Communication Experiments

Sessions 1-9

Note: There were no Communication Experiments for Sessions 1, 5, 6, and 8.

Session 2

Draw what you read

  1. Each group of students is presented with a unique written description (see “Description examples for in-class drawing activity (PDF)”).
  2. Each group reads their assigned text aloud, and working together, draws the object/scene(s) using the details available from the text.
  3. Each group presents their artwork to the class and shares the following reflections:
    1. What specific details helped your team?
    2. What descriptions were confusing?
    3. What details were absent that would have helped your team even more?

How can we describe what we see?

  1. Visit a building that has large images on the walls.
  2. As a class, we move from image to image, and the students attempt to describe what they see. Working together, catalogue the different types of descriptions used, which typically include the following:
    • Colors
    • Shapes
    • Textures
    • Metaphors
    • Comparisons
    • Naming Conventions

Session 3

The power of description

  1. The class visits a green space on campus.
  2. Working in small groups, students produced written descriptions of the green space from one of the following assigned perspectives:
    • A developer surveying this space for the construction of a new building
    • An environmental activist seeking to preserve green spaces on campus
    • This is where you and your new partner had your first kiss
    • This is where you and your former partner broke up
    • A groundskeeper who manages this space and cuts the grass every three days
  3. After ~10 minutes of exploring the space and writing down ideas, each group shares a cohesive description with the class. (Note: their descriptions do not explicitly mention their assigned perspective.)
  4. The audience attempts to guess the perspective and purpose of the description, after which the authors explain the rationale behind their rhetorical choices. (For example, the group of students who wrote from the perspective of a professional surveyor might emphasize the precise physical dimensions of the space and its possible uses as a site for a new academic building. Conversely, the group of students who assume the perspective of an environmental activist might focus on the beauty of the trees and people studying on the grass.)
  5. After reading their work aloud, we discuss how an author’s rhetorical choices – carefully selected adjectives, naming conventions, emphasis, organization, and scope – can influence how an audience views and understands a place, event, object, or scientific development.

Session 4

‘In the Frame’ description

  1. In pairs, students exchange their previously written ‘In the Frame’ descriptions.
  2. Each partner attempts to draw the described object/scene, and then presents their artwork to the author.
  3. Students discuss the reading and drawing process:
    • Looking at the drawing from the author’s point of view:
      • What is there that matches your written description?
      • What is missing or different from your written description?
      • Why do you think these details were missed or changed by your audience?
    • Looking at the drawing from the reader/artist’s point of view:
      • What written details really helped you create this picture?
      • What details were absent or confusing in the written description that would have helped you re-create this image?

Session 7

Reverse-engineering metaphors anad similes

  1. Explore how and why an author might have created these specific metaphors and similes:
    • “Cells are like children”
    • “Microbes are the trainers of the immune system”
    • “The unconscious mind is a wilderness”
  2. Why did the authors choose these specific elements—children, trainers, wilderness—to convey these scientific concepts?
  3. What is the impact of these comparative explanations on the audience?

Session 9

Reducing complexity

  1. In small groups students choose a complex sentence to translate into an accessible and concise sentence for a public audience.
  2. The sentence choices include:
    • People who reside in transparent domiciles should not cast geological specimens.
    • Never calculate the possible number of juvenile poultry until the usual period of incubation has been accomplished.
    • Cooked muscle tissue from a castrated bull.
    • Research shows that people are more motivated to help in-group members than out-group members.
    • Where there is gaseous evidence of flammable matter, there is an indicated insinuation of incendiary pyrotechnic.
    • Gain possession of the twenty-four hour unit.
    • Such preparations shall be made as will completely obscure buildings occupied during an air raid for any period of time from visibility by reason of internal or external illumination.
    • The warm-blooded, feathered, egg-laying vertebrate animal that is among the first invariably comes in the possession of a small, legless crawling invertebrate animal.
    • Ornithological specimens of identical plumage tend to congregate in close proximity.
    • Do not emit painful sounds of Canis lupus.
    • All entities that coruscate with effulgence are not ipso facto aureous.
    • Juicy, edible fruits with leathery, aromatic rinds grown on thorny shrubs or trees.
  3. Each group comes up to the chalkboard to introduce themselves to the class, present their revised sentence, and share their process of translation.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2016
Learning Resource Types
Written Assignments
Instructor Insights