. We talked about probabilities associated with the virus and base-rate errors people are inclined to make. We learned how to calculate rates of contagion and R-naught ratios. We talked about how COVID deaths were operationally defined from a statistical perspective– a sad discussion but one the students really wanted to have. In short, we kept to the content of statistics, and that gave us plenty to chew over. And, I believe in neutrally approaching this topic and sticking to the science, students gained some knowledge that may have helped them find their footing when it seemed the floor was dropping out from under them.

Current events run in the news on a loop and some students walk into our classrooms replaying that loop in their minds. Current events can either serve as a massive distraction for students or as a vehicle for powerful learning. I choose to minimize the former by capitalizing on the latter.


Let’s Get Physical (Books)!

I love reading, but sometimes I buy books just for their physical design. I use them in class when we have discussions comparing physical and digital media. Here is my book “show and tell…!”


These “Artenol” magazines (now defunct, I believe) have unique “die-cut” edges.

(The Fredrich Nietzsche issue includes a rare peek at his eyeball on page 17!)

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern

Issue 53 of “McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern” includes eight “inflatable stories!” (I’ll read them as soon as I find my balloon pump…!)


This 2004 issue of “Adbusters” has a hole right through the middle that lines up with some of the artwork inside.


The previous owner of this James Randi book Flim Flam was not a fan of the author’s skepticism of pseudoscience, passionately expressing disagreements in annotations throughout the book!

I normally don’t like to buy used books that are already too marked up, but this one is great for starting discussions about annotating.

Album of Dinosaurs

I just got flashbacks of my first show & tell in kindergarten, a book I still have: Album of Dinosaurs, so I just had to include it…!


Trashy Romance Novels & Chat GPT

Okay, this could be good. Or not. How exactly does a trashy romance novel help shape my current approach to your work here at GCC? OMG! I’m going to ask Chat GPT to answer that. That’s a good question for her, Maud. We’re on a first-name basis now. Maud said, “It is unlikely that reading a trashy romance novel would have a direct impact on a teacher’s approach to teaching at a community college. However, there are some potential ways that reading for pleasure could indirectly impact a teacher’s teaching approach.” Well, that’s not very exciting. She’s good at changing the topic or guiding me away from salacious topics and back to more sensible ones. I think I’ll pass on that for now and write about my obsession with Maud (Chat GPT) instead. I’m completely fascinated by how easy it is for students to cheat using AI tools now, and it’s amazing how freaked-out educators across the country have become. Frankly, I find it all amusing. It’s the perfect scenario for forcing people to change, adapt or get out of their comfort zone. I think we get too comfortable in our jobs at times. We like a certain textbook, and even though it’s 20 years old, it still works somehow. Or you might have a lesson or lecture that you started using when you began teaching 10 years ago. The course content hasn’t changed; the lecture is still good, right? Well, that’s the comfortable mindset. We’re in our comfort zone. A comfort zone can be described as “a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress.” Well, Chat GPT and other AI innovations have blown most of us out of our comfort zones. We need to face reality. Just like when Covid hit and we all had to magically transform to online learning almost overnight, we are now once again being challenged to get out of our comfort zones and “reimagine” our assessments. I recently wrote about how to Robot-Proof Your Writing Assignments which includes a few tips for how to create assignments that are more difficult for AI to complete. I’ve also been doing a lot of reading on AI and came across a few resources that I found useful, including this page from the University of Utah which is an excellent resource for AI Generative Tools and tips for assignment design and how to discuss these tools with students. Good luck getting out of your comfort zone once again.

Simple Fun

Sometimes, the simple things are more fun and meaningful than all the banquets in the world,” E.A. Bucchianeri.

Confession – I am not one who practices work/life balance very well. I am a home grown Midwest Girl with a strong work ethic. A work ethic that causes me to be the first one in to work and the last one out of work. I love to work, and I love the feeling that comes from putting forth a full day’s effort and investing into the lives of those I serve on a daily basis.

As I enter this middle-age phase of life and become more aware of my limitations, aka stamina, it is apparent to me how important having FUN helps me to replenish my empty cup (soul).

Fun comes packaged in many different ways for me. It can be a walk with my daughter; a hike with my husband; watching a movie with my son; talking on the phone with my Midwest peeps; watching the sunset; sitting by the pool; cooking a favorite meal; ordering take out; grabbing a cup of coffee while running an errand; or daydreaming about a trip.

