Provoking critical engagement

In this section, we offer some ways in which you can use writing to increase students’ participation in their modules or seminars and to prompt more active, critical, engagement with the material you are teaching. At their most simple, these give students a chance to stop and consider what they have encountered (or are experiencing in the moment) in their readings, lectures and seminars, to articulate and develop their understanding of the subject matter. Strategies for critical engagement aim to shift this reflection and awareness of what they have understood into informed questioning of the material; they invite and enable students to express their own thoughts in writing and in discussion with lecturers, tutors and peers, situated within the broader research and discourse of the discipline.   

Staff we have worked with have also found these strategies and activities useful not only for focusing students’ attention, but also as a way of gently structuring a period of teaching or discussion time, and for getting immediate feedback from students as to how well they are engaging with the material.

·         Activities that prioritise situating oneself in a broader field or project (Global Change Biology), or building explicitly on previous research (Exhibiting WW1)

·         The use of stop and write tasks which are short un-assessed writing tasks – stopping at some point in a lecture or seminar for a 1-3 minute focusing activity, such as getting students to write their understanding of a particular theory, or list three questions about it, or write a short paragraph explaining how a particular theory can be applied in a particular situation.

·         Using different genres/styles/audiences to stimulate thinking and increase awareness of disciplinary style, and develop their engagement through critical and creative rewriting. These include asking students to write a letter to the author of an article (Geography), to write a poem expressing a theme present in the literature in the style of that literature (English), (Warren Boucher’s Shakespeare course) to write a brief explanation of a difficult concept using colloquial language - “what I reckon is…”, or to vary the audience. 

·         Thoughts on the nature of what it might mean to be critical in studying, how this might be constrained by the context, and some suggested activities to integrate critical reading and writing into the everyday curriculum - Developing criticality presentation based on work developed in collaboration with secondary schools and a post-16 college

Have a look at our section on developing reasoning and argument, particularly

·         A series of conversations with a colleague in Drama around getting students to identify and write about critical moments in performance, building up to a research writing workshop and a long essay

For ideas on helping students engage more with their reading, have a browse of our page on moving reading into writing, or go directly to:

·         A set of worksheets designed with the Geography department for both students and tutors to use in conjunction with the prescribed reading, encouraging them to engage with the discourse and the content, and read and think and write and debate as emergent geographers 

Files you can download from this page: