First Day Constellations

How do you get students engaged and thinking about what they know on the first day of class, especially when most of them just assume you will read the syllabus to them and dismiss early? I use the constellation activity that I first learned in an Agile coaching training course. Constellations are great because rather than asking students to raise their hand an answer questions, you ask them to vote with their bodies.

To get set up for the activity, develop a list of yes/no, agree/disagree statements related to your course. For example, in my first-year writing courses, I’ve used statements such as “I think of myself as a good writer” and “Good writing is all about good grammar.” In my publishing course, I’ve used “To be a published author, you must publish a book” and “The internet will be the death of the book.” These are aspects of preconceived notions I know students come into this class with, so I want to get them out on the table on day 1.

In your actual class, you will need space for students to stand up and move around. I’ve done this by pushing desks to the walls or taking students into the hallway. If there is a clear aisle in your classroom, that works well too. There are two ways to organize a constellation physically: either in a circle with a “home base” in the middle as in the image on the right or more linear scale in which one side of the room is yes/totally agree and the other side it no/totally disagree.

Once you explain to students what the scale is – close to home base mean totally agree if doing circle, left side of the room means totally disagree if doing linear, etc. – read the first statement and ask the students to “vote” with their bodies by choosing an appropriate spot on the scale. After students vote, you can ask students why they voted the way they did and discuss how that statement is part of the learning for the semester. Once you’ve discussed, you can move to the next statement. I usually do 4-6 statements depending on how well the discussion is going.

I love doing constellations on the first day because it gets students thinking about the course, articulating their preconceived notions, and having a voice even if they are shy and wouldn’t usually speak up on the first day. Students start learning on day 1, and you get to model the level of engagement you’ll expect from them during the semester. And no one gets bored reading the syllabus.

Tried constellations? How did it work for you?

(Images borrowed from here.)



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