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A Dinner Party: Creative Analysis Activity

By Jessica Aggrey

Day 3: Porterville Acceleration Training

Time sure does fly. Here’s an idea for helping student synthesize multiple sources that I got from day three of Porterville’s Acceleration training lead by Melissa Long. Again, if you’re not sure what I mean by acceleration, check out this page.


With acceleration comes an increase in the level of rigor in our courses. One such change will be reading and analyzing multiple sources for a particular essay or assignment. Doing things in class that help students build their analysis and understandings of various readings is important. The following activity can be used to help students start this process in a creative and engaging way.


A Dinner Party

To get her students thinking about academic discourse and writing, Melissa shared the following quote from Kenneth Burke from The Philosophy of Literary Form. The quote can also be found on pages 14-15 of the book They Say, I Say. In the passage, Burke gives the analogy that academic discourse is similar to that of a never-ending dinner party.


“You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about… You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you…The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress”


To help her students visualize the various readings in a unit and the position each author takes on a particular topic, Melissa has her students imagine that all of the authors and the student are at a dinner party together. She gives her students some time in class to illustrate the conversation that might take place between them. 


During the conference, we did this with some articles we had read in preparation, and I have to say, it was a really engaging and useful activity. It got me looking back at the readings and thinking about the arguments made in each one. It’s a creative and fun way to visualize how the articles interact with each other. Provide students with some pieces of blank paper, coloring pencils or crayons, and some time to work on it in class. Afterward, you could invite students to share in small groups. Play some music while students are working on this and let them know artistic ability is not the point. Below are the directions that Melissa gave for the activity. 


Think of the sources we are reading as part of a conversation.

Draw your dinner party.

  • You must have at least three of the sources there

    • (List the readings you’ve done in your class here)
  • You should also be there
  • In conversation bubbles, what would everyone be saying/thinking

Example:  Here’s the one I created during the conference. We had done several readings about happiness. Without having read them yourself, the speech bubbles won’t make too much sense. However, I figured seeing an example could help you visualize how this assignment might look.


Dinner Party synthesis assignment

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