Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

"The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down": A Silent Seminar

Kathryn Rhine, Fall 2018

Kathryn uses her silent seminar in introductory anthropology classes of about 20 students, but she suggests that the activity could be modified for classes of different sizes and disciplines as well. First, she sets up the classroom by covering classroom tables (or floor space) in large sheets of blank butcher paper. She chooses one question (reading comprehension questions or something more open ended, depending on the topic) for each table. Each student is given a marker and rotates around the classroom from table to table in groups of 4-6 students.

In the first stage (when the paper is blank), Kathryn encourages students to write a thought, question, or response pertaining to the prompt at their table. For this first round, she notes that it might take a little bit of work to get students participating, but they will become more engaged as the class continues.

For the next stage, the groups rotate to the next tables and respond to what was written by the previous groups (they can also write their own comments, if they want). This continues until the papers fill up (Kathryn says it is literally silent during this because the students are so engaged=silent seminar!). She thinks that this works so well particularly because writing with a marker and moving around the room is a physical action that gets them away from their desks. It is good for quiet students because the anonymity takes some of the pressure off of them, but it is also good for talkative students, because they can scribble down many different ideas on the page.

At the end, Kathryn selects students to read over each paper and summarize the main ideas/conversations happening (also an important skill). This is a fun class activity that does not take much prep. It is also great for the instructor to have a record of all of the class "conversation."




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