Disputing quotes | A critical thinking activity

I frequently find my students getting too easily taken in by words of wisdom uttered by illustrious men.  In India, such quotes are generally seen as sacred and replicated in all manner of places from highway signs to research papers; to the strange extent that they sometimes form the core of people’s arguments in contexts far removed from that of the original utterance.  I like to encourage learners to question famous quotes, especially those that seem terribly inspiring; that no one in their right mind would criticize. To quote Aristotle (an oft-quoted source of these golden words), “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” I’d also like learners to engage with and respond to these quotes in a way that is concise, relevant and convincing. Here’s an activity that could help.

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Level & audience: B2 & C1 college students or adult learners.

Materials: Laptop (or something you can project from), projector, Ss will need connected digital devices with access to Twitter.

Duration: 30 min

Prep: Classtools.net has a Twister feature which allows you to create fictional tweets by famous people. The site positions it as a history exercise where Ss would think and tweet a historical figure’s reactions to an event. For this activity, select the quote you want to use. Enter it into the form along with the name of the person who said it, a fictional twitter username and a date. The tool will pick up the image automatically. You can export the resulting page to a PDF for display in class. Wikiquote is a good place to source quotes and also verify that quotes are not misattributed.

Twister

Procedure 

  • Lead-in by asking Ss if they follow any famous people on Twitter. Have they ever responded to this celebrity’s tweets? Have they disagreed with something in this celebrity’s tweet and made that public in their own tweet? 
  • Tell the Ss that they are going to have a look at quotes by some famous people who didn’t have the benefit of access to Twitter at the time but we are going to pretend that they did and so tweeted this quote to all their followers.
  • Bring up the first quote and ask if Ss are familiar with this person and what they know about him/her. Elicit an interpretation of the quote.
  • Ask Ss to play devils’ advocate and disagree with the view expressed in the quote. Get Ss to think about why the quote might be faulty by tweeting a response.
  • Tweets should contain the username (@lutherking_dream) mentioned on the slide and contain a hashtag you’ve assigned to the activity.
  • Give Ss a couple of minutes to tweet their responses before moving on to the next quote. Repeat procedure.
  • When Ss have tweeted responses to four or five quotes, divide them into groups (as many as the quotes they’ve worked on). Assign one quote to each group. Ask groups to look through the responses by tracking the hashtag and the username. They should summarize the responses into a short paragraph critiquing the quote.
  • Get groups to share their summaries by reading them out or posting in a shared forum.
  • While Ss are working on their summaries, you could identify statements which could be used for a ‘find & correct the error type’ activity. Alternatively, you could identify tweets that have errors and email these to Ss and have them correct and retweet as homework.

Variations 

  • If you can’t make this work with Twitter, you could do it through any other site that limits text input. 
  • A non-tech version would be to print out the quotes and have several copies moving around the room. Each time a student gets a quote, she writes her dissenting statement below it and then passes it along.
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