Friday, November 4, 2016

Playwriting and Screenwriting: Exercises and Prompts to Get Started

An empty chair sits on an otherwise empty stage in an empty theater.
Theater by  Hernán Piñera. Used with Creative Commons License.

When playwrights and screenwriters develop new scripts, they must consider all of the elements of drama: plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme.  

New writers, those who are just learning the craft or writing in the genre for the first time, may need some assistance pulling all of the various elements together to create a cohesive product. In order to assist these learners, faculty can present any number of  exercises and prompts to help student writers learn how to synthesize their creative ideas.

Knock Knock Script Prompt

One quick prompt for getting students started is based on the popular form of the knock-knock joke. This prompt helps students make decisions by providing two built-in characters, a bit of conflict (one character wants to come in), and an inciting incident. What the students must provide is, at minimum, characterization (names, actions, language, and motivations of each character), dialogue based on the characterization, rising action, and a resolution.  In doing this, a clear setting and theme may emerge, or students may be asked to revise their exercises to include those elements that are unclear or missing.

Comic Strip Script

The Comic Strip Script exercise, although difficult to ennunciate, makes for an excellent exercise in writing stage directions.   The comic provides plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme. What the student must provide is the complete script, sans images, in the appropriate screenwriting or playwriting format.  This requires clearly articulated stage directions to describe the actions, transitional actions, and actions of closure between panels. As an added lesson in Reader-Response Theory, students can compare interpretations of the given comic strip at the end of the exercise to demonstrate how differently people perceive the same work.

Swaperoo Script

This exercise requires some knowledge of famous characters and a bit of  playfulness. The students will swap one character for another.  For example, the students could write a scene from Hamlet that answers the question, "What if Xena were swapped for Hamlet?"  "What if Kermit were swapped for Bob Cratchit?" has already been done, but there are a multitude of additional options: Bugs Bunny for Mary Poppins, Tony Stark for Oedipus, Dexter for Snow White.   It's a great exercise for helping students understand how each of the elements of drama must interact with one another to create a whole.  When a character is swapped, everything changes.

Collecting Dialogue

One very popular exercise is eavesdropping on unsuspecting others in order to steal the dialogue. This is a great way to study the way people speak at a particular time and in a particular place.  What makes this ever more interesting, as I learned in a workshop with playwright Mac Wellman at Naropa University in 2006, is having students write this dialogue as one long paragraph. The paragraph is then passed to another student to bifurcate the lines, and passed to a third student to add stage directions.  With groups of four, the fourth student can add a title, additional character and location descriptions, and format the final script.  By the time the short script makes it back to the original eavesdropper, the words may be unrecognizable, and therefore, eye opening.  

Insight and Theme

Students can base scripts on real life.  One way to help students write about their own lives is to ask them to write narrative essays about a time they learned a valuable life lesson.  Most students are familiar with how to write an essay, so it's a great way to get them thinking about insightful thesis statements.  Those thesis statements and the narrative sequence of events they tell in the body of their essays become the basis of their plays entitled Insight.  To add a step, ask students to incorporate a narrative frame or first person narrator, much like in The Glass Menagerie, who breaks the fourth wall. In this exercise, theme and the idea of "the trustworthy narrator" are emphasized.

Design and Build

Designing a Set Helps Emphasize the Importance of Setting
Many beginning playwrights, especially those within English departments, have never studied theatre as an art form.  To get students thinking specifically about setting, students should design a set for one of their own plays or one of a classmate's plays.  These make for excellent presentations and can be as simple as 2D drawings of theoretical stage spaces, or as complex as 3D models with realistic budget projections for an existing stage. The same assignment can be used to emphasize characterization by asking students to design costumes and make-up, planning for any required backstage changes.  Although these can be fun and enlightening assignments, especially important are the students' arguments for each of their choices. 
When new writers are faced with writer's block or decision paralysis about their scripts, get them moving in the right direction by helping them get started.  These six script starters can help those students learn to synthesize and negotiate the elements of drama: plot, character, setting, dialogue, movement, and theme.

Want to read more about theatre and drama? Try

Origins of the Term "Deus Ex Machina"
The Medieval Morality Play
What's a Dramaturg Do?

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Using a Tahkli Spindle: Spinning Cotton from the Seed

Tahkli spindle and wooden bowl with three cotton seeds

I grew a bit of cotton in my home garden this year, and I've been creating punis to spin into two-ply cotton yarn. Today, however, before I run out of raw bolls, I decided to test the ease of spinning cotton from seed using my tahkli spindle. At first, I had beginner's luck, and spinning from one seed produced a little over a yard of single ply.  It was definitely beginner's luck, though.  On the second, third, and fourth seeds, I had to spin through a lot of challenges.


  • The first step was to loosen the cotton from the seed.  I simply used my fingers to loosen the fibers all around the seed without detaching the fibers.  
  • Next, I used the hook at the end of the spindle and placed it into the loosened cotton to start the process.  I spin clockwise.
  • Just as with any other spinning, I spun the tahkli with my right hand while pinching the loose cotton with my left hand, and released the pinch while pulling my left hand up the fibers to allow the twist to run up the fiber.  
  • The extra step involved with spinning from the seed was rotating the seed so the twist evenly caught all of the fibers from around the seed in order.  

When it worked, this process produced a "fuzzier" single ply than when I used cotton that had been made into punis on my cotton carders.


Cotton on the plant, unprocessed cotton, and cotton seeds with fiber removed

The first challenge was that this required more twist and a lighter draft than spinning a puni.  With the exception of my first attempt, there were several breaks that had to be reattached as I completed each seed from each boll.  Furthermore, the extra step of rotating the seed as I drafted was exceptionally important: The fibers had to come from the seed in order, around, not from around the other side of the seed.  If I rotated the seed to quickly or too slowly, or at an additional angle, the fibers stopped moving because they became wrapped and twisted around the seed.  Subsequently, tugging the seed to release it broke the work, and paying attention to the seed instead of to my work made me lose focus.  The thread I created is definitely uneven and very thin in some places.  I do worry that this will cause breaks when I ply it.


My experiment yielded uneven results.  Although I can and did have some success skipping the carding process, it was more difficult to attain quality work without breaks than it is when I diligently comb my cotton into punis.  Perhaps with practice I can find my rhythm and consistently spin from cotton seeds, but in the meantime, I will make punis.

Want to read more about arts and crafts? Try

Which Weaving Loom is Best for Beginners?
Top 10 Crochet Gift Ideas for Grown Ups
Product Review: All-n-One Knitting Loom

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

How to Identify a Sonnet: Italian and English Sonnet Forms

Which type of sonnet do you prefer?
Sonnets have been around since sometime within the 12th Century, which means they've been around for about 1000 years, give or take a few centuries and decades. That's a long, long time.

The most popular sonnets are generally known for their rhyming 14-line forms, each line having been written in iambic pentameter, or the rhythm of a heartbeat in one breath: ta TUM ta TUM ta TUM ta TUM ta TUM.

Although there are several forms of sonnets, as you can imagine of a form that has had a 1000 year lifespan, the most popular sonnets are usually one of two types: Italian, otherwise called Petrarchan, or English, otherwise called Shakespearean.  Understanding the external forms of these poems can help inform readers about the internal forms.

Italian or Petrarchan Sonnet

External Form

The Italian sonnet, named after the writer Petrarch, is divided into an octave (a stanza of 8 lines) and a sestet (a stanza of 6 lines).  The rhyme pattern can vary, but the pattern is often abbaabba and cdecde, cdcdcd, or cdccdc.  Interestingly, however, originals in Italian that are translated to English demonstrate adjustments to the rhyme scheme in order to maintain meaning.  In other words, the meaning of the poem is more important than the rhyme scheme.

Internal Form

The internal form of an Italian sonnet relies on, just like the external form, a division between the octave and the sestet.  The octave often presents a difficult or vexing situation that is resolved in the sestet. There is often a shift in the tone of the poem or the in the attitude of the speaker, as the ideas shift from problem to solution.


This example from Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950), a 20th Century American writer from Maine, follows the Italian rhyme scheme and internal form.  Notice the shift in the speaker's attitude in the sestet.

I Will Put Chaos into Fourteen Lines

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines (a)
And keep him there; and let him thence escape (b)
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape (b)
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs (a)
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines (a)
Of this sweet Order, where, in pious rape, (b)
I hold his essence and amorphous shape, (b)
Till he with Order mingles and combines. (a)
Past are the hours, the years, of our duress, (c)
His arrogance, our awful servitude: (d)
I have him. He is nothing more nor less (c)
Than something simple not yet understood; (d)
I shall not even force him to confess; (c)
Or answer. I will only make him good. (d)

English or Shakespearean Sonnet

External Form

The English sonnet is most often divided into three quatrains (3 stanzas of 4 lines each) followed by a couplet (2 rhyming lines). This rhyme scheme is easier for writers in English to follow than an Italian sonnet simply because English has fewer rhyming words than Italian.

Internal Form

Whereas the shift in attitude or meaning takes place between the octave and the sestet in an Italian sonnet, the shift in an English sonnet often occurs with the break between the final quatrain and the couplet.


This example from "Visions" by Francesco Petrarch (1304 -1374) has been translated into English by the English writer of The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser (1552 - 1599).  This translation is written in Spenser's typically archaic style, using Middle English spelling and pronunciation. Although originally written in Italian, in translation it follows the English  rhyme scheme. Readers can look for a shift in meaning within the last two lines of the poem, as the ideas shift from the observations of the speaker to the speaker's insight about the situation.

Being one day at my window all alone, (a)
So manie strange things happened me to see, (b)
As much as it grieveth me to thinke thereon. (a)
At my right hand a hynde appear’d to mee, (b)
So faire as mote the greatest god delite; (c)
Two eager dogs did her pursue in chace. (d)
Of which the one was blacke, the other white: (c)
With deadly force so in their cruell race (d)
They pincht the haunches of that gentle beast, (e)
That at the last, and in short time, I spide, (f)
Under a rocke, where she alas, opprest, (e)
Fell to the ground, and there untimely dide. (f)
Cruell death vanquishing so noble beautie (g)
Oft makes me wayle so hard a desire. (g)

In order to better understand poems, it is necessary to be able to identify forms, both external and internal.  An external form can quickly inform a reader about specific shifts in meaning that he or she can expect to find within the internal structure of the poem.  In this case, when readers know they are reading an Italian sonnet, they can look for shifts in attitude or a solution to the initial problem within the last six lines of the poem.  Likewise, when readers know they are reading English sonnets, those readers can look for shifts in meaning in the last two lines.  The form can always help the reader determine the function.

Want to read more about poetry and literature?  Try

Denotative and Connotative Meaning in the Poetry of Denise Levertov
Diagramming Mina Loy's "Letters of the Unliving" as a Method for Close Reading
The Shoe as Image in the Poetry of Amy Lowell and Charles Simic

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Friday, September 2, 2016

How to Organize or Outline an Argumentative Speech or Essay

Creating order helps your reader follow your thoughts.

When writing an argumentative speech or essay, a writer should choose a logical order for the paragraphs and the supporting details within those paragraphs.  Two common ways to arrange the information in argumentative or persuasive speeches and essays are "problem-solution" and "refutation," which is sometimes called "point and counter-point."  The emphasis in this type of speech or paper is for the writer to support his or her reasons in support of the thesis claim or position.

Organizing an Argumentative or Persuasive Speech or Essay


In a problem-solution type speech or paper, the writer argues there is a problem, and the writer follows an explanation of that problem with an explanation of the solution the writer believes is the best solution for that problem. Included within the explanation of the solution are the writer's logical reasons why that solution is better than other solutions.  Those reasons are supported by evidence.  A simplistic outline for this type of paper may look like the following:

  • Introduction with thesis or enthymeme
  • Presentation of the problem
  • Explanation of the currently proposed solutions to the problem
  • Statement of the best solution
  • Reasons and evidence in support of proposed solution 
  • Conclusion

Depending on the scope of the topic (how complicated it may be), each of these main sections of the paper may be one paragraph long, or each section may be several paragraphs long.

