In-class activity for interpersonal comm: verbal competence

This brief activity is taken from Dr. Benjamin Lee Whorf and I use it when introducing the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

  • All students need to get three pieces of scrap paper — the paper will not be turned in so it doesn’t have to be neat.
  • On the first sheet, write the name of a food you don’t like.
  • On the second sheet, write the name of a rodent that gives you the willies.
  • On the third sheet, write the word mother.
  • Have students throw the first paper on the ground and stomp it…repeat with the second…
  • Ask them to do the same with the third sheet — most students will hesitate.
  • Ask why the third sheet was different.

It’s a nice way to illustrate that stomping that third paper would have no impact on their mothers at all and that the third sheet has not more relation to their mothers than the first two — it is the word (mere ink on paper) that is defining reality and making them hesitate.


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About teachingpublicspeaking

I believe public speaking can go from most dreaded class to favorite class. I'm a former public speaking college instructor who spent years seeking out activities, assignments and examples to make the class interactive as well as educational -- they are collected here. I welcome suggestions for additions.

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