The older I get the more I realize FUN for me = CONNECTION. It means sharing a special smile at the grocery store with a young mom who is dealing with a teary toddler; or an elderly person who needs help wrestling a grocery cart free from the string of other carts.

These simple connections also apply to our office atmosphere and our day-in-day-out activities assisting our Veteran students with their class selections or calling and speaking with a VA Representative in good ole Oklahoma. No matter what we are presented with, we can make a connection through a friendly smile or friendly banter. This too is fun.

Simple fun in our work place and interactions with others elevates morale and productivity. When we keep things simple, we are not allowing the confusion of words; thoughts; assumptions or attitudes to get mixed in.

Introducing fun in higher education feeds the fire that burns deep within our students. We can ignite the flame that is almost burned out by fanning the flame using a gentle answer (signifying a gentle breeze). This approach allows the fire to grow.

Ahhhh, yes, this simple act reminds me of a good bonfire in the darkest of nights. Nothing spells fun like a messy SMORE;-))

Thank you for stopping by and reading ~ Jody (aka Midwest – that’s what my office peeps call me).


Think You (or Your Students) Need Willpower?  Think Again!

“How do I change my behavior?” That’s the question one of my students asked after a GCC Money Talks session. It was the Fall of 2019 and Money Talks had just launched and this student was one of the first to participate. It was a great question, unfortunately, I didn’t have a great answer. I did find a blog post with 5 Ways of Changing Your Financial Behavior but I knew that I needed a better answer.  Fortunately, I found that I already had a great resource on my bookshelf. The book, Change Anything is exactly that – a great answer and set of strategies

Free Speech & Difficult Ideas: The Way Forward

Over the past few years in writing for the 6 x 6 writing project I have often written on the themes of free speech and the need for critical, civil, and constructive dialogue—see “Celebrating the Value of Free Speech” and “The Other DEI… Diversity in Examining Ideas.”  This focus has been reinforced recently by the Faculty Senate’s adoption of a GCC-version of the “Chicago Principles.”  Here are some relevant sections of the GCC statement:

Of course, the ideas of different members of the GCC community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of GCC to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although GCC greatly values civility, and although all members of the GCC community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

In a word, GCC’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the GCC community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the GCC community, not for GCC as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose. Indeed, fostering the ability of members of the GCC community to engage in such debate and deliberation in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of GCC’s educational mission.

The GCC Philosophy and Religious Studies Department continues to manifest this commitment to the free expression of ideas in a rational and civil manner.  By its sponsorship of its annual panel discussions—“God & Truth” and “Critical Dialogues”—our campus and community have the opportunity to witness and participate in the ongoing interaction of ideas.

Free Speech on the Campus

Last October our “Critical Dialogues” panel discussion was devoted to one of the most enduring and controversial topics in our culture—Abortion.  And, again, we witnessed a rational, civil interchange which should be envy of any institution of higher learning.  We chose the title, “Abortion: Beyond the Slogans, Beyond the Rage,” which communicated our desire for a deeper analysis of the debate in a context devoid of acrimony—you can watch the event and see if we accomplished our goals!

In the Classroom…

n my introduction to philosophy classes, I wanted to bring this quest for rational and civil dialogue to my students.  Early in the semester we go over logic and logical fallacies.  Then every week we review a particular logical fallacy.  This served as a good foundation from which to work as we approached the topic of abortion after the Critical Dialogues panel discussion.  So often the debate on this topic is dominated by slogans and fallacious reasons and helping students see through the irrational slogans would serve them well in their logical development.  Over the past fifty years the philosophical literature is replete with sophisticated defenses of both the pro-choice and pro-life perspectives.  I had my students read a classic pro-choice piece—Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” and the pro-life philosopher, Francis Beckwith’s response, “Personal Bodily Rights, Abortion, and Unplugging the Violinist.”  Then, in class, I went over the philosophical terrain of the arguments and where the key philosophical issues came to expression.  I utilized Dr. Angela Knobel’s outline of the various arguments and this allowed for a rich discussion on the topic.  Later, in their philosophy journals, several students mentioned that, although they had not necessarily changed their minds on the topic of abortion, they did have a greater appreciation for the other side of the debate.  Serious interaction on a controversial cultural topic with a renewed appreciation for other points of view—that’s educational success!