Misery and Company

This is my least favorite part of the semester.  Regardless of where I teach, it always seems that the class stalls significantly after the halfway point of the term; students start getting listless, the quality of their writing goes to hell, and my motivation is limited.  It’s just hard to get jazzed up when everyone around me is so lethargic.

An example?  Yesterday, my evening writing kids were tasked with coming to class with a copy of a draft of their analysis paper to workshop with their peers.  About two minutes into the activity, a young man strolls to me and announces that he’s not done the work.   He can’t “get behind a topic,” he tells me (keep in mind that they’ve been working on this project for the better part of five weeks).  He might want to do this, but then again, he might want to do that.


The whole while, he’s stroking his chin in a very thoughtful manner as if trying to convince me that he’s not spent the last four weeks stoned when he should be in the library doing research.  I kicked him out of class despite his protests that he could stay and workshop someone else’s paper (“okay, but what are they going to do while you’re reading?”) and his asking me not to count the dismissal as an absence.


Every other week, the composition staff at Local U. gets together for a meeting to discuss pertinent issues.  This was in my inbox the other day, announcing this week’s topic:

Dear Staff,
Several of you have noted a general lack of energy in your classes at this stage of the semester. I think we all see that lack.  For staff meeting tomorrow, let’s bring in some class activities and assignments that are a little off-beat but which can stir things up in a good way. No old Halloween costumes, please!  See you tomorrow.  Tom

I’ve been wringing my little brain, trying to come up with something – anything – of value to bring to this discussion.  If I’m asked, I’ll trot out the ad analysis lesson – I love it and I think it’s a good activity – but that’s all I’ve got.

So, what do YOU do when things get dull and drab in your classroom?  Any suggestions for college-level writing activities that re-ignite a dying spark?  What do I do with my darling pot-head chin-stroker?



Filed under about writing, analysis, composition, concerns, critical thinking, dumbassery, failure, frustrations, General Griping, Learning, little bits of nothingness, Local U., Questions, self-analysis, writing, Yikes!

3 responses to “Misery and Company

  1. This might be a bit off-track for your classes (and may be difficult to pull off for other reasons, as well), but I recall my journalism class sessions in which some class time was (without prior warning to the students) devoted to writing a breaking news story. It feels like this may require the computers we were each individually stationed at. The crux was the old reverse pyramid. Sometimes we garnered our information by interviewing the prof; sometimes he gave us some information and we had to start writing, and later he interjected with additional (more crucial) information.

  2. Write an outrageous excuse for not having done one’s homework. As outlandish as possible. “The dog ate my homework.” is not nearly crazy enough.

    Write your own obituary. If you’re having trouble getting started feel free to use this sentence as a jumping off point: “Early last Monday morning (YOUR NAME HERE) was stabbed through the medulla oblongata with a sharpened #2 pencil by a frustrated composition teacher.” Look up medulla oblongata if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

    Write an “interview” with your favorite children’s book character.

    Have everyone write the first paragraph of a fictional story in 2 minutes or less. Pass their papers to the left (HANDWRITING COUNTS!). Next person has three minutes to write the second paragraph. Papers go to the left. Third person concludes the story in 5 minutes. Use of the format Introduction-Complication-Conclusion is strongly encouraged.

    Yes, I’m serious about all of these. No, I don’t have a teaching degree. Yes, I have graduate level life experience with lethargy. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Being a Grown-up « The Blue Door

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