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Exercises for the First Day of Class

Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 09:51:47 -0400
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
The simplistic exercise which I use the first day of Women's Studies
class is to have students assemble in groups of three or four and
introduce each other.  I give them an informal listing of questions -
other's name, class standing, major; then more personal (though still
superficial questions) comments about the person - family background,
campus or non-campus, is semester just classes or classes and work.
I ask them to also include one defining characteristic the other
would like to be identified with.
I then make some introductory comments about women's studies and
feminist pedagogy - especially the combining of academic material and
value of personal experience; the importance of "voice"; the basic
establishment of the course as dialogue based on shared and personal
experiences, combined with the need to be responsible and carefully
read the assigned material, so we have a common understanding of
concepts and frameworks which we can draw on.  I also tell them I
will rearrange/change assignments if there is class consensus to
do so.
I then ask them to consider the word "patriarchy" - what they think
it means, how it has affected them.  I typically start this off in
the same group which introduced each other, but find them clamoring
to add their own voices in the total group.
I then tie this to readings and continued dialogue for next class,
including Marilyn Frey's article on Oppression and Peggy MacIntosh's
article on Privilege ("Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack").
Hope this is helpful.               - Mary
Mary L. Ertel, Associate Professor, Sociology
Central Connecticut State University, New Britain, CT
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 13:34:08 -0700
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
I use the small group interviews leading to introductions to the class that
Mary Ertel suggested.  After one student introduced another by concluding, "She
just moved in with her boyfriend last night and she's really nervous," I added
to my instructions that sometimes in a small group, someone feels free to say
something that she might not want shared with the group at large; if this might
be the case, do not share the info.  In some cases, the person making the
introduction might not be sure that the information should be shared (As, for
example, if a student says that she tested HIV+ last spring); in such a case,
the student doing the introduction should check with the student she interviewed
to be sure this is knowledge to be shared -- perhaps the HIV+ student is an
activist on the issue -- or perhaps she's not ready to come out in that
The introductions are useful, people begin to feel related as a class.  As they
get ready to make introductions, I learn everyone's name, then I match names
and people and challenge the class to do the same.  One of my very best college
teachers learned names, even in huge classes, by the 2nd class -- he said, they
think you really know them, and, of course, it does lead to learning more
about the individual students faster.
mgrotzky    AT    castle.cudenver.edu
Auraria Library
Date: Tue, 18 Aug 1998 22:59:43 EDT
From: Carol Horwitz <DcmNM04 AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
Penny Gold from Knox College suggested this exercise to me and I have used it
very successfully several times.  The assignment is to remember when you first
realized you "had" a gender.  I share with the class that when I was born my
uncle brought my mother a 45 rpm (some of you MUST remember those) called,
"Take her back and trade her for a boy."  That was a running joke as I grew
up.  But I actually remember wearing a sailor cap and tucking my hair up into
it so that I would look like a boy.  I was probably 3 or 4 years.  I knew even
then that somehow it was better to be male.
Carol Horwitz
DcmNM04    AT    aol.com
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 00:05:06 -0500
From: Arnie Kahn <kahnas AT JMU.EDU>
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
Yes, as someone mentioned a few days ago, there is a file of first day
activities.  I know because I contributed to it.  However, in recent
semesters I've changed to the following:
I pass out a questionnaire in which I ask students 2 questions.
1.  If I were a member of the other sex I could
2.  If I were a member of the other sex I could not
Sometimes I ask students to read one of their responses to each of the
questions, and sometimes I collect them all and read from them.  The
women indicate that if they were a man they could
    Go out at night w/o fear (and this comes as a great shock to
the men in the class).
    Not have to wait in long lines to pee.
    Earn more money.
On the "could not" women mostly mention giving birth.
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 08:12:13 -0400
From: Sharon Jacobson <justakid AT FRONTIERNET.NET>
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
I do something similar to Carol's activity.  I have them make a road map of
their lives.  Every time they have had to make a major decision about their
life their is an intersection and the road bends up and down whenever
something unexpected has happened in their lives.  Along this road they draw
in symbols, people, places, etc that have contributed to their
awareness/understanding/development of gender.  Throughout the term they
returned back to these maps drawing in new images to represent new
awarenesses.  There were some topics where they did not always have anything
new to draw in, but there were other topics where they had more insights.
