21 Dear Abby

Arley Cruthers

Activity Guidelines

Suggested Course Level

Lower level undergraduate

Activity Purpose

  • Students will pick research topics.
  • Students will see how looking “sideways” at something can produce a more interesting set of questions than approaching something from the most obvious point of view.
  • Note: I did this activity more often when I taught composition, but it can definitely be used when students have some leeway in what to write their research reports on and often reach for the most obvious topics.

Materials Required

  • Class set of advice columns. (I like Dear Prudence, but any advice column will do. I often print 5 copies of 5 different columns for a class of 25.)

Activity Instructions

  1. Have students read the advice column then write for 5 minutes in the voice of someone other than the letter writer or the columnist. They can write in first or third person. For example, if the letter involves a father asking for advice on dealing with his teenage daughter who’s using drugs, a student might write from the perspective of the daughter, the mother, or even someone outside of the disagreement like the neighbour or the daughter’s boyfriend.
  2. After 5 minutes, have students pick a new perspective then write for another 5 minutes.
  3. Have a class discussion about how the new perspective changed the way they looked at the conflict. What questions did each new perspective bring up? What questions did each perspective ignore?
  4. Link the activity to research topics by putting a common topic such as “Parking at Kwantlen” on the board. Using a word map, ask students to come up with different perspectives you could approach this topic from. Students will usually start with the obvious (students) but as you ask them to shift perspectives, they begin asking more interesting questions such as “Why is it so difficult to get students to use public transit?” “What are the challenges with KPU being a ‘commuter campus?’” “Why was KPU Surrey built here?”

Debrief Questions / Activities

  • What questions did each new perspective bring up?
  • What questions did each perspective ignore?
  • How did your understanding of the conflict shift with each new perspective?
  • How can we tie this back to choosing our report topics?

Tags: research and documentation, individual, creating a product or document, self-reflection, choosing report topics, perspectives, identifying research gaps


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