Book Review: The Pocket Instructor: Literature: 101 Exercises for the College Classroom (2015)

Hot off the press and edited by Diana Fuss and William A. Gleason, The Pocket Instructor: Literature: 101 Exercises for the College Classroom (2015) features 101 exercises by nearly as many contributors. This is a valuable resource for any instructor of literature who is interested in expanding his/her active student learning practices.

Check out the table of contents through Google Books

When sharing this book with a friend, she skimmed through it and said, “This reads just like a cookbook!” And it really does. The layout of each activity has the same structure that opens with a brief, one sentence explanation of the goal of the exercise followed by the basic information: genre, course level, student difficulty, class size, semester time, writing component, close reading, estimated time. This piece provides the best ingredients and the baking time, which range from 15 minutes to an entire class period.

If this synopsis of the assignment meets your teaching needs for that class period, there is a one to one and a half page guide to completing the exercise and a one page reflection that explains how students responded to the activity and specific texts that were used. The book is additionally broken up into eleven sections to help navigation through those 101 activities. There are the basic genre area breakdowns along with activities focusing on pictures or objects. At the end of each section, activities in other sections are listed that could also apply to that category.

While scanning through The Pocket Instructor: Literature, I came across some activities I have used in the classroom before, like the “Six Word Short Story” for discussing the construction of short stories (remember when it was all the rage, whether Hemingway did or didn’t inspire it) and the “Draw Me a Picture” for understanding imagery. I found so many more that I have not yet used in the classroom, but have visions for. For instance, I am facing the difficulties of teaching two plays in an online course that have no performance video clips to go with them and reading out loud clearly poses some real problems. The “Playing with Genre” activity can be as successful online as in the face2face setting, enabling students to first interact with the play in writing and then respond to their classmates’ creative interpretations of the play while they develop their understandings of the genre.

I am excited to try out this and many more of the exercises!


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