One student wound up redrawing her map because she ran out of space.
Honesty is more than just not being dishonest.  It is an active choice
to be responsible for the choices we make before we act upon them so that
we can stand up for them and not be tempted to be dishonest.
Sharon Jacobson
SUNY Brockport
Women's Studies Program
Brockport, NY 14420
justakid    AT    frontiernet.net
(716) 395-5697
Date: Wed, 19 Aug 1998 08:56:52 -0400
From: "B. Maria Baldridge" <bbaldr1 AT GL.UMBC.EDU>
Subject: Re: intro WS group activities
I took a women's studies class, cross-listed with africana studies, and that
teacher had us write and discuss when we realized the implications of gender AND
race.  this exercise led us to discuss for the entire first class time. (and
sometimes we realized the hidden "-isms" in our families that we may have
overlooked before).  Very effective for me.
Maria Baldridge
bbaldr1    AT    umbc.edu
"of the four groups, black and white women,
black and white men, black women have the
lowest average wage.  this is a vital concern
for us all, no matter with whom we sleep."
                         ~ audre lorde
Date: Sun, 23 Aug 1998 14:00:01 -0500
From: Rose Norman <Normanr AT HiWAAY.net>
Subject: Intro to WS offline responses
The following five replies about exercises for the first day of class
were sent to me rather than to WMST-L.
Rose Norman
1.  August 1998
From Ann Haugo:
Can't say that I have any brilliant ideas, but a couple of suggestions,
1: Learned this from a fellow instructor last year to encourage class
discussion and interaction, and I think it would work well for a first day
activity. You might try a variation of a "fish bowl" activity. Divide the
class into two equal groups and have them form two circles (standing), with
one circle inside the other. You will need to have a list of questions
prepared. For the first day of class, they could be simple questions like
"What's your major and why did you choose it?" or "Where are you from and
why might I want to visit there?" or "Why did you choose to take Women's
Studies?" or "What is one woman's issue that you are committed to and why?"
... The goal is to get the students talking to each other on a one-on-one
basis, and to move through several groupings so that they have a chance to
talk with several different people. So, one of the circles needs to move
after each question. Be sure to give enough time so that both students in
each group will have time to answer.
2: Toilet paper, if you want to be a bit goofy. This is a variation of a
camp game that I've used in the classroom a bit. Pass around a roll of
toilet paper and ask students to tear off a strip of any length. You can
start by tearing your own. Once the toilet paper has gone around and
everyone has their strip, announce the directions. For every square of
toilet paper they have, they have to share something about themselves with
the group. Toilet paper works well, as opposed to M & M's or another
colored candy, which is another way to do this, because with the toilet
paper, the students tend to warm up to each other by talking about stupid
they feel with toilet paper in front of them.
3: You might also try to locate the "New Games" series of books which were
published in the late '70s or early '80s, I believe. There are a number of
egalitarian games described in each book that can be adapted for classroom
Good luck! Hope you get lots of replies --
Ann Haugo
Theatre and Women's Studies
University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign
a-haugo    AT    uiuc.edu
fax: 217-356-4933
 2.  I use the following:
(based on Teaching Diversity ed by Maurianne Adams et al --v. useful for
grp activities:
divide men and women into same-sex small groups.  have them make a list
that completes sentence: to act like a woman/man is to do such and such
Back in large group have small groups read off their lists, doing one sex
at a time.  tell them not to repeat what is already up there.  put the
lists for women, and the lists for men each in a big box
ask: what keeps them in the boxes (discuss homophobia)  Ask them to note
anything else about boxes.
then--in addition--I do a list: "myths/stereotypes of feminists" and ask
them to compare this list with "acting like a woman"...Process.  note
that feminism has something to do with challenging the norm of woman.
I would love to see compilation of responses.
Kathy Miriam
kmiriam    AT    cats.ucsc.edu
 3.  Kari B Mcbride
kari    AT    U.Arizona.EDU
Bring half a dozen copies of the NY Times or other newspaper to class.
