Exquisite Corpse Topic Narrowing Activity

Exquisite Corpse Topic Narrowing Activity

Overview: Writers often get stuck in a certain way of thinking about their research projects, which may make it challenging for them to make revisions or to understand the next directions for their projects. In this activity, students engage in an "exquisite corpse"-style activity, where they will get to pass around their research topic idea and see how other students in the room understand, interpret, illustrate, and expand upon it. By the end of the activity, students will see the "exquisite corpse" of their research project assembled and use the product of the activity to determine the next steps for their project.

Activity title: Exquisite Corpse Topic Narrowing

Author: Jenae Cohn

Course: PWR 1 or PWR 2

Activity length and schedule: Approx. 15-30 minutes. In PWR 1, this activity works best before students turn in their RBA. In PWR 2, this activity could work either around the time that students are crafting their research proposals OR after they've completed a draft of their RBA to see if their topis need narrowing or broadening.

Activity goals:

  • Help students see whether their research topic needs to be narrowed or broadened.
  • Explore the range of research questions that students' topics invite.
  • Explore the types of sources or research a student might conduct to focus their research question.

Activity details:

  • Invite students to take a piece of paper and fold it horizontally into four equal segments. On the back of the paper, each student should write down their name (this will make it easier for the paper to be returned to the student when the activity is completed).
  • In the top segment of the paper (the first of the four quadrants now folded), ask students to write down their research topic (or their top choice for a research topic if they have not yet picked one). Example topic: How collaborations between Dungeons & Dragons players improves individuals' creativity and willingness to explore imaginative ideas.
  • When the students have finished writing, ask them to pass their paper to a student next to them (Note: instructors may want to choose one direction for passing consistently so that students don't get confused. I typically have my students pass to the left).
  • Each student will have received a research paper with a topic that is not their own. In the second folded segment of the paper (immediately below the segment where the research topic has been written), ask students to write down one question they have about the topic they just received.  Example question: What motivates Dungeons & Dragons players to collaborate together? 
  • When students have finished writing down their question, ask them to fold down the TOP segment of the paper so that the top segment - the original research topic - is no longer visible. The question the student just wrote,  however, should still be visible. The student will then pass the folded paper - the topic no longer visible, but the research question visible - to the next person.
  • Ask the students to look at the question written in the second segment of the paper that they just received. In the third segment of the paper, ask them to write down a way to answer that question. Example: Interview Dungeons & Dragons players at Stanford University. Research the history of Dungeons & Dragons and other table-top role-playing games. Research the psychology of role-playing games to understand motivation more clearly.
  • When students have finished writing down their answers to the question, ask them to fold the paper again, this time so that BOTH the original research statement AND the question they received are not visible. The only part of the paper that should be visible is the third segment where the students wrote down their ways of answering the question. Once that's done, pass the paper to the next person.
  • When the next student has received the third segment of the paper, ask them to read what's written. In the fourth and final panel of the paper, ask them to write down what they think the research topic might be based on the suggestions written down in the third panel.
  • After the final student has written down what they think is the topic, ask everyone to flip over their papers to see who wrote the original research topic and ask each student to return their papers to the original writer.
  • After everyone has received their original papers again, give everyone time to read and review the responses and reflect on what they found. Invite students in a discussion forum or in a spoken discussion to respond to the following:
  1. How does seeing my peers' responses change my thinking about my research topic?
  2. Do my peers' responses show me that my research topic is too narrow? Too broad? Perhaps just the right scope?
  3. What do I hope to continue exploring about my research topic?

Activity notes:

  • Some students will take longer than others to complete this activity. It's OK if some students get a little ahead of others. You may allow some students to move on to subsequent steps if they can, even while other people are still working.
  • It is important that students understand how the folding mechanism works, so you may want to prep a folded piece of paper in advance so that students can see what the folding looks like. See the picture below for an example of what a folded sheet of paper for this actitivity might look like.