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Archive for the ‘teaching’ Category

Addie Zierman wrote an article I appreciated in Relevant Magazine about rethinking Christian cliches.  The funny thing is, I wasn’t overly familiar with the cliches she referenced in the article, but I know that in every environment, not just Christian communities, we use these verbal shortcuts as part of our common language, for connection.  I’ve attended three churches in six years (lived in different places, that’s why), and one of the most interesting parts of entering a new church community is figuring out the local Christian cliches.  I think they are unavoidable.  But I connected with this article because I’m constantly trying to teach my students about why cliches suck the impact out of whatever they are trying to say, or generally, they do.  Overused language allows the listener/reader to pass by ideas without much thought.

I really like this connection Zierman makes with “fresh language” and Jesus as God’s Word:

But at the heart of the Christian faith is this: we were broken and we couldn’t figure it out and, instead of sending us some tired cliché, God sent Christ. The Word, John called Him. He had hands and feet, dust-covered from all that walking.

Here is what happens when the Word of God brushes against humanity: Stories. Discussion. Fresh metaphor, strung together like so many beads on a string. The Kingdom of God is like this … and like this … and like this other thing over here. It’s a seven-mile walk to a place called Emmaus without a Gospel tract in hand or the Roman’s Road paradigm to quote—just the messy truth of it all, hashed out among new friends.

Stories, fresh metaphor–sounds good to me.

Going back to the theme I’ve been sort of mulling over lately, about how Jesus’ teachings help us to live better in relationship to God but also to our neighbors, I like this idea of choosing language carefully, paying attention to how we’re communicating ideas, and attempting to prevent, through word choice and storytelling, our own indifference to the things we see and know about God’s work in this world.

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I have had great success with both of these activities–success, as in, I really love them and my students seem to enjoy them too.

1. TRADE CRAZY STORIES

I got this from the writer/poet, Jim Heynen, when he taught a fiction sprint course I attended.  Jim is known for his teaching as well as his writing–if you ever get the chance to study with him, jump on it.

Okay, so his activity is so simple you’re just going to have to trust me on it: ask your students to take five minutes or so and list some crazy things they’ve experienced, heard, or read about.  I usually start with my own examples, like…

*When the guy in the Geppetto costume at Disney world silently asked me to share my Nerds (candy) with him through outrageous Disney costumed hand gestures

*Another student of mine said her father threw Tom Cruise into a dumpster when they were in high school.

You could spend an entire hour and fifteen minute class period trading these stories.  It’s one of the hardest things to cut off, because each story spurs the next.  Make sure you tell your students that it’s possible that you will steal one of their stories for your own work.  And also, optionally, if you are a good person, that they may steal one of yours.

NEWSREEL MEMORY GAME

I just came up with this today (on David Foster Wallace day, see below) and I wish I’d had more time for it because this, too, could take up a chunk of college time if you needed it to.  I asked the students to list, in five minutes (again), every single media story they can think of that happened in their lifetime.  These can include:

-natural disasters

-celebrity deaths

-inventions

-scandals

-political events

They can be local or global.  The only requirement is that they must have been covered by some kind of media.

After five minutes, we go through the class and each student reads their list.  Much like Boggle or Scattergories, if another student has written down the same event, both or all students must cross it out.   For instance, if you write down 9 /11 (especially if you play this right after you discussed David Foster Wallace’s essay about 9/11), you can be sure that you’ll have to cross it off because everyone else will have that one, too.

I am not a huge fan of playing games with my students–except I am.  I hate it when it feels like a baby shower game, and it’s always possible that pedagogical games will end up being like baby or wedding shower games, but this one, thank God, did not turn out that way.  I think it’s because people weren’t as interested in winning as they were just seeing if other people remembered what they remembered.  Okay, some students were interested in winning.  It was hard to keep them from going off and telling these media stories to each other, which I had to do because we were pressed for time.  This is why I wished I had given it at least 45 mins instead just a half hour.

As a writer who teaches, I love these activities because I hear a lot of crazy stories that I’ve either forgotten or haven’t heard in the first place, and I  can use them in my own writing.

For teachers who just teach–I think these are also great brainstorming exercises.  The students get exposed to a lot of good things to consider writing about.

For humans who don’t teach or write but who like to stay curious–I recommend finding a good group of people to play these games with, especially if you are in need of fascinating stories to keep your brain happy.

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