April 2017 archive

Discussion Ideas for Family Communication Courses

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This semester I put together what I call a ‘packet’ of discussion topics for my Family Communication course that we, as a class, discussed over the course of the semester. I was really pleased with the way it turned it.

As we read about and discussed the concepts in class, we watched relatable videos, tied in our own personal experiences, and also incorporated those that we saw in 3 early episodes of Modern Family over the course of the term.

The students loved it, and I decided to base my 5 short answer/essay final exam on these discussion prompts (I told the students to be sure the answers in their own packet were very thorough, since I would be choosing 5 of those discussion prompts at random to put on the exam, and they wouldn’t be able to use their notes or book).

For anyone teaching Family Communication who’s in need of something new to inject life into the students and material, feel free to borrow from the worksheets/packet below!

Happy teaching :).


Family and Communication. Spring A 2017

Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       How do you define family? What does family mean to you? What is your experience with family? (Ch. 1)
  2.       Explain how family members develop a set of shared meanings. What are some shared meanings you have with some of your family members? (Ch. 2, p. 24)
  3.       What level of cohesion does your family experience currently? What about when you were growing up? (Ch. 2, p. 32)

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 1, 2, 3)

  1.       What shared meanings do you see? (p. 24)
  2.       What level of cohesion is present (in the family as a whole, or in the 3 individual family units)? What are examples of 3 behaviors that characterize their level of cohesion in the episode/s? (p. 32)
  3.       Does any metacommunication take place? How and in what way? (p. 31) What was said at the ‘content level’ and what was said at the ‘relationship level’?
  4.       Patterns/Self Regulation (Ch. 3, p. 62)- What communication patterns did you see within the families that made life more predictable? What communication rules existed? How did they maintain stability through ‘calibration’? Or how do you think they should have done this? What are your suggestions?
  5.       What relational currencies did you see being used in the families? By which family members? Why were they used?
  6.    Did any theories from Ch. 3 come into play? Which ones did you find? How did you see it play out in the episode/s?

Modern Family Discussion Prompts (Chs. 5, 6, 9, 10, 12)

  1.       (Ch. 5) How do you see relational maintenance taking place? (Marital/Partnership Maintenance p. 112, Parent and Child Relational Maintenance p. 114, Sibling and Step Sibling Relational Maintenance p. 115)
  •       What relational maintenance strategies do you see being used? (ie. confirmation p. 116, respect p. 118, rituals p. 118, relational currencies p. 124- and use the subcategories within these as you provide examples)
  1.       (Ch. 6) When have you seen the 3 types of commitment at work in your family or someone else’s? (ie. personal commitment, moral commitment, and structural commitment) (p. 134)
  2.       (Ch. 6) What do you think about the “naïve” quote: “If you have to work at a relationship, there’s something wrong with it. A relationship is either good or it’s not”? (p. 134)
  3.       (Ch. 6) What are the benefits and costs of self-disclosure in a family relationships? (p. 136)
  4.       (Ch. 9) Analyze an ongoing family dispute using the conflict stages model (p. 217)
  5.       (Ch. 10) What kind of ‘unconscious negotiations’ took place between you and a partner/spouse and your family of origin when you were getting married (ie. how best to argue, who would take care of certain household items, how to deal with intrusive family members, how to spend the holidays, how much each of you would work, etc.)?
  6.       Discuss your opinion about the opening quote to Ch. 12 “Family Communication and Well-Being” p. 305 by Stephen R. Covey (for those of you with a different edition of the textbook, it may be on a different page, or not included, so I’ll include it below).


“Good families- even great families- are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the ‘track’ looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again…. With regard to our families, it doesn’t make any difference if we are off target or even if our family is a mess. The hope lies in the vision and in the plan and in the courage to keep coming back time and time again.”

-Stephen R. Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families

Is that true? What are some ways to more effectively ‘stay on track’? Use specific examples and explanations.

