Students fascinated with how people interact are drawn to sociology as an academic discipline. You can help students think more deeply about sociology by getting them involved in fun activities that explore individual and group behavior. Even the way your class responds to the activities is a sociological lesson. Prepare students with reading assignments in advance of your planned activity, and follow up with discussion or written reflection to enhance the learning experience.

A Puzzle as Metaphor for Sociology

Help students understand the framework of sociological theory by bringing a puzzle to class. Have your students begin assembling a 500-piece puzzle. After the border is assembled and pieces have been sorted, stop the activity and have a large-group discussion. Explain that working a puzzle is a lot like the study of sociology. Sociologists find meaning by gathering individual pieces of data and putting them together to find broader meaning. The puzzle serves as a metaphor for this, and helps beginning students understand basic principles of sociology.

How Jobs Are Valued: Follow the Money

After teaching about sociological theories related to socioeconomic values, engage your students in an exercise that explores how various jobs are valued. Divide the class into small groups and give each group a list of job titles. Include a wide range of occupations including physician, garbage collector, plumber, bank teller, teacher, housekeeper and corporate executive officer. Next, give each group a sum of money and ask them to determine a salary for each occupation. They can only use the money you give them for the salaries. Determine the amount of money based upon the jobs you select. Have the groups come back together and share their work. Discuss societal values related to income and how the theories provides an explanation for these standards.

A Walk on the Outside of Social Norms

Observation is a powerful tool when teaching students about societal influence. Ask your students to bring a homemade costume to class. Suggest men’s clothes for women, women’s clothes for men, winter clothes if it’s warm or an outfit from a different time period. Have students spend 30 to 40 minutes walking around campus, wearing these out-of-the-ordinary clothes. Ask them to check out a book from the library, buy a cup of coffee or ask someone for directions. When students return to class, have them jot down notes about their experience and share with the class. In a large group, ask what it was like to go against social norms. To further the assignment, have each student write a reflection paper that discusses their experience and relates it to sociological theories.

Looking Backward: See How Society Changes

Expose your students to organizational change by studying the history of the college. Divide your class into small groups and give them a copy of the current college organizational chart and one from 25 years ago. Ask them to identify the structural differences and how they may be related to societal issues of the same time period. Each group should discuss the reasons for differences in the charts and what the evolution indicates about societal change. Provide an opportunity for large group discussion and ask each group to report their findings.