Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes
This is a terrific way to prompt discussions about what kinds
of claims work best, which one seem most academic, etc.
Give out the list of claims and ask students to rank them from
most to least interesting. Give them about 5 minutes. Then, go
around the room and ask for the claims each student ranked 1st
and 2nd (put the results on the board). Go around one more time
and ask for the claims they ranked last or next to last (put the
results on the board). Next, ask why claims ended up where they
did; what criteria did students use to rank claims. The conversation
is likely to cover appealing to and surprising various discourse
communities, the importance of specificity, and the difference
between pragmatic and conceptual claims. Finally, look at the claims
that students have ranked lowest and think about whom they might
be interesting to, or how the writer might make the same claim
more interesting to them. Look at the claims they ranked most interesting
and think about who would find them most boring.
Variation: Make two copies of the claim list; cut them up so that
each claim is on a slip of paper. Divide the class in half. Give
one person in each group a claim. Give them 10 minutes to line
up in order from most to least interesting. Then, compare the two
lines, and talk about the results.
See below for a list of claims and their probable ranking.
Rank these claims from most to least interesting. Which will generate
the paper you most want to read?
a. Up to one-quarter of the estimated 40,000 new cases of HIV infection
that occur in the United States each year may be among young people
under age 22; the best way to prevent these infections is through
mandatory sex education classes for all grade levels.
b. The best way to obtain the fluid-film forces in squeeze-film
dampers (SFD) is from the Reynolds equation.
c. The University of Virginia should create dormitories in which
men and women are roommates.
d. The key to preserving the New Zealand kiwi bird is keeping abandoned
cats, dogs, and ferrets from getting into the wild.
e. Without drastic action, global warming will change our environment--for
f. Flannery O'Connor's letters reveal racist attitudes that are
echoed in her stories.
g. The top priority of the U.S. government should be protecting
social security benefits; without real vision and vigilance, by
2015 social security will cease to exist.
h. Francisco Bulnes was the most influential Mexican theorist of
revolution and social policy of the 30s and 40s.
i. The parking problem in Chicago could be solved by improving
Here's how students typically rank these claims.
At the top (not necessarily in this exact order): a, c, e (HIV,
co-ed roommates, global warming)
All of these claims are obviously of interest to our students;
they're familiar with the characters involved (HIV, UVA, the environment),
and even with the specific problem addressed (increasing infection
rates, how to meet the opposite sex, global warming). They will
all be directly affected by the problem and its solution.
At the bottom: b, h (the Reynolds equation, Francisco Bulnes)
Most of our students don't know the characters here, they don't
know what the problem is, and they can't imagine how it could affect
In the middle: d, g, f, i (social security, kiwis, Flannery O'Connor,
Here, students may or may not be familiar with the characters involved,
they have to think a little harder to see what the problem is (national
debt/their parents' security, the environment, O'Connor's reputation,
Chicago commuter stress), and it's not especially obvious how these
problems would affect them.