Day 362: Teaching Strategies

You are an English teacher. You have to teach a class that introduces students to literary postmodernism in 75 minutes, using two short stories. The short stories have been selected, the lecture has been written out, and the general point that needs to come across is neatly packaged into small thought-experiments that tie together parts of the short stories and larger philosophical discussions regarding such things as language, narrativizing knowledge, reality, futurity, etc. The format of the class, as it stands, is a lecture with added interaction based on making students’ minds play with confusing and at times funny logical problems. If, however, you really wanted to impress someone with this lesson you are teaching, what else is there to do? This is a problem I am trying to work through this weekend.

Mind you, you only have this one class to impress someone. You do NOT know the students yet (i.e. you’re teaching someone else’s class and the students have been working on a different period all semester), it’s a large, rising/stadium-seated course (let’s say 40 to 50 students) with you behind a lectern at the bottom of the room. You therefore do not have the luxury of experimenting with things such as groupwork, taking the course beyond the classroom, using technology as an experimental teaching/learning tool, etc. Hence, what can you do to make the students say: “this was fun, very informative, and made me think–I want to know more; where can I sign up for the next class?” Yes, the lecture itself is the main concern here, but what else is there that distinguishes one from other teachers in such a situation. Not having access to my regular techniques, I am feeling somewhat limited in this regard. Any ideas?

Oh, and on a very different note: this week’s episode of Lost was finally a good one again. You can find a great little (comical) synopsis of its highlights on ELECTRA’s blog.



  1. Tough one. I hope this is not something like a camouflaged job interview for you.

    If you can’t do groupwork, you could at least put them into teams of two to do ‘mumble groups’ for 1 minute in between, to make sure you get some qualitative feedback from them (but of course you know all these tricks – allowing them to build confidence in their answer – not putting them on the spot, etc)

    I’d try to use questions and examples that relate closely to their world (i.e. popular culture and parties:-) yet this mustn’t be done in too blunt a way.

    And I’ve also got the impression that the screen-fixated youth of today always believe that they’ve enjoyed themselves if there was a movie/video shown in the classroom – probably difficult with a literature class, and also it must’n be longer than 5 minutes (at most) and they have to have a questions to solve while watching it.

    I don’t think that any of this was new to you – oh, and of course you have to be highly entertaining and funny as hell with every word you say:-)

  2. Do what you do. Tell ’em a story as engagingly as you wrote this article. And don’t think that b/c their faces never crack that they aren’t enjoying it. And tell us what you did . . .

  3. Thank you (both of you) for the suggestions and encouraging words.
    I generally don’t have a problem teaching complex concepts, but when it comes to being forced to rush through a large set of complex concepts in a small period of time I unwittingly tend to say things that are lucid to me, but which to students may appear terribly obscure (in other words, I fall back into the theoretical jargon and analytical shorthand of the academy and, as I am rushing, sometimes forget to translate this shorthand into more accessible language). I have, however, decided to include random pop-culture examples for each of the very complex problems, which will hopefully make me slow down for that moment and force me to translate the thought experiment in ways that works with, say, a Simpsons episode. (I will, for example, teach the Lacanian paradox of desire by making reference to the Simpsons episode in which they travel back in time to Paris.) Should be fun. I’ll let you know how it went.

  4. Nice on the Simpsons’ reference. I find my pop culture references are key to my explanations of concepts and literature. It’s that basic learning concept of connecting to new knowledge to people’s existing knowledge and schema.

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