Refutation or Point & Counter-Point

Another type of argumentative organizational strategy is by refutation.  In this type of paper the writer investigates multiple perspectives related to an issue (a complicated problem that has no one right answer).  After carefully researching each perspective, the writer then chooses to support one perspective and explains his or her reasons for that decision. The writer briefly presents an opposing view, then emphasizes his or her own view while refuting the opposing view.  In other words, the writer presents a counter-point.  The goal is to present both (or multiple) perspectives while clearly indicating a position that supports one of those perspectives over any other.  Again, this type of paper must include an explanation of the issue, a review of the evidence available, the writer's reasons in support of one perspective, and evidence to support the writer's reasons.

  • Introduction with thesis or enthymeme
  • Explanation of the issue
  • Reasons in support of one perspective over others
  • Evidence in support of each reason
  • Conclusion

Five Additional Hints and Tips for Organizing Argumentative or Persuasive Speeches and Essays

  1. Keep in mind the difference between persuasion and argumentation.  Be sure you are meeting the given assignment's requirements, which may be related to that difference.  
  2. Choose an issue or problem that is of interest to you because you must spend time researching multiple perspectives related to that issue or problem.  You don't want to lose interest before you even begin writing your paper!
  3. Include expert evidence when writing about a problem or issue that is contentious: Expert evidence is more likely than other types of evidence to convince a skeptical audience or readers who hold opposing views.
  4. No matter which organizational structure you choose, you must include all the parts of an argument in your speech or paper: issue, reasons, and evidence.
  5. Use transitional words to indicate your organizational strategy to your audience. It will help them follow your train of thought.


The most important thing to remember is to choose an organizational pattern for your speech or essay and stick to it while clearly articulating and supporting your own claim or position.  Remember, an essay is the writer's take on a nonfiction topic or idea.  When properly researched and supported with evidence, your reasons for your claim or position should take center stage in this type of speech or essay.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Friday, August 19, 2016

On Teaching the Use of Gender Neutral Pronouns

A Sample of Gendered and Gender Neutral (Ungendered) Pronouns: See More

Opportunities to Introduce Ungendered or Gender Neutral Pronouns

Because  I teach freshman composition, I often do not have the opportunity to teach topics that stretch beyond Standard English as it's used in essays about general topics.  However, every so often the opportunity to "freestyle" does present itself, and in those situations, I like to be prepared to add needed impromptu lessons to my course.

For example, I recently had a student who was struggling with how to divide her short essay into logical paragraphs.  Although I do not generally teach the use of APA headings and subheadings in freshman composition, I introduced the concept to her to help her organize her essay.

In much the same way, I anticipate that I may someday need to introduce students to the proper use of gender neutral pronouns.  I do not generally teach pronouns and antecedents in composition courses, just as I do not generally teach APA headings and subheadings, but if a student is struggling with how to refer to gender, and I believe learning the use of gender neutral pronouns may ease that student's suffering, I want to be prepared to introduce options.

Gender Neutral Pronouns and APA

Gender Diversity Topics

The Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA) reminds us that when writing in the context of gender diversity, it is expected of writers, and respectful to subjects (the antecedents of the pronouns), to use gender neutral pronouns to refer back to individuals who prefer gender neutral pronouns.  When in doubt, they also advise writers avoid the use of pronouns altogether (2010, p. 72-73).  Furthermore, APA advises the use of the singular "they" if necessary and if in the context of gender diversity, regardless of Standard English usage.

On the other hand, writers must also be sure to use gendered pronouns when they refer to subjects who prefer gendered pronouns.  Hillary Clinton and Caster Semenya should both be referred to as "she," for example, and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner should be referred to as "she," as well. Using the male or ungendered pronouns to refer to any of those example subjects might be interpreted as aggression or hostility toward those subjects.

General Topics

The APA Style Blog (Lee, 2015) gives the following advice for writing in Standard English about general topics versus topics in the context of gender diversity:

APA recommends several alternatives to the general singular they, including the following:
  • Make the sentence plural: "Participants indicated their preferences."
  • Rewrite the sentence to replace the pronoun with an article (a, an, or the): "The participant indicated a preference."
  • Rewrite the sentence to drop the pronoun: "The participant indicated preferences."
  • Combine both singular pronouns (he or she, she or he, his or her, her or his, etc.): "The participant indicated his or her preferences." (However, avoid overusing this strategy, as it can become cumbersome upon many repetitions.)