  1. Search YouTube or TED.com (either works) for ‘Connected, but alone?’ by Sherry Turkle (to be watched before or after your read p. 320 through 322 of your text; for those of you with different textbook editions, look up “digital competence” in your textbook’s index to find the exact page numbers):

Each semester I have my communication-based classes watch this TED talk about how digital communication is affecting the way we connect. Is social media a good thing or a bad thing for us as humans and/or for our relationships? It’s a question I pose in my classes, and many students discuss the issue through debates I hold in my speech class. There’s no right or wrong answer/opinion, it’ just an interesting look into human connection. What’s your opinion?


How To Facilitate Easy and Effective Discussions in the College Classroom


After reading last week’s post, Why Students Benefit from Participation & Class Discussions, a longtime friend and reader of the blog decided to try a new approach to teaching her class and reached out to me for some tips. I was thorough enough that I figured my (very long) response to her would serve as a great follow-up post for this week:

Hi Carol,

(Just to warn you, my answer is really long! I’ll probably end up using it as a blog post on Happy Professor next week :). I hope it helps!)

I’m glad you enjoy the posts! The way I normally facilitate a discussion is to put the responsibility on the students so they feel some ownership of what they’re learning. Whether it’s a chapter in a textbook or an article like the one you mentioned, I would use the same approach (and this is just me, so it doesn’t fit everyone’s teaching style!):

  1. As the instructor, pick your favorite concepts from the reading that you think the students will enjoy most (preferably one for every student in the class if you have 10 or fewer people, or one concept for every 2 students in the class if it’s a bigger group- you want to keep the number of concepts between 5 and 10, otherwise you’ll run out of class time).
  2. Write the list of concepts up on the board, and tell the students (either individually or in pairs) what concept they’ll be responsible for ‘researching’ and discussing with the class (I try to pick a specific idea that that particular student would like most, based on what I know about them). They can look within the assigned reading for answers and outside sources (like the internet on their smartphone to gather more information to share).
  3. After assigning the topics/concepts, I would give them 10 minutes to read, do research, and figure out in what way they personally want to steer the discussion. I also encourage students to look at other concepts on the board and read about them so they have more to add to the discussion, other than just the topic they were given.
  4. Then I just go down the list and have each student or pair of students share their thoughts with the class. I also go around the room and ask each individual student if they have anything to add, but I don’t force them to answer (sometimes it’s just easier for them to speak up when asked directly rather than for them to take the initiative to raise their hands- at least that was how I was as a student!).
  5. I always ask for them to include personal examples from their own lives in applying the ideas, since it helps them understand how the lesson affects them directly, and it’ll help them remember the concepts better. It also makes the discussion much more lively.

That’s about it!

This might be the way you were already doing things, but hopefully you found some new stuff in what I said above!

Good luck with the lesson! 🙂


Why Students Benefit from Class Discussions & Participation

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This semester I’ve been teaching a Family Communication class that I’ve loved every second of. I taught the class online a few years ago, but the face-to-face version has been a completely different experience, and I’m seeing my students grasp the concepts much more easily this time around- applying the textbook terms to their own lives and thoroughly analyzing  what they’re learning in meaningful ways.

I give credit to the in-class discussions.

I recently read the article “How Do Students Learn from In Class Discussion?” on facultyfocus.com, and I shared it with my Family Communication students to show them how research supports the way we’ve been spending our class periods (since the professional in me is worried they might think the class has been a little too much fun..).

As instructors, sometimes it can feel like we’re ‘getting away with something’ when we fill class time with lively conversation and have students analyze, in my case, an early episode of Modern Family to solidify the terms that will be on the final exam, but research is showing that it’s class periods just like this that help students learn the most by:

  • Increasing engagement
  • Remembering and retaining information
  • Confirming learning
  • Getting verbal feedback from the instructor
  • Deepening their understanding

Of course, once we’ve talked at length about various chapters, terms, and how they apply to situations in the students’ own families and in examples from the media (Modern Family has worked perfectly for this particular course), they go home to write essays and prepare oral presentations to solidify their learning.

Using homework to reinforce ideas from class is secondary, though. I believe that when you’re in the college classroom, the best foundation is application and participation first, and then the rest almost seems to take care of itself.

If you’d like to learn more about classroom participation helps students, see the link below:


Happy teaching and learning!