Divide class into groups of 5 or so students. Give each group one section
of the paper and ask them to produce the following statistics:
Number of women/men authoring articles
Number of women/men the articles are about
Number of women/men in photos
Number of women/men named in the photos
Activities of women/men in the articles (active, passive, victims, movers
        and shakers)
Activities of women/men in the photos
It's a great way to illustrate androcentrism, and they discover it
themselves. You can also have them create statistics by race and class.
Best wishes!
4.  As I have quite a number of things to do on the first day, I'm
going to have only a brief exercise:  I'm going to write on the board names
which we commonly think of as girls' names -- Hillary, Beverly, Kelley,
Leslie, Ashley, etc. -- and ask students if they can figure out the common
denominator (which is that they were all once MALE names).  Then I'll ask
them if they can think of any names which were originally female which
became male.  They won't be able to, because there aren't any.  Then we'll
discuss what that tells us about power, status, etc.  Why would no
self-respecting parent give their son a name which is understood to be a
woman's name?  Then why would parents confer male names upon girls?  ETc.
Janet Allured
McNeese State University
 5. i do the name game
from time to time. -- divide the class into dyads and ea person tells the
other about first, last names. what they know about it, if they like it,
whatever they wish.
then the pairs introduce their partners to the whole class. many
interesting things are revealed about religious, ethnic backgrounds, the
influence of pop culture (a number are named for mom/dad's favorite movie
stars) and it's a chance for individuals to express some personal reactions
to their names. we've had some who adopted a new name, or ended the use of
a nickname that had been attached and was not or no longer appreciated.
you can do a lot with the pairings -- the familiar - why you took the
class, some things you think you'll learn, aspects of favorite courses that
you hope this one will share, etc.
there are useful suggestions in a book called Teaching Tips that is in my
office! i can't provide cite but i think it may be indiana u press.
good luck!
Janet Freedman, Professor of Education and Director of Women's Studies
University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
285 Old Westport Road
No Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300
jfreedman    AT    umassd.edu
phone (508) 999-8269
fax (508)910-6916
Date: Mon, 24 Aug 1998 12:56:05 -0400
From: "Deborah A. Elliston" <deborah.elliston AT NYU.EDU>
Subject: Addendum: Intro WS group activities
I found the archived files and the recent suggestions on intro
activities really useful.  I want to add to the range of possibilities
the exercise I've decided to use this term for my intro to feminist
anthropology class, which is cross-listed with Women's Studies.  The
exercise was created by performance artist and transgender activist
Kate Bornstein.  In some of her performances last spring, she passed
out bluebooks (exam booklets) entitled, "The Truly Amazing Gender
Aptitude Quiz"; all the questions on the Quiz are compiled from
sections in Bornstein's recent book, <underline>My Gender
Workbook</underline> (NY:  Routledge, 1998).  The questions are
humorous and effective, helping students (and audience members) to gain
some critical insight into gender, "sex," the performance and
embodiment of each, as well as their ties to sexuality, social status,
etc..  Some examples:
Sec. I:  Which of the following most accurately describes you?  Check
the answer of your choice:
A.  I'm a real man.
B.  I'm a real woman.
C.  I'm not a real man or a real woman, but I'd like to be.
D.  I don't know what I am.  I honestly don't.
E.  None of the above.  I'm something else entirely.
Sec. II, Q#2:  Have you ever worn the clothes of the "opposite sex"?
A.  Hey, give me a break.  No way!
B.  Yes, but when <underline>I</underline> wear them, they're for the
<underline>right</underline> sex.   =20
C.  What sex in the world would be opposite of
D.  Several of the above.
Sec. III, Q#10:  Which of these phrases describes you most accurately
when it comes to rules about personal behavior and identity?
A.  I pretty much make up the rules to suit my needs, and I follow
those rules as long as I'm getting something out of it.
B.  I think many social and cultural rules governing individual
behavior and identity are necessary.
C.  I'm trying to figure out which rules to follow and which rules to
D.  Rules?  Honey, the Identity Police have arrested me so many times,
I've got a cell with my name on it.
I had permission to use the whole Quiz in one of the classes I taught
last year and found it enormously effective for inaugurating class
discussions about gender as a social construction, etc. -- in ways that
students found interesting (they also seemed to find this exercise less
threatening than others).  In her performances, Bornstein passes out
tiny little pencils along with the bluebooks, and gives instructions on
when to close the exam book, when to proceed to the next section, etc.:
 the authority of the test-taking aesthetic works to mime the authority
of narrow gender constructs and nicely undermines both.  There's even a
scoring system.