These alternatives are also available for you to use when writing in the context of gender diversity if you would prefer them or if you are unsure of the appropriate pronoun to use.

Other alternatives to the singular they are not recommended:
  • Avoid combination constructions like s/he, (s)he, and he/she because they can look awkward and distracting to the reader.
  • Do not use either he or she alone to refer to a generic individual—"use of either pronoun unavoidably suggests that specific gender to the reader" (PM § 3.12).
  • Do not alternate between he and she (e.g., using he in one sentence and she in the next), as this can also become confusing and distracting to the reader.

Practical Examples

As a matter of being prepared, there are several hypothetical assignment scenarios I can anticipate that may require teaching ungendered pronoun use.
  • Acceptance of “ey” in a narrative essay or short story about a real person who prefers “ey.”
  • Acceptance of singular “they” in an essay about restroom policies using singular “they” to refer to individuals who refer to themselves as "they."
  • Acceptance of “xe” to refer to the writer of an article used as source content because the article writer refers to xemself as such. 
  • Acceptance of "she," or likewise "he," to refer to individuals who prefer to be recognized as her or his gender in efforts to avoid being construed as an aggressive or hostile writer.
Whether the need to teach ungendered pronouns comes up in my classroom in the next few days, months, or even years, I find it best to stay prepared to introduce students to the ways in which they can maintain their own integrity as writers, and the integrity of others, no matter the rhetorical situation.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Lee, C. (2015). The use of singular "they" in APA style. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Read more . . .

on the LGBT Resource Center Web site through the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Contemplative Education: Modeling Mindfulness in the Classroom

A sunrise over a frost-covered pasture, behind an apple tree.
Just as when enjoying every moment of a sunrise,
mindfulness requires non-judgmental observation.

Barbazat and Bush, writers of Contemplative Practices in Higher Education: Powerful Methods to Transform Teaching and Learning refer to mindfulness as "the practice most widely incorporated into higher education" (2014, p. 98), yet mindfulness remains difficult for students to define.  

Nonetheless, faculty committed to contemplative educational practices, and faculty who model specific mindfulness behaviors in the classroom, can help students learn to understand the essence of mindfulness.

Defining Mindfulness

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana, in his  Mindfulness in Plain English, refers to it as "pure awareness" (2002, p. 138), "nonjudgmental observation," and an "impartial watchfulness" (p. 139).  He goes on to explain that mindfulness "is not thinking" and "it does not get involved with thought or concepts," and "it does not get hung up in ideas or opinions or memories" (p. 140). Faculty ask for a type of concentration mindfulness practices can enhance during lectures, when they want students to be "in the moment," taking notes as they listen so they can quietly reflect on the ideas later, perhaps in a paper or online post.  Faculty also often ask for negative capability, or the ability to hold two contradicting ideas as true at the same time, a type of mindful concentration students must practice when faculty present hot button issues, wanting students to accept information without, as Gunaratana states, getting "hung up in opinions or memories."  University faculty, however, even those who model a mindful presence in the classroom, may not realize that mindful classrooms rarely exist without structured guidance towards mindfulness.  Furthermore, practicing mindfulness in the classroom can be difficult for students and faculty both, all who have learned to live in a world that promotes narcissistic behaviors such as overt defensiveness against criticism or new ideas, or clinging to assumptions to protect the self or one's unique identity. 

Modeling Mindfulness: Silence and Hospitality

Radical Presence: Teaching as Contemplative Practice presents two ways faculty can model a mindful presence for students is by incorporating both silence and hospitality into the classroom experience.  On moments of silence in the classroom, O' Reilley reminds us that "The classroom, in today's multimedia culture, may be the only site of reflection in a student's day" (1998, p. 7).  Of hospitality she writes:

Hospitality calls me to consider the singularity of each person, the diversity of needs.  The discipline of presence requires me to be there, with my senses focused on the group at hand, listening rather than thinking about what I'm going to say - observing the students, the texts, and the sensory world of the classroom. (p. 9)


