#52sparks: Wadded up napkin

So this week I’m cheating on the writing prompt, just a little bit and for a perfectly good reason: I misread the prompt, came up with an idea, and don’t want to change it.  Tada!

In early fall, a few years ago, I bought a $10 top hat from the Halloween section at Target.  The Hat has become one of my favorite teaching resources.  First, its fun to wear or carry around campus.  Some folks ask questions, and most don’t because this is Portland and why not wear a top hat.

Second, I love using it to draw names or topics for small group work.  I want my students to work in different small groups throughout the course.  Sometimes I assign them, sometimes they get to pick, but most often it is The Hat that decides.  And I get to literally “draw names from a hat” rather than whatever box, bowl, or large set of hands I can find.

And last but not least, because its the perfect tool to discuss difficult or awkward topics in class.

Here’s how it works…

I give everyone a few reasons to write out their response to a prompt, like how to they feel about the course textbook, or what’s been the hardest thing about the semester, or what’s something they hope to get out of college.  A topic that I know everyone will have an answer to, but it might not be something they want to share out loud.  Especially if its a critique of the professor up front.  Hello.

After five minutes, they crumble their response into as small a ball as possible, and then toss it into the hat.  After a few shakes, a few small tosses into the air, and maybe a few magic words, I go back around the room with everyone taking a ball.  If its their message, no matter.  The goal is anonymity so we all will assume, based on statistics, that everyone has someone else’s message.

Students take turns reading their note.  Then I shift us to a class discussion using my most common kick-off: “What stood out to you?”  Then we are off to the races to talk through majority responses, important outliers, and surprising thoughts we can use for our future classes together.

Students are told early in the course that they will either love or hate The Hat.  So far the $10 has been 100% worth it.


#52sparks is my year-long writing series based on an art prompt challenge.  The title is inspired by a quote from Star Wars: The Last Jedi: “We are the spark, that will light the fire that’ll burn the First Order down” (Poe Dameron).  The spark that lights a fire to toast a marshmallow or to ravage a forest begins in the space of an inch.  So just imagine what hundreds of inches and words can do.

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