100-Level Introduction To Sociology (Writing-Intensive)

Explaining Human Behavior in Sociological Language


One thing I found in using writing in my classes is that it makes students more aware of what they are learning. — Professor Michael Weinstein

COURSE GOALS

By examining and explaining the fundamental concepts, theories, and strategies of sociological analysis and applying them to personal and global issues, students learn to link personal problems and situations to wider social contexts and patterns in society. The instructor aims to make students aware of the factors that determine the contexts for social behavior while examining the place of intentionality in life and how people consciously and unconsciously construct social realities.

WRITING ACTIVITIES

1. SOCIOLOGICAL FIELD NOTES

Students visit a Neighborhood Board Meeting and observe the people who are speaking on behalf of the community. In their field notes, students document the presence and manifestations of behaviors that take place during the meeting, describe what kinds of people were present (i.e. locals, professionals, politicians, females, males), the physical setting of the room, and seating arrangements. These observations are used as data from which to generalize principles and patterns of social behavior, and to test some of the ideas and sociological concepts presented and provided by the course text. The main objective for using writing is for individuals to document on paper the descriptions of their own behaviors and the behavior they observe going on around them. As social scientists we are trying to produce data from which to generalize scientific principles. With the first essay, the goal is accuracy. Can they simply and clearly describe what they are experiencing themselves or see other people experiencing? --Instructor
For example, students may analyze and discuss the meeting events and collective behavior of the people as patterned or unpatterned, transitory or spontaneous. Students turn in rough drafts for instructor comments. The instructor may also note ways in which students can further observe. Students turn in final, more developed, drafts for "credits." Students achieve their final course grade by accumulating these "credits."

PURPOSE: The goal of this assignment is to introduce students to sociological ways of collecting and analyzing data. Students learn to document others' and their own experiences and behavior accurately, completely, and clearly, thus practicing sociological techniques and ways of thinking applicable in advanced courses and research. This reinforces theories learned from the text through the application of theories to concrete data. 

2. RESPONDING TO PEER NOTES: A REACTION ESSAY
After Sociological Field Notes have been handed back to the student author with teacher comments on them, students trade papers, read them, and write a second paper about the student's text they've read, commenting on what they found interesting, disturbing, or otherwise topical. Reading newspapers and newsmagazines and then writing a paper about them is the most significant activity for me in this class because I can find out what is going on in society while I am learning how to write.--Student
PURPOSE: This assignment encourages students to share ideas and document each other's written behaviors. It also allows them to practice writing.
3. OBSERVATION LOGS
Students write for "credits" as often and as much as they can about anything that is of interest to sociologists. These observation logs can include notes about the class (helpful to the instructor because they provide an opportunity to clear up global misunderstanding) or reactions to newspaper articles, or be an ongoing dialog with the instructor. Students can receive extra writing "credits" by editing other students' texts. One of the ways I encourage them to write for credit is, if they write about prosocial or antisocial things that they do, I don't punish them for antisocial behavior. I give them credit for writing well something contrary to my values.--Instructor

One of the problems I'm having is getting freshmen to use sociological language.--Instructor

PURPOSE: The idea is to provide another avenue of writing through which students learn sociological concepts and express this learning.
4. FREEWRITING
At least once a week, students are given a sociological concept or construct (from the text or lecture) to write about for five minutes. Students are encouraged to write as much as they can about the topic(s). Students may choose to turn in freewrites for credit or keep them and receive no credit. What I like most about the writing assignments was that I could write anything I wanted to. Also I liked them because I could put in my personal interests and opinions without being less academic.--Student

I liked the fact that we could write on any subject. --Student

PURPOSE: This exercise provides students with an opportunity to explore and discover interests and ideas in a sociological context. It is also another way to stress the sociological concept of "choice" that students may exercise.
5. COURSE BOOKLET
At the end of the semester, students rewrite and turn in their best writing on topics such as ethnicity and life in Hawai‘i, collective behavior, and gender relationships. The teacher publishes a collection of student texts, adding his own commentaries in an introduction. Each student receives two copies of this booklet.

PURPOSE: Besides providing a tangible reward for student efforts, the purpose of this exercise is to help students understand the concept of audience in a sociological context. The exercise also motivates students to revise their papers for publication. Since participation is optional, students are again given the opportunity to exercise choice.