A random act of kindness

Michael Smith | Campbell University

The assignment is designed to be non-threatening to get the class thinking, doing and writing. As you know, our students think a note on Facebook is high-quality writing, so this assignment will move them into a more systematic, ordered approach. It also allows them to indulge the need to include themselves in the assignment.

This idea was suggested to me years ago by colleague Sheridan Barker of Carson-Newman University.

1) A student concocts a random act of kindness and executes it. It can be modest, but no funny business - a real act of kindness. Someone can volunteer to bus the trays from a table in the cafeteria, for instance. One student baked a cake for a friend.

2) Then the writer should observe well and get reactions. He or she writes about the act, including any research that went before the act and any reaction from the receiver. The writer should include color but monitor the personal stuff. The format can use a feature story approach or an approach suitable for a personal column or some variation. The point here is to have an experience and write about it.

3) Depending on your student culture, the person could read the prose to everyone (which always provokes applause), but eventually everyone gets a copy to edit.

4) The class can work in teams of two to edit the copy, suggesting changes and offering insight on the approach, the mechanics, AP style and so on.

5) The class could spend some time talking about other ways to publish the piece as a slide show, quick video, a photo essay and so on.

6) A portion of the class can be used to discuss kindness, the communitarian ethic and other ethics and the work of a journalist.

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