Every week before class, students are encouraged to email the instructor a question and idea related to the current topic.
Jeff Friedman uses this activity in the International Relations introductory course in order to engage students, especially those that are less talkative in section.
The questions and ideas are ungraded and can be about anything related to the week’s topic. The activity is deliberately unstructured to encourage creativity and participation. The instructor reviews the questions and comments before section and chooses some of the most interesting points. Then, he calls on a few students in class to repeat their questions or ideas and opens it up for discussion. Students often apply their questions and thoughts to papers.
From Jeff Friedman’s section syllabus:
To help generate discussions, I would like each person to send me an email each week with one question and one original idea about the week’s topics. The idea doesn’t have to be earth-shattering. You can single something out that you thought was particularly interesting, or criticize something you think was off the mark, or say how something applies to current events – whatever you like. You don’t have to send me more than one or two sentences on each, and you won’t be graded on your emails. But if you’re a student who is not comfortable speaking up in section, this can be a good opportunity to show that you’re engaging the course material.
These emails are useful for me because it helps me to structure section, and they are useful for you in order to help you develop your opinions about the course material. In return, I send the class a handout each week saying what aspects of the reading are important, and how you can best prepare for discussion.
(You don’t have to send an email for our first meeting, by the way.)