Using the entire Quiz, however, raises copyright issues (I got one-time
only permission to use it last year).  One alternative, which I'll be
doing the first day of class, is to put some of the sections/questions
on an overhead projector and go over them as a class.  (I may put the
students into small groups for awhile to dig deeper into the issues
raised by particular questions.)  The collective discussion of the
questions should make the classroom warmer (definitely a first-day
goal), and open some of the cultural dimensions of gender (as well as
bodies and sexuality) to in-class examination and critique from the
I should add that the entirety of <underline>My Gender
Workbook</underline> is a rich resource for questions about gender.
When I teach Intro to Women's Studies I'll be using it as one of the
core texts.
Deborah A. Elliston, Ph.D.
Dept. of Anthropology * New York University
25 Waverly Place * New York, NY  10003
Phone:  212/998-8550 * Fax:  212/995-4014
E-mail:  deborah.elliston    AT    nyu.edu
Date: Fri, 28 Aug 1998 12:09:47 -0500
From: Cindy Miller <millerc AT SNYONEVA.CC.ONEONTA.EDU>
Subject: First Day Activities, Thanks Arnie
I'm very excited and I wanted to say a public thank-you to Arnie.
Kahn for his great suggestion about first-day activities.  I'd been
getting bored with what I was doing, so I tried his suggestion ("if I
were the other gender I could/could not").  Unfortunately, we ran out of
time and weren't able to discuss it, so instead, I put all the responses
together on a handout that we will discuss next week.  Well . . . what a
success!  After years of having students tell me there is no more need
for feminism, women are now equal, etc., etc., etc., the responses to
these two questions were SO revealing of what they really know to be
true.  Some of the responses were trivial (pee standing up/in the
woods), while some were very weighty indeed (safety at night, military
combat, all manner of job-related issues).  However, the most
interesting finding to me was the difference in the quality and quantity
of responses between women and men.  Women's answers were much more
specific ("not worry if my period is late") than men's ("eat and wear
different things"), and women came up with many more items than men (for
the question, "If I were the other gender, I could," women came up with
62 responses, while men came up with 12, which is an average of 2.5 per
woman, and 1.5 per man).  Anyway, it seems to me that the difference in
number and especially the difference in specificity speaks volumes about
privilege (men don't have to think about these things), and that is
probably the angle I will take when discussing them next week.  It would
be really interesting to see similar results of courses on race, etc.
    Anyway, the main point was to say a public thank-you to Arnie.  Thanks
Cindy Miller
millerc    AT    oneonta.edu
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 1999 10:41:57 -0600
From: Kim Nielsen <nielsenk AT GBMS01.UWGB.EDU>
Subject: opening exercise for intro class
I'm seeking suggestions for an opening exercise, a first day task, for an
intro to women's studies class of about 45 students. What has worked well?
What hasn't worked well? I'm hoping to develop an exercise which will
begin students talking together as well as thinking about gender. In
advance, thanks.
Professor Kim Nielsen
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Department of Social Change and Development
2420 Nicolet Drive - 324 Rose Hall
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54311-7001
nielsenk    AT    uwgb.edu
(o) 920-465-2487
(fax) 920-465-2791
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 1999 14:19:14 -0400 (EDT)
From: Virginia Metaxas Southern Connecticut State University <TOVIQ AT AOL.COM>
Subject: Re: opening exercise for intro class
A good exercise for students in an intro women's studies class is to ask them
to write, for about 5 minutes, on the question:  how would my life have been
different if I had been born male instead of female, or female instead of
male.  You might suggest things to think about, such as:  how might have my
activities as a small child been different?  how might have my role in my
family of origin been different?  how might I have decided to declare a
different major than I am pursuing now?  or gone to a different college?
Then, for about 10 minutes, allow the students to talk in pairs about what
they've written.  It works best when there are women and men in the class;
the wider the diversity of class, sexual orientation and race, the better, as
well.   You can ask several groups (if you do not have time to hear reports
from everyone) to report to the larger group, on their discussion partner's
experience, thus honing their listening skills as well as raising their
awareness of the power of gender socialization.