The extended moments of silence to which O'Reilley is referring allow faculty to create a classroom space for students to practice mindfulness, for both students and faculty to notice what is happening in the classroom, and to move beyond mindfulness to thinking.  Mindfulness must occur before thinking, and thinking must occur before answering, discussing, or writing.  A respectful silence that does not last long enough may promote "off the cuff" responses, responses that stem only from personal opinions or experiences, or responses students guess the professor may want to hear instead of authentic, thoughtful responses that allow for true assessment of learning objectives and outcomes.  Faculty who incorporate silence into the classroom are modeling how to create a space others can use to be mindful.  The faculty member must set aside his or her ego and embrace what may be an uncomfortable silence in order to simply observe what is happening in the classroom.  This allows for more accurate and authentic assessment of the levels of proficiency of student learners.


The very specific activity O'Reilley explains as an act of hospitality is one with which many faculty are familiar, that of taking attendance (1998, p. 8).  She uses a method similar to the "Student info cards" method explained by Barkley in the text Student Engagement Techniques, which suggests faculty keep index cards about each student completed by each student (2010, pp. 113-114).  Although there are several other ways to learn more about students in order to promote successful learning suggested by Barkley, O'Reilley uses the note cards as a way to have a mindful presence in the classroom each day as she marks attendance on the reverse of each student's individual note card.  "Hospitality," she states, "defines a space for the visitor - the student - to be herself, because she is received graciously" (p. 8).  Again, the faculty member must set aside his or her ego in order to focus on the acceptance of the students in the moment, as they are, each individual on each individual day.  

More than being a "tip" or "strategy," for classroom management or retention, silence and hospitality are mindfulness behaviors faculty should model for students, especially students struggling with narcissistic behaviors such as speaking out for attention or suffering from feelings of isolation or otherness.  By following their professors' examples, students can learn to negotiate social interactions in and out of the classroom more effectively.

Want to read more about pedagogy and learning?  Try


Barbezat, D. P, & Bush, M. (2014). Contemplative practices in higher education: Powerful methods to transform teaching and learning. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.
Gunaratana, Bhante H. (2002). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
O'Reilley, M. R. (1998). Radical presence: Teaching as contemplative practice. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/ Cook Publishers HEINEMANN.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Contemplative Education: Modeling Gratitude in the Classroom

a butterfly on a sunflower in front of a red barn.
Finding ways to express authentic gratitude.

Gratitude, as most college students will understand, is a sense of gratefulness, an appreciation for what others give, or thankfulness.  Just as simply as students should be able to define or explain gratitude, each should each be able to demonstrate or give an example of what behaviors, or speech acts, demonstrate gratitude: Generally, a "Thank you."  

What students may not know is that people who exhibit prosocial behaviors that demonstrate gratitude are more satisfied in life than those who do not display the same behaviors.  They also may not understand the antithesis of gratitude, which is entitlement, a value and set of behaviors associated with narcissism.  

Just as Gunaratana (2002, p. 90) teaches that a positive emotion can replace a negative emotion, Twenge and Campbell assert that "One of the best ways to combat entitlement is to be grateful for what you already have" (2010, p. 241).  This can include stating thanks or behaving in other ways that show appreciation, like taking great care with an item on loan or keeping the classroom tidy.

Whether what faculty have are abstractions, like the attention or respect of students, or commodities and resources, like comfortable classroom furniture and access to technology, faculty can model gratitude in the classroom to help encourage students to do the same.

Opportunities for Authentic Gratitude

When modeling gratitude in the classroom, faculty must model authentic gratitude.  Faculty may already find themselves saying "Thank you," when students turn in work, but several additional opportunities to express true gratitude may present themselves throughout the term.  For example, faculty are generally genuinely grateful when students ask insightful questions, compliment the lesson, or arrive to meetings prepared and on time. Such behaviors should warrant a specific comment, such as "Thank you for asking an insightful question," or a personal note.  These are speech acts, which go beyond kindness and display an action that demonstrates the transference of gratitude.  Only with the speech act is the student aware of the faculty member's gratitude, and therein the prosocial behavior is modeled.  

