Speed Dating Topic Sentences

This activity, created by Justin Gest, involves learning through "speed dating."  The activity focuses on how to craft excellent topic sentences while considering the application of the course's theoretical ideas.Justin has done this activity for several different classes.  In one iteration, the activity substantively centered on the question: how are conceptual and classic understandings of the state (or polis) complicated by globalization and immigration?  In others, it focused on other questions related to the particular course.

The sequence of the activity is as follows: On the board, Justin prompts the students to brainstorm what makes a good topic sentence, aiming for the students to list that they should:

1) be clear
2) be concise
3) summarize the paragraph to come
4) be attractive
5) transition
6) link to the thesis


After brainstorming, Justin gives half the students theory articles and half magazine or newspaper articles, and prompts them to compose topic sentences for the excerpts they've been given, trying to incorporate the factors they've listed on the board.  They have 5 minutes to do this.


After the students read the text they have been given and compose a topic sentence, Justin explains that they will be "speed dating," meaning that they will go on a series of "dates" where the theorists talk to those who read the applied texts.  Each date  will be 3 minutes.  He interchanges the students so that they are alternating in their seating based on what type of text they read.  He explains that during these short interactions, they will first share the topic sentences of their text with their "date" and then will have about 2.5 minutes to discuss the degree to which the theory fits the application or whether they seem to conflict.   


They begin "speed dating."  On the dates, each student first reads his or her topic sentence.  They then have a short discussion where they explore the relationship between the theory and the application.  After a few minutes, they go on to their next date, repeating the process.  Throughout, students should be revising their topic sentences to make them stronger.


After the activity, Justin prompts students to share who "had a love connection" and who "had a tiff."  The students share out some of the conversations they had on their "dates."


To finish the activity up, a student then shares the topic sentence they ended up with and as a class, they deconstruct it, discussing its strengths and weaknesses and how they could improve it.


Justin finds this activity greatly strengthens students' ability to write well-organized, focused paragraphs in their essays and that it engages them deeply with the class content.

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