This is something that Molly McGregor has done with her National Women's
History Project conference in California often, and it is the way we start
off our joint summer course for teachers at Southern Connecticut State
University.  I've also used the exercise in introductory women's studies
courses and even in our freshman orientation program.
It's simple, but it works in terms of getting students to begin thinking
about the social construction of gender.
Virginia Metaxas
Professor of History and Women's Studies
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT  06515
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 1999 12:25:18 -0700
From: SCN User <kirstena AT SCN.ORG>
Subject: Re: opening exercise for intro class
I am MOST interested in this thread and would like to encourage you all to
reply to the list on this one! I am always interested in opening
icebreakers! I enjoy splitting groups into two...one on the inner circle
facing out and one group in the outer circle facing in...that way you get
to go one to your left and get to interact briefly with everyone...you do
need a switch at some point so that the inner and outer circles meet their
own circles. I use this at workshops...but this may be too intimate for a
class, I wonder...ANyway, I am interested in any and all responses to this
Kirsten Anderberg
Kirstena    AT    scn.org
Seattle, Washington
Founder, Owner Mama Sutra Productions
Author, Teacher, Community Organizer
Date: Mon, 05 Apr 1999 19:42:28 -0400
Subject: Opening day exercise
I do an exercise called "Gender Commandments" that is featured in
Mary Margaret Fonow's "Women, Culture, and Society: A Student Workbook"
and calls attention to how our families give boys and girls different
enough messages according to gender roles.  (Students are now showing
how parents are sending contradictory messages - girls can be anything
they want to be but still have to do the dishes kind of thing - which
I find a good talking point.)  I also sometimes do a "Multiple Choice"
exercise from _Multicultural Teaching at the University_, eds. David
Schoem, Linda Frankel, Ximena Zuniga, and Edith A. Lewis that focuses
more on classroom interaction (In a class I tend to "talk" "listen"
etc.) and on definitions of feminism (providing a selected set of
definitions with different emphases like "The oppression of women
as a group - opposing this, of course" or "The equality of women
and men" or "Opposition to sexist oppression" etc.  And, of course,
each question has "other" as a possibility for those who don't like
any other category for them.  This also includes getting at why
they took the course - helpful especially if course fulfills a
requirement.  Hope you find these helpful.  Barbara Scott Winkler
West Virginia University Center for Women's Studies  bwinkler    AT    wvu.edu
Date: Tue, 06 Apr 1999 08:30:16 -0400
From: Elaine Bazinet Smith & Clark Smith <smithfam AT RENC.IGS.NET>
Subject: opening exercise for intro class
I too would enjoy hearing about class exercises to use as icebreakers -
or any others you might want to suggest.
I don't remember where I found this exercise but I've used it several
times in Women's Studies and in Intro Soc. with my Community College
I ask them to draw a picture of themselves as the opposite sex. You bet
there is hesitation and the usual I-can't-draw  resistance.  But keep it
light, and keep on encouraging them to add detail.  I give them about 5
minutes, tops, to do this and sometimes, if I remember, I bring along my
bag of coloured markers and crayons (yup, they love it) and invite them
to make their drawings as symbolically rich as possible.  It's always
been a very engaging activity with lots of chatting and laughing
accompanying it.  I should say that I always make it clear at the
beginning they have the right to keep their drawings private if they
want to.
In the discussion I ask them to comment on how difficult it was to do,
so that we can talk about how sex/gender is a core status. (I hate the
term "Master status.")  Then I ask them to think about how they might
move differently through the world, sit, stand, pass through crowds,
etc.  How did they feel doing the exercise and why they think they felt
that way?  How does it feel to look at yourself that way?  I might ask
them to see if their portraits resemble someone else in their lives more
than it does themselves.
I've found that sometimes, especially at the beginning of a course,
students resist verbally considering that their lives might be different
if they were the other sex.  "I don't see that my life would be any
different,  I would do what I wanted to do."  The benefit I've found is,
that for some students, this allows them to begin to step beyond that
point in their development.
I'm looking forward to seeing more exercises.
Elaine Bazinet Smith
smithfam    AT    renc.igs.net

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