Faculty can also encourage students to take pride in the classroom and show gratitude for having it made available to them by asking them or reminding them to take good care of it; cleaning up after themselves, turning off computers and lights, and leaving the boards clean and ready to be used by others.

Avoiding Entitlement

Furthermore, words and actions that demonstrate entitlement must be avoided.  Although all faculty have at one time been in classrooms where resources are scarce, technology is broken, or supplies are missing, faculty members must refrain from behaving, specifically verbalizing, as though they are unequivocally entitled to those things.  Just as modeling mindfulness, compassion, and gratitude can help students learn to live their lives by those values, modeling the opposite can have the opposite effect.  For example, faculty who leave trash in the classroom show little to no appreciation for the efforts of those who do keep the classroom clean and ready for the next person.  Students may follow that example and leave their own trash, as well.

As Arthur Zajonc emphasizes, the material items we are missing in the classroom are not worth as much as the opportunities we are presented that help us model gratitude. Higher education, he says, must focus on "a 'revolution of the spirit' that changes mental attitudes and values," not "the 'improvement of material conditions'" (2013, p. 90).


Gunaratana, Bhante H. (2002). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
Twenge, J. M. & Campbell, W. K. (2010). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. NY, NY: Free Press.
Zajonc, A. (2013). Contemplative pedagogy: A quiet revolution in higher education. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 134, 83-94. DOI: 10.1002/tl.20057

Want to read more about teaching and learning?  Try

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Contemplative Education: Modeling Compassion in the Classroom

Tarot card image for "The Hermit"
Overcome the "Cultural Shadow"
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen defines compassion while explaining the difficulty of teaching students to have compassion: "Compassion is not a behavior," she says, nor an "action," nor an "act of obedience" nor "even because we want to be good people" (1999, p. 34).  

So what is compassion? How do we do compassion?  How can faculty model compassion?

Defining Compassion

"Compassion" Remen continues, "emerges from a sense of belonging: the experience that all suffering is like our suffering and all joy is like our joy" (p. 34).  She goes on to argue that American individualism isolates individuals and often prevents the feeling of connectivity necessary for the discovery or remembrance of compassion.  She refers to this damaging effect as "the cultural shadow," (p. 35) and in it echo the narcissistic traits of our society as written by TwengeCampbell: vanity, antisocial behavior, and an overwhelming desire for uniqueness.  However, "Education," Remen wisely argues, "holds the greatest promise for healing the wounds of the cultural shadow" (p. 35).  

Modeling Compassion in the Classroom

There are ways faculty can model compassionate behaviors and help students discover compassion through a sense of connectivity to others, a sense of community. Modeling compassion in the classroom opens up the potential for us to help students become happier people by being more compassionate people.

Self Compassion and The Sharing of Joy and Accomplishment

Kathryn Byrnes offers an extended example of how faculty can model compassion in the classroom.  She profiles "Gil," of The Academy, a school with a contemplative orientation that defined compassion as "the ability to maintain one's own sense of self along with a sense of belonging to a larger group" (2012, p. 2).  In a section of the article called "Serving Others (Teaching with Compassion)," she explains his methodology.  
  • One aspect he modeled was self-compassion, his "attempt to be more accepting of his own personal anxiety and self-criticism" (p. 4).  His self compassion allowed him to have more compassion for his students.  
  • Yet another aspect was his willingness to create a relaxed environment for learning by being present with his students.  For Gil, being present included playing soccer with them and allowing the students to see his love for it (p. 4-5).  His love and joy became their love and joy, and vice-versa.  
  • Most importantly was his willingness to listen to students without interruption and to mirror students' accomplishments (p. 5).  In this way their accomplishments were his accomplishments, and Gil created a sense of connectivity with and among his students.  

In other words, Gil modeled compassionate behaviors.

Practicing "The Clean Slate" through "Loving Friendliness"

Gunaratana teaches that "Compassion is a manifestation of loving friendliness in action, for one who does not have loving friendliness cannot help others" (2002, p. 93-94).  The pain of "resentment" and "indignation," he says "can cause uneasiness, tension, agitation, and worry" (p. 93).  In order to overcome those negative feelings and have a greater ability to help others, faculty must practice what many of us have come to learn as "the clean slate" principle, where we offer students with whom there has been a confrontation, a "clean slate" when he or she returns to class.  The mental process necessary to enact a "clean slate" or practice compassion through "loving friendliness" can be transformative, both for faculty and for the students for whom they model the behavior.  "You can balance a negative emotion by instilling a positive one," says Gunaratana (p. 90).  

