Six degrees of curiosity

I adapted this from Sonya Huber's "Six Degrees" experiment. (She calls activities "experiments" which I like, in her great Backwards Research Guide for Writers; Augusto Boal calls them "games," emphasizing the element of play.)

The John Guare play "Six Degrees of Separation" popularized the idea that each person on the planet is connected to every other person by no more than five other people. Guare used the idea to examine the ties that bind each person to each other person and the play between our unity and our separation.

Plastic Bag Education

The idea is to take a random object that is utterly familiar but considered unimportant and use it as an object of learning, finding the connections between that object and ourselves. (Reminds me of Marx's question in Volume One of Capital about how two objects can be made commensurable.)

Step one is just to take the bag and answer the question: What do you see? This step requires time and care, it should be detailed and very specific, a close description, a close reading.

Broken Squares

Adapted from "Broken Squares": Preparing Students for Group Work, from Practicing Collaborative Learning, Maryann Feola Castelucci and Peter Miller, College of Staten Island, CUNY, Dept of English, Speech and World Literature, Winter 1986

What do we want? Why do we want it?

This activity combines "What do we want? When do we want it?" with "Ten levels of 'Why?'"

Good for: animation, personal reflection, starting discussion of goals and strategic vision.

Set-up: circle-game, sitting or standing, walking (like on picket line), followed by individual work and then, at the end, circle again

Number of people: enough for a "we"

Materials: none (could be interesting to have people create placards or picket signs at the end)

Ten Levels of Why?

A nice way to dig under obvious truths. I learned the basic technique here from Emily Schnee, from whom I learn so much. I have found that many students experience this as a revelation because it calls on them to question again and again when they are typically called on to give one answer.

Take a simple statement of an identity (I am a teacher), or a problem (I don't have enough time to do work I want to do), or just about any simple sentence (slugs leave a trail)...

Spoken version:
The player says her/his sentence out loud, then one person asks "why?"

My People -- poetry activity

Not a new idea, but a particular use of it that has worked very well. The activity revolves around a close reading of a poem by Langston Hughes, using an eraser…

In this activity participants memorize/study the following short poem by Langston Hughes.

My People

The night is beautiful.

So the faces of my people.

The stars are beautiful.

So the eyes of my people.

Beautiful, also, is the sun.

Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.


  • write the poem on a blackboard
  • ask everyone to read it silently