The Devastation Game

Students are told to offer a “devastating” rejection to their peers’ written projects to help students learn to anticipate and address counterarguments.

Goals:

  • to decrease students’ inhibitions about offering criticism of each other’s work
  • to teach students to anticipate and directly address a reasonable counterargument
  • to prompt focused revision to make student’s future written projects, such as research proposals, less likely to be rejected

Class: Expo E-42: Writing in the Sciences

Introduction/Background: This class prepares students for writing in careers or advanced study in the natural, computational, or applied sciences. To encourage students to articulate compelling counterarguments, students are instructed to offer a “devastating” rejection to their peers’ written projects. Engaging counterargument makes projects that offer judgment or argument stronger. Writers often can't anticipate counterarguments, but readers can. The Devastation Game lets readers and writers confront each other with counterarguments, pushing writers to include responses to those counterarguments.

Procedure:

  • Throughout the semester, students take part in "Revision Club," during which students read each other's projects, offer written letters in response to these projects, and then meet in class to discuss their letters.
  • Before this activity, students are provided with a handout (attached) and oral instructions. Students are already gathered in their Revision Club groups with their latest writing project.  Then they begin to write in response to the new instructions.
  • Students, having already written and commented on each other's long written projects, have to offer one more bit of writing, in class: they have to “devastate” each other's project in an activity the instructor calls “The Devastation Game.” This is a melodramatic name—which prompts guffaws and a relaxed yet intense atmosphere in the classroom—for an activity meant to prompt rigorous counterargument.
  • For example, in the "Writing in the Sciences" class, student write a detailed research proposal. Most such proposals, in the real world, are rejected. Which is devastating, naturally. So students must think: why would their partner's project be rejected?
  • Student provide a written, realistic and reasonable rationale for rejecting the proposal. There could be problems with scientific logic, unclear purpose, bad budget, etc.
  • After writing these rejections out in class, students return them to each other and confront their own rejections. Revision Club usually meets in groups of three, so each student should be rejected in two different ways. Devastating!
  • Upon receiving their written rejections, students discuss the nature of the counterarguments to their project in their group.
  • After class, students revise their work. The Devastation Game prompts students to revise their work to engage counterargument—to anticipate it, directly invoke and articulate it—and then refute it. This can strengthen their work immensely.

Materials:

Their partner's projects, their letters in response to their partner's projects, and something to write with.

Comments from the Instructor:

Akbari recommends: “Play up the melodrama so that students have no compunctions about rigorously challenging each other. Students are inclined to respond superficially or deferentially to each other. Prompting their big challenges to each other through a game breaks the intellectual ice. They can be congenial, but rigorous. And that can be the most fun.”

Submitted by Thomas Akbari,  Lecturer in English at Northeastern University, Harvard Extension and Summer Schools Writing Program

akbari_devastationgame_instructions.doc23 KB