Gunaratana continues:
You start out by banishing thoughts of self-hatred and self-condemnation.  You allow good feelings and good wishes first to flow to yourself, which is relatively easy.  Then you do the same for those people closest to you.  Gradually, you work outward from your own circle of intimates until you can direct a flow of those same emotions to your enemies and to all living beings everywhere (p. 90-91).

This process of enacting "loving friendliness" is the antithesis of the narcissistic tendency to live in the isolation of "the cultural shadow," as Remen calls it. Just as the profile of Gil demonstrates how the students' joys and accomplishments were shared by Gil, the "clean slate" principle demonstrates how faculty can model for their students how compassionate behaviors can help ease a shared suffering. Not only are there implications for retention, but these practices reiterate the very pragmatic advice of Barkley: "Humans have a basic need to be part of a social community.  Students will engage more in classroom-based learning if they feel they are welcomed, valuable, contributing members of a learning community" (2010, p. 110).


  • Barkley, E. F. (2010). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, A Wiley Imprint.
  • Gunaratana, Bhante H. (2002). Mindfulness in plain English. Boston, MA: Wisdom Publications.
  • Remen, R. N. (1999). Educating for mission, meaning, and compassion. In S. Glazer (ed.), The heart of learning. (33-50). NY, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin.
  • Twenge, J. M. & Campbell, W. K. (2010). The narcissism epidemic: Living in the age of entitlement. NY, NY: Free Press.

Read more about pedagogy and teaching:

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top 10 Crochet Gift Ideas for Grown-ups

Need a crochet project gift idea for an adult?
  Don't stress!  Just consult my top 10 list!

When holidays, birthdays, showers, or parties roll around, it's pretty easy to hop online or flip through any crochet book to find an easy-to-make gift for a new baby or a child. Practical gifts for older teens and adults are not-so-easy to find. Although some grown-ups appreciate amigurumi characters or granny square sweater vests, most would prefer something more usable.

However, even when you are in a hurry to whip up a W.I.P. for an adult friend or family member, there are many projects to consider.  Here are my top ten crochet project ideas for grown-ups, listed in order of general, relative difficulty.  Links will take you to instructions and patterns.  Enjoy!

Use finer yarns for tablecloths and bookmarks.

Beginner to Intermediate Crochet Projects

Each of these projects can be made with single crochet or double crochet stitches worked back and forth across rows or with granny squares.  In other words, if you can crochet a rectangle, you can make any of these projects! You can use acrylic yarns or pure cotton for the kitchen and bath items, and you can use any number of beautiful natural fibers for scarves: For winter wearables, the softer the better. Bookmarks and tablecloths can be made as dainty as you prefer using finer yarns and smaller hooks to match.  Always check the yarn labels to find the recommended hook sizes, and plan your time wisely. The smaller the hook and finer the yarn, the longer a rectangle will take to make.

As you progress, try working in different stitches to add unique elements to your designs. Tablecloths and bookmarks are great first filet crochet projects, and Tunisian crochet is an excellent method for making placemats.

Intermediate to Expert Crochet Projects

Try making jewelry using the cro-tatting method.

Each of these projects generally is worked in the round, yet most can still be created using the single or double crochet stitches.  Ties and jewelry are made using finer yarns and take longer to make, while hats and bags can be made fairly quickly.  Again, the only limitation is your imagination, as you can add beads, bobbles, tassels, and art yarns to your projects, or you can experiment with another method for making jewelry, cro-tatting.

The next time a gift-giving get-together rolls around, skip the worry about "What to make?" or "How much time do I have?"  There are plenty of ideas for unique crochet gifts that can be personalized to the giftee from the gifter - even for grown-ups!

Want to learn more about crochet? Try

Blog Post with Patterns - Crochet Christmas Tree Ornaments

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.