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Stimulating ideas for researching and writing a PIP (HSC Society and Culture)

23 October 2009 by shartley   

The main challenge when starting the Society and Culture HSC Course is motivating the students to (1) choose a topic for their Personal Interest Project (PIP) and (2) start working on it.

My objective for today’s lesson was to stimulate students’ brains to think about what they could research for their PIP.  I used some creative writing exercises from The Writing Experiment: Strategies for innovative creative writing by Hazel Smith (2005, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia).

  • Students were asked to choose a colour and then write the word followed by a word with a sound association.  Eg green ghost, green grain, green read, green knee, etc
  • Students were then asked to do the same exercise with an abstract noun, such as truth.
  • With the same words chosen above, associate them by meaning.  Eg green blue, green sick, green grow, green amateur; truth false, truth real, truth language
  • Next was a leapfrogging exercise: eg Greenpeace, peace talk, talkback, backdrop
  • In the above exercises the students were given 1-2 minutes for each.  I then gave the students 5 minutes to choose either the colour or abstract noun and do any random word thought flow, leading to wherever it took them, not to think about it, just do it.
  • From this list of words the students were to match five adjectives with five nouns, whether they made sense or not.
  • At each stage some students shared what they had written.  In the last exercise they were asked to see if they could find a common theme in their words.  One found heat and environmental themes.  All lists revealed interesting thought processes.
  • I then broke away from Hazel Smith’s exercises and showed photo streams from Sydney Morning Herald and TIME.  For three photos students were asked to write about anything the picture stimulated.  It could be more lists of words or proper sentences.  One photo was of a polar bear shaking water out of fur at a zoo in Berlin.  A student wrote about prison, fear, photos flashing, and so on.
  • From any of the above exercises, students could choose any word or theme that they found interesting.  They were then given 10 minutes to freely write on this word.

It was fascinating to see the themes that evolved from these exercises.  Most students now have a better idea or at least some idea of what they could research for their PIP.  The student who started with a polar bear trapped kept this theme going.  The one who started with the word yellow is now thinking about researching climate change effects on communities.  Another has gone from a photo of a helmet of an F1 driver to a concept of teams and topics like self-identity realised through team sports.

The students thought it was a weird activity at the start but once they relaxed with the concept, they completely engaged with the exercise and had fun.  Best of all they are thinking.

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