Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

A Multi-Purpose Experiential Activity or Let's Party (Again)

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

A Multi-Purpose Experiential Activity or Let's Party (Again)

Article excerpt

As a wet-behind-the-ears general semantics teacher in 1986 at a Milwaukee women's college, I'd eagerly (sometimes frantically) search for classroom exercises that would engage my students, clarify my lectures, and elicit meaningful discussion. I discovered just such an activity thanks to Ruth McCubbrey and her "Let's Party" extensionalizing tool described in the Winter 1986 ETC. My students have consistently commented on how this experience gives them a genuine feeling for the concepts and principles of general semantics. Over the years, I tinkered a little with the original and can now offer examples from my version of Ruth McCubbrey's "party."

The party consists of a simulation where "guests" meet and mingle. They know nothing about each other except for information printed on a sticky label affixed to their foreheads. Participants don't know what their label says, nor do I encourage them to determine that information. Rather, I state that this party has only one rule: each person must react as honestly as she or he can to the other guests' labels.

Before class, I write out the labels. I make sure that they reflect a diversity of roles and status: surgeon, baby-sitter, stockbroker, feminist, unemployed, housewife, caterer, beauty contest winner, lottery winner, priest, immigrant, bank v.p., waitress.

Three labels list age only: 5-year-old, 14-year-old, and 80-year-old. I include labels with characteristics designed to elicit strong responses: accused of rape, deaf lip reader, ex-convict, confined to wheelchair, recent death in the family. (I recommend some caution when creating these kinds of identification. Labels such as gay/lesbian, member of KKK, or HIV positive may prove too uncomfortable or too on target for guests and the label wearer.)

As soon as I yell, "mingle," they do. I circulate to observe and to listen. I hear someone say "shame on you" to the person accused of rape. I notice that clusters quickly begin to take shape. The stockbroker, millionaire, and the surgeon form a tight knot, while the housewife, baby-sitter, and 5-year-old link up. Some guests drift from group to group. After about 5 minutes, I see that the ex-con and the deaf lip reader have positioned themselves on the edge of the party to silently